Malorie Blackman is the new children’s laureate – and as the newspapers keep stressing, the first black children’s laureate. In articles and interviews with Blackman, it is clear the goal behind her writing is to increase the amount of fiction involving black and minority characters after not encountering such characters in her childhood. In fact, she expresses in The Guardian that the first book she read that featured a black character was when she was 23 years old. The goal of many a writer has been to write the novel which they wish they could read – an idea especially poignant for any group of people that go against the grain of current literature (whether a minority or ‘other’ group). On a wider scale, this recent news seems to pinpoint the importance of literature in children’s lives, as well as the issue of alienating children from certain backgrounds by a lack of their representation in popular children’s fiction.

In this same interview, Blackman brought up an issue that has bothered me for some time. She discusses her annoyance with the history in taught in schools, where the focus is on higher class people – the royals, Winston Churchill- in place of working class or minority figures. The same can be said for the history of British colonialism and empire, which is largely ignored. The heavy focus is on the world wars, whereas the ambiguous place of the British Empire in our national consciousness is shown by its striking absence. For example, looking at GCSE specifications – neither AQA nor Edexcel include any teaching on empire in their specifications. OCR includes an ‘end of empire’ optional in-depth study out of seven options.

This is truly shameful, because if we are to understand our society it is vitally important to have knowledge of colonialism and how it has affected the makeup of contemporary British society. Many minorities that take up such a fundamental part of our ‘multicultural’ society are a direct legacy of British imperialism. Once this is understood, many popular (racist) assumptions about minority communities are deflated. Furthermore, British people can be humbled by such knowledge of, for example, the torture of Mau Mau victims in Kenya by British rulers in 1950s which shows how recent this history really is to today.

When colonialism ended in places such as Kenya, Nigeria and India, the history of colonialism did not simply stop and Britain, on a cultural level, could not simply deny any responsibility of the consequences of its empire. Take Salman Rushdie, who in his memoir Joseph Anton, cites an Indian childhood of reading British novels as a motivation for his move to England to go to boarding school. This happened after decolonisation, showing that there is still influence of the ‘mother country’ in the culture of the decolonised states. Does this not seem obvious? Another example is the language use in former colonies- for example, Australia still speaks English. Why then does there remain in racist discourse the ironic line of thought that ‘they should go back to their own country’? It may be slightly naive to claim that an increase in education and discussion about our colonial history could actively reduce racism. However, this discussion has reflected on how British culture sometimes has a collective amnesia when it comes to our colonial history, which surely will only cause problems in understanding the unique brand of British multiculturalism and the history of why Britain is multicultural.