Themes in Fiction #17 – The Evils of Racism



“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


Racism feels like one of those things that should be looked at in horror as a thing that happened exclusively in the past. But the sad truth is, racism still happens every day, which is why we need books exploring the theme of racism and its evils to remind us all that we are all the same, even as we are all very very different, and both should be celebrated.


mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

You can’t talk about Racism without talking about the masterpiece that is To Kill A Mockingbird. Written about the 1930s during the 1960s to illustrate the injustices of American culture, and how the Civil Rights Movement was right and necessary. Harper Lee’s brilliance is in making us sympathise with Tom Robinson – a black man accused of raping a white girl. It’s not too difficult for most people these days to side with Tom during the infamous trial, but to fully appreciate the novel and its power, you have to consider the context. To Kill A Mockingbird would have challenged people who were horribly racist to see that the colour of someone’s skin is not an indication of the quality of their character.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talleylies we tell ourselves

A heartbreaking and uplifting book about the troubles faced by black students attending white schools for the first time. Again, this is exploring historical events, but brings it up to date and current by including themes of homosexual romance.

The stigma faced by the LGBT community in modern day cultures is similar in many ways to some of the struggles faced by victims of racism, reminding us that, no matter how far we have come, we still have a lot of work to do. Which is why books like Lies are still so relevant and so important.

Mixing It Up

noughts and crossesNoughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman’s powerful story of the segregation that can occur when races are differentiated purely by colour of their skin. She mixes things up by making it white characters who are suppressed and treated terribly by the black characters.

It’s been a long time since I read this, but the idea of love crossing the boundaries is always a popular one, and the relationship between the two main characters – one black, one white – is used to demonstrate that there shouldn’t be any division, particularly between young people in love.

By switching up the racism, reversing it, Blackman forces her white readers to consider what life can be like for those suffering racism, hopefully creating empathy and understanding, fostering a renewed attitude of acceptance of people, regardless of the colour of their skin.


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