If an adult walked up to their white, middle class neighbours and asked them, “Have you just not met any or very many black people before or are you just living in a different universe?” they would be met with a certain level of anger. However, Brooke Bayoude in Ali Smith’s There but for the is covered by the universal understanding that children can get away with saying whatever they want, no matter how astonishing.
With this in place, Smith is able to use Brooke’s character to explore the nuances of Black British life in a very open and realistic way. She makes passing references to Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racist attack in 1993, and accepts that people will question her Britishness, leading to comments such as the one quoted above, demonstrating an awareness of the realities of her situation throughout her section of the narrative.
Children’s perspectives are so often overlooked in adult fiction, and to see the Black British experience addressed so bluntly is incredibly refreshing.