Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Zulaikha

children of blood and bone

Spoiler warning for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

I want to talk about the character Zulaikha, also known as Zu.

In the novel, she is only 13 years old, which means she was just a baby during the raids. However, despite her young age, she appears to be the leader of the bandit camp that Zelie and company stumble upon in the woods. She is also a Healer who will go so far as to exhaust herself in order to heal others.

Unfortunately, just as we begin to love her, just as Zelie’s quest gives her reason to smile like the child she was never allowed to be, King Saran’s men storm the camp. One of them shoots her dead while her hands are in the air.

This situation sounds uncannily familiar.

Adeyemi’s note at the end of the novel makes it clear that Children of Blood and Bone is a direct  response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The book mirrors current American society with its depictions of police brutality (Saran’s guards), over-incarceration (the stocks), and over-policing of minority groups (over-policing of the diviners). Just Zu’s story alone demonstrates the forced maturation of children of color in a country that makes them fear the government power structure that should be protecting them.

From the Author’s Note:

Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. …. If you cried for Zulaikha and Salim, cry for innocent children like Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice, and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. They were fifteen, twelve, and seven when they were shot and killed by police.

If your heart broke for Zelie’s grief over the death of her mother, then let it break for all the survivors of police brutality who’ve had to witness their loved ones taken firsthand. Survivors like Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter, who were in the car when Philando Castile was pulled over, shot, and killed.

Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed him, was acquitted of all charges.

These are just a few tragic names in a long list of black lives taken too soon. Mothers ripped from daughters, fathers ripped from sons, and parents who will live the rest of their lives with a grief no parent should have to know.

This is just one of the many problems plaguing our world and there are so many days when these problems still feel bigger than us, but let this book be proof to you that we can always do something to fight back.

One of the children Adeyemi mentioned, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, was recently in the news again. But not for reasons we’d hope. His murderer has recently been re-hired as a cop.

This further solidifies that black lives will never matter in this country.

Another interesting point concerning Zulaikha’s death is that not only does it bring to mind the murder of black children, it also reflects the murder of black women. This is important because as large as the number of unarmed black men murdered by the police is, the number of murdered unarmed black women is larger. You just don’t hear about it as much because the lives of black women are valued even less than the lives of black men.

We may not currently stand a chance against our oppressors, but Zelie and company definitely do. Things are looking bleak at the end of this first book, but since there is going to be trilogy, I can only assume magic will return to land of Orisha. It has to. It gives me something to look forward to in her world when I’m trying to escape the realities of my own.

And, as strange as it may sound, it’s somewhat refreshing to see black struggles portrayed in fantasy and science fiction. As I pointed out in my previous blog post, black characters sometimes do exist in sci-fi, but they almost always live in some post-racial society in which their blackness is of little to no consequence. Similarly, it’s important to note that sci-fi often depicts dystopian situations for white characters that black people have had to deal with (and still deal with) right now in real life. Bittersweet as it is, I’m so happy that Adeyemi is bringing these issues to light in her work.

Cry for Eric Garner.

Cry for Sandra Bland.

Cry for Tamir Rice.

Cry for Zulaikha.

GoFundMe to help me cover publishing costs (editing and cover design) for my fantasy and sci-fi book Fairy Tales and Space Dreams. I can’t do it without your help. ❤

(Additionally, I am in need of beta readers for Fairy Tales and Space Dreams, so if you are interested, check out this link for more information and contact me for the first half of the manuscript. <3)

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi


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