If you haven’t read it you’ve at least seen the hit-movie based on it. And if you haven’t seen that movie, I’m pretty sure you’ve at least heard of it. And if you haven’t heard of any of the aforementioned, well, this is your wake-up call.
The Hate U Give is the debut novel of Angie Thomas, an African-American woman born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. The Young Adult (YA) book follows Starr after she witnesses her friend’s unjustly death at the hands of a police officer.
The book’s title and central theme comes from the late rapper Tupac’s acronym T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.
This Book, The Hate U Give, is an in-your-face commentary that touches on African-American’s lives in America. Such as:
- Code switching as a minority
- Barriers to success within low-income neighborhoods and the vicious cycle this creates.
- The politics within the Black community about gaining success
- Black people and the media
- The centuries old struggle between Black people and law enforcement
CODE SWITCHING AS A MINORITY
To over simplify it, code-switching is changing the way you speak and act depending on the your current group. For example, you probably have a work “you,” home “you,” talking to your friends “you,” talking to your parents “you,” and so on.
Many Black people may change their mannerisms depending on if they are surrounded by other Black people or if they are in a group with non-Black people. Within the Black community, code-switching is largely viewed as controversial. Starr’s character is a good example as to why.
Starr lives in the ghetto but goes to a prestigious private school named Williamson that takes about an hour’s morning drive to get to. The school is predominantly white. Starr and her siblings are some of the only minorities there.
While there, she polices herself. She is careful to steer clear of her African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). She makes sure to keep a pleasant tone and even volume so that she isn’t labeled the angry Black girl.
This is all to avoid the appearance of being ghetto.
“…My voice is changing already. It always happens around “other” people, whether I’m at Williamson or not. I don’t talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I’m ghetto.”
THE HATE U GIVE | CHAPTER 6
For Star, code switching is about watering herself down enough to what is perceived as an acceptable level of Black. In this world, there are different degrees of blackness. Being a ghetto person is often equated as undeserving of respect.
Starr’s version of code switching – rejecting parts of her culture to fit into what another group considers appropriate – falls within what is called respectability politics, a philosophy many abhor.
RESPECTABILITY POLITICS: The idea that in order to be treated better by the group in power you must reject part of your own culture and behave in a manner acceptable to them.
This conversation on respectability politics is weaved throughout the story as Starr learns to accept herself wholly and reject anyone who doesn’t.
CYCLES OF POVERTY
In America, people believe that the answer to defeating poverty is to simply go to school and work hard. If you are poor, it means you’re lazy and haven’t tried hard enough.
In The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas shows us the problem is more complex.
“‘Why was he a drug dealer? Why are so many people in our neighborhood drug dealers?’
I remember what Khalil said – he got tired of choosing between lights and food. ‘They need money,’ I say. ‘And they don’t have a lot of other ways to get it.’
‘Right. Lack of opportunities,’ Daddy says. ‘Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities, and they d*** sure aren’t quick to hire us. Then, s***, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us well enough…”
THE HATE U GIVE | CHAPTER 10
In that same speech, Daddy goes on to explain how drugs were purposely placed in the hood and the constant violent cycle the government has created.
The hate these people are given has trapped them in a never-ending circle that leaves them and their future generations to lead a life of poverty and pain.
If you choose to leave are you turning your back on your people? If you choose to go, are you saying you’re better than those left behind? It’s a constant debate within the African-American community.
This struggle is one we see Starr’s father, an ex-gang member and ex-con, fight within and with Starr’s mother.
Throughout the book he juggles with (1) his duty as a father who wants to provide his kids a safe environment and (2) his charge to the home he grew up in which he feels he has to build up.
His final decision? He doesn’t have to live there in order to give back.
That decision is something that you either agree with or you don’t. I myself don’t believe I could let my children live in a neighborhood where they could be exposed to so much. However, I have an uncle who has done just that in South Memphis, TN and has been actively changing his neighborhood into a great place.
It’s because of people like my uncle that I wonder if Starr’s father made the right choice. However, given what his daughter had to go through, I understand his final decision.
BLACK PEOPLE & THE MEDIA
If you see a group of white fans tearing up the street after a football victory, it’s a celebration that got out of hand. If Black fans do it, it’s a riot.
If there’s a Black child killed, the sketchiest, most condemning photo is dug up; if it’s a white child, they are painted to be misunderstood and sweet photos are shown.
Historically, Black people and the media don’t get along. The Hate U Give highlights this relationship.
Though the boy was doing no wrong when the policeman kills him, he is named a drug dealer and possible gang member by the media. His most “thug” photos are showcased.
Starr retaliates by starting a Tumblr blog that shows kind photos of the boy with whom she grew up. A silent protest.
BLACK PEOPLE & LAW ENFORCEMENT
From Starr’s perspective, they did nothing wrong. They were wrongly pulled over; they complied with all of the officer’s demands. And her friend was still executed.
From the officer’s point of view, it didn’t happen that way.
“The interviewer asks about that night.
‘Apparently, Brian pulled the kid over ’cause he had a broken taillight and was speeding.’
Khalil wasn’t speeding.
‘He told me, ‘Pop, soon as I pulled him over, I had a bad feeling,” says One-Fifteen Sr.
‘Why is that?’ the interviewer asks.
‘He said the kid and his friend immediately starting cursing him out–‘
We never cursed.
‘And they kept glancing at each other, like they were up to something. Brian says that’s when he got scared, ’cause they could’ve taken him down if they teamed up.’
I couldn’t have taken anyone down. I was too afraid. He made us sound like we were superhumans. We’re kids.
‘No matter how afraid he is, my son’s still gonna do this job,’ he says. ‘And that’s all he set out to do that night….”
THE HATE U GIVE | CHAPTER 14
From the moment he saw they were Black, they were threats. Being on high alert colored the police officer’s vision, causing him to mistake a hairbrush for a gun, and execute Khalil over a misunderstanding.
The text implies that had they been a different race, the outcome would have been different.
In real life, this rings true. We’ve seen police officers talk down white shooters without killing them countless times, for example. Dylann Roof was calmly taken in, given a bulletproof vest, and even given a Burger King meal by police after he massacred members of a Black church that welcomed him into service.
But Black people exist, so they get gunned down. This is hundreds of years of bias against Black people at work. This is books, laws, and entertainment saying Black people are dangerous and it being engrained into society.
This is the world American Black people live in.
SO, WHY WAS I SO BORED?
For two reasons primarily:
The pacing was off. There were certain parts that dragged on, and others that were summarized too quickly.
The element of suspense was missing. The book was only 444 pages but it felt like 4,000. I can usually read a book this length in one day; it took me almost 2 weeks because I kept losing interest.
Honestly, the book was just too real to be interesting.
I’ve seen this story a million times. I’ve watched it happen again and again and again.
Throughout the story, you’ll find Easter eggs of recently infamous cases of the mistreatment of Black people which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. One such thing is the constant use of the line “I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe” is a reference to the unjust killing of Erik Gardner. He was arrested for selling individual cigarettes on the street without a permit. Though he did not attempt to resist, he was a large black man so he was treated as a high-level threat. Four policeman came to the scene, one put him in a chokehold that lasted about 20 seconds. He later died at the hospital, the cause of death was determined to be the chokehold – a move that is illegal for police to use in New York where he was arrested.
His last words were caught on video as police officers held him down:
“I can’t breathe.”
The Hate U Give echoes the sentiments many Black people feel when we see these kinds of events hit the news yet again. That’s why it was so uninteresting. I already knew how this was going to end so it was hard to create suspense. It was a regurgitation of a hodgepodge of many different #BlackLivesMatter incidents smashed into one character’s life.
There was a moment where I held on to a flicker of hope as we awaited the final outcome. I wanted to get my fairy tale ending. Alas, it all played out as expected.
That’s why you should read this book.
It’s raw. It takes you through the pain Starr feels as she holds her friend while his blood stains her clothes. You feel her fear when the gun that just killed Khalil is then pointed at her. It takes you through her post-traumatic stress she faces as she processes the event.
The book feels a bit disjointed at times. There are too many issues packed into this one book for it to have great focus or feel the realism Angie Thomas is going for, and the story suffers from bad pacing. Even so, The Hate U Give is a good introduction to the tough conversation of race relations in America. Reading it will allow kids to begin to analyze this hard truth.
For a few hundred pages, you’ll see the Hate that is being thrown at our Black youth. And, by the end, you’ll see what you can do to change it.BUY THE HATE U GIVE BOOK