Starr is a teenage girl whose life is divided between her roots in her home neighborhood--a poor, mostly-Black neighborhood where gangs are a regular fact of life--and her experience in the school she attends in a wealthy, mostly-White neighborhood. She feels like she is one Starr at home and another at school, where she adjusts herself in order to better fit in. This divide is further complicated for Starr when she witnesses the shooting of one of her closest childhood friends, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Starr grapples with the grief and trauma of seeing her friend murdered by a police officer, and with the awareness that Khalil's killing is already being excused and there is a very high probability that the officer responsible will not face any consequences for what he has done.
The Hate U Give is a book which contextualizes and personalizes an experience which, while it may be foreign to many readers of this novel, is all too common for Black Americans. This is Angie Thomas' first novel, and was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement (source). While it is a YA novel, this book is a powerful read for anyone who is looking to better understand the harsh realities of living with systemic racism and police violence. Much like All American Boys and Something Happened in Our Town, The Hate U Give is a book of realistic fiction that provides valuable insights into very real contemporary issues, and which can provide opportunities for learning, discussion, and a broadening of understanding.
Why is this book being challenged?
So, why is The Hate U Give being challenged? According to the ALA, "for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message." Funny how, once again, we see a book which thoughtfully and accurately depicts police actions based on real events labeled as 'anti-police.' If accurate depictions of actual police action are negative enough to be construed as 'anti-police,' then it is more accurate to say that the police are the problem.
In The Hate U Give, Starr's uncle is a police officer. His initial response to Khalil's shooting is to search for some excuse for his fellow officer's actions--speculating that he was involved in gang activity. However, ultimately, he realizes that this initial response was problematic and unfair, and representative of a larger problem. Speaking of Khalil's possible gang involvement, he says:
"Even if he was, I knew that boy. Watched him grow up with you. He was more than any bad decision he made," he says. "I hate that I let myself fall into that mind-set of trying to rationalize his death. And at the end of the day, you don't kill someone for opening a car door. If you do, you shouldn't be a cop."
The burden of responsibility for ensuring that an interaction with police stays safe and positive for all involved should lie on the police, and yet we see time and again that victims of police violence are deemed guilty despite all evidence to the contrary in order to support a narrative where the police's actions are excused, regardless of how terrible they are. Police can do no wrong, and those who are victims of their misconduct and their racism can do no right. We see it again and again--police killing unarmed Black civilians--and yet when a book seeks to put a light on that reality, and to provide insight into how it affects the lives of Black Americans, the cry of "that's anti-police!" goes up. American children can be murdered by police, but they surely can't read about it--and with profanity to boot! It's a pearl-clutching that serves the evil purpose of preserving a White-privileged status quo whereby it's easy to turn a blind eye to any problems and pretend that our police are stainless heroes of the peace.
Nothing will change if no one says anything. Nothing will change if no one does anything to change it. And we need change.
"[H]ow does Thug Life apply to the protests and the riots?"
I cannot help but think back to Toni Morrison's concern regarding The Bluest Eye: that "many readers remain touched but not moved." The Hate U Give was released to wide acclaim, and was immediately adapted for film, with a movie of the same title released the very next year (2018). Yet, here we are three years later, and it feels as though we have only been moving backwards. Yes, Juneteenth is now a holiday. However, multiple states are banning Critical Race Theory from schools and otherwise white-washing the subject of American history. Police have already killed 705 people in 2021 thus far, and over the past 8 years 98.3% of killings by police have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime. We need real action and real change rather than empty shows of support.
The question I ask myself, and that I challenge you to ask yourself as well, is: What can I do? How can I better inform myself, and better inform those around me? How can I show my support for and actively promote the anti-racist changes my society needs to make?
People are realizing and shouting and marching and demanding. They're not forgetting. I think that's the most important part.
A Challenged Books Challenge
This is the final installment in the series of 10 book reviews I completed as a challenge to myself to read and review all of the ALA's Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020. Read more about this challenge, including the other books involved, here. The first installment (George) can be found here, the second installment (Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You) can be found here, the third (All American Boys) can be found here, the fourth (Speak) can be found here, the fifth (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) can be found here, the sixth (Something Happened in Our Town) can be found here, the seventh (To Kill a Mockingbird) can be found here, the eighth (Of Mice and Men) can be found here, and the ninth (The Bluest Eye) can be found here.
I will be putting together a post with my overall thoughts and take-away from completing this challenge; look for that here on my blog on September 24.
Banned Books Week is coming up soon! This year, it will be from September 26-October 2. I will be writing about this year's theme ("Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.") and some ways to celebrate Banned Books Week and the freedom to read in a post here on September 24.
Elizabeth Wilcox. Writer, Avid Role-Player, Amateur Mixologist. Survivor.