When I say this is my favourite book, I mean it in terms of every book I’ve read in my life. There was a book other than this that got me addicted to reading in the first place. There have been books that have made me realize different things about myself. But I will never as a writer manage to live up to Angie Thomas’ masterful, revolutionary, heart-smashing and volcanic story that is more timely than ever and deserves to be in every high school reading curriculum possible. (There are some spoilers in this discussion of the book.)
I read The Hate U Give back in 2018, and I remember I was very busy with an internship and didn’t think I’d have time to start a new book for a while. I still decided to give it a go thinking I’d read a bit to get me invested, and even during the busy times I read it in less than three days, and even though I was aware of several of the issues presented, those issues, and several ones I’d never considered, were brought to me in ways I would end up never forgetting. In wake of George Floyd’s murder, plus the fact that Derek Chauvin and the other three officers might actually end up going to jail, I wanted to talk about all the important things this book brings up and how they’re so important to talk and think about right now.
For those who’ve been living under a rock and don’t know of this book, we follow an African-American teenage girl named Starr Carter who’s grown up with her mother, father and two brothers in the town of Garden Heights, a place where most people outside of there say it’s the slums, the ghettos. One day Starr is driven home from a party there by her childhood friend, Khalil Harris, and they are stopped by a police cruiser, a white cop behind the wheel before he gets out. And Khalil is shot after a small confrontation. Khalil ended up having a hairbrush in his hand the cop mistook for a gun, but that’s far from the sole reason for the shooting. This cop, badge number one-fifteen, has the instincts taught in him to see every person of colour with suspicion, to shoot first and ask questions never. As the sole witness to Khalil’s death, Starr is put on the spotlight, and she wants there to be justice, but she’s very nervous about taking the world on. But most black victims of police brutality, hatred and discrimination end up hashtags but never actual justice. This could be the time where it actually happens.
So, the full and honest truth is that people of colour, especially those having to live in or near white-dominated places, have to live life on edges those like me are exempt from. Just by standing around looking at one’s phone or wearing expensive-looking clothes or even being in a large-enough group, too many white people find reason in how they’re taught, to be suspicious and scared of people of colour enough to dial the cops. Even in the most progressive place in the world there might be some judgmental apples. And if they get pulled over or arrested (which happens to them ten-fold compared to white people), they know there’s a large chance they’ll be killed. White people don’t have that same fear. People say being black is not a crime…but is it not really?
Something which relates to the protests and also heavily to the book is income difference. You see, Khalil was originally caring for his sick mother and he wasn’t able to have a good-enough paying job and neither could anyone else in his community so he had to turn to drug dealing to keep her alive. Then after he’s killed, the media ends up leaping on this fact, minus the sick mother detail, saying he was a drug dealer, and he probably deserved to be shot. Which brought up something brand new for me. In the media, the truth is there are those who will personally attack a police victim by coming up with excuses to protect the status quo of the system, so those in power don’t have to worry about marginalized people having a say at the bigshot’s table. What’s more, this pressure really builds up in Starr. Remember how she is very terrified at first to take on the world as the only real witness to the shooting of her childhood friend? Well, it’s a world set out to not only go against her but her entire family. Wouldn’t you be scared?
Some other things that opened my eyes ever-further in this book: The fancy-schmancy school Starr goes to ends up having a surprise protest on Khalil’s behalf one day, organized by some other students. Sounds noble, right? Except the entirely white-led protestors don’t have to worry about being attacked while spreading their cause, and they’re busy self-congratulating themselves as it seems they’re enjoying the benefit of cutting a day of school for this event. Almost like these kids found a way to make Starr’s friend’s death selfishly beneficial to them. There are other instances that have come to me in life, but this scene perfectly captures why I’m embarrassed to be a white male when things escalate like they are in the murder of George Floyd; people of my same race have terrorized people of colour for so long and so savagely that I feel my own presence can bring discomfort. I have dark-skinned friends and I love all of them and deep down, I know they don’t think that of me. But I know strangers might.
There’s also the argument between Starr’s parents, Maverick and Lisa. Lisa believes the protests, and Starr being the witness, make their home, Garden Heights, not safe for them anymore and they should leave. Maverick adamantly disagrees, saying they have to stick by their community and toughen it out and make sure payback is brought forward. And they’re both right. Both entirely right. Another question; Whose side would you take? The Hate U Give demands looking inside yourself to figure out where you’d be if you were a person in this story.
And another thing. Just like everyone, I wanted Khalil’s killer to be brought to justice by the end, and I felt a pit of pure rage when it didn’t happen by the end, but I think the book was even better in the end as a result. Let me explain. In a lot of fictional stories, the bad guy is beaten and the hero gets to be crowned. There are real-life stories like that too. But no matter how many happy-ending stories are out there convincing people that giant corporations, polluters, racists, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes are the bad guys, in real life sometimes people get away with murder and people commit suicide and people are spit on with no way to spit back. A radio station even says in one breath during a stream that the cop in the killing will not be prosecuted and then goes right to ads and other lame news most likely in a hillbilly carefree delivery. That scene, and how everything resolved, is a blunt reminder of how our world is screwed up more abnormally than should be accepted, yet it is. Khalil’s story goes on when the book ends, in an ongoing war with no sight of it ending unless a true revolution can take shape from the high-up, and even if that were to somehow happen, there are still monsters out there demanding black people’s heads and so many of them are in power right now. Even if this story had that ending, that would still be the case, and having the ending it did staples that fact.
I am so grateful for The Hate U Give, and I’m equally grateful how much of a success it’s been. Black Jesus graced us with Angie Thomas, and Angie Thomas blessed us with her book, as well as her terrific new second novel, On The Come Up. I also can’t wait to read her upcoming book, Concrete Rose, set 17 years before The Hate U Give and focuses on a young Maverick Carter.
When I see these protests and everything that’s taking place, I’m reminded of a horrid system: cops are often told to not show any weakness, and feelings of utter distrust and bigotry can make them look at a peaceful protest and still throw tear gas or get out their pepper spray. Some cops have even posed for photos and then tear gassing them right after, creating further despicable propaganda and division. Peaceful protests should be encouraged over violent ones, but when Colin Kaepernick was attacked on all sides for something as peaceful as kneeling during America’s anthem, and women and men are shoved to the ground and punched or even choked despite peacefully protesting, what other response is there other than to give them fear? As John F. Kennedy said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” And at the same time a fair bit of this violence is made by looters who just want to loot or to send the wrong message or are made by cops to literally pin blame and hatred.
I’m so grateful that just recently it was revealed that Derek Chauvin’s third-degree murder charge is upgraded to second-degree and the other three cops are being charged as well. And I also hope Donald Trump gets demolished in November, and the four get a proper amount of time behind bars, and this all can lead to proper justice and equal treatment down the line. I am so proud of all the protestors who’ve put their lives at risk to prevent the police from getting away with murder and haven’t backed away despite Trump’s loudmouth threats about deploying military, and doing so during COVID-19 no less. Anyone contributing in any way to the protestors in support of justice deserves the same praise essential workers have gotten. Hopefully they do.