Edited by Karl Egerton
Illustration ‘Double Consciousness’ by Natasha Ruwona, https://www.behance.net/natasharuw40cf
The Hate U Give deals with the way in which police brutality and systematic criminalisation of black bodies damage African American communities, depicting the struggle often felt by people of colour between who they are and how they are perceived by the world. The events of the novel are particularly resonant in light of recent cases of police brutality which have resulted in the death of victims such as Trayvon Martin, which sparked the activist movement, Black Lives Matter. The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter as she negotiates the fallout from the horrific police brutality suffered by her friend Khalil. The novel explores Starr’s journey to finding her voice so that she can explicitly challenge police brutality against African Americans.
The Hate U Give is a fresh commentary on the media-constructed narrative that often surrounds the deaths of young African Americans at the hands of the police. The victims of police brutality are usually presented in the media as ‘thugs’. Thomas challenges this by reorienting the word ‘thug’.The title The Hate U Give takes inspiration from Tupac Shakur for whom ‘Thug Life’ stands for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone’. The character Khalil explains how ‘what society give us as youth … bites them in the ass when we wild out’ (39). This refers to a cycle whereby the youth are subjected to forms of violence such as constant unwarranted police attention and unnecessarily punitive actions. This violence occurs in such a sustained way that it warps their future, moulding them into perpetrators of violence. A lack of opportunities caused by systematic discrimination leads these young people to join gangs and sell drugs for money. Ironically, the pursuit of a higher quality of life that motivates involvement in gangs helps to worsen quality of life in the community to which those young people belong. Thomas’ portrayal of Khalil deconstructs the media’s stereotypical portrayal of young black men and provides a humanity that is often denied to young black men. Khalil is a drug dealer, yet we learn in the text how his drug dealing is the only way he has of paying off his mother’s debts to the local gang leader. Khalil is therefore portrayed as a victim shaped and trapped by his violent environment rather than simply as a threat or a villain.
The novel personally resonated with me due to the fact that it deals with the notion of having a double identity. As a diasporic individual, I have often found my identity torn between two culturally different worlds. The Hate U Give is shaped by W. E. B. Du Bois’ concept of ‘double consciousness’ (Du Bois 7). Du Bois argues that there is a constant tension between how black people identify themselves and how they are identified by a society in which white people are dominant. Indeed, Starr constantly feels like she has to hide her ‘blackness’ when entering her school, primarily a white space. She states how her ‘voice is changing already… I can never, ever let anyone think I’m ghetto’ (195). She feels the need to change her voice in order to not reinforce any stereotypes of blackness. This illustrates the pressure she feels to represent her race in a space where she is a minority. She has to dissociate herself from Garden Heights, her primarily black and more impoverished neighbourhood, in order to be accepted by her white peers. This fear is not just internal but is validated by her experience: when she re-blogs a post about the lynching of Emmett Till on Tumblr, her white friend Hailey unfollows her. Hailey embodies white fragility through her refusal to even acknowledge the systematic discrimination against African American people that is in evidence around her.
I came across The Hate U Give in an attempt to rediscover my love of reading after a year of not branching beyond my university set reading list. The Hate U Give belongs to the Young Adult genre, and such books are often ignored by the syllabi of universities – perhaps due to a perceived lack of depth. However, I found many parallels between Thomas’ The Hate U Give and the texts I was studying at university, contradicting the assumption that it is shallow. For example, Nella Larsen’s Passing also explores racial discrimination in the US. Passing deals with a black woman who passes for a white woman in public. This takes the cultural assimilation undergone by Starr to another extreme. Yet The Hate U Give provided a more contemporary outlook on current racial hostilities in the US. It’s important not to exclude the distinctive perspective of young black people from the discourse; to assume that there is a singular homogeneous black experience would be a gross oversimplification. Moreover, I was transfixed by the use of the first person narrative voice which, unlike Passing, could directly and explicitly challenge the systematic racial inequalities and police brutality in the US. The first-person narrative in The Hate U Give intimately places the reader more directly in the narrator’s perspective, creating something of a kinship between the audience and narrator. The reader can therefore empathise with Starr, who within her own narration of her thoughts and feelings, denounces systematic racism and the police brutality depicted in the text.
This novel could be taught in a course related to gender studies or postcolonial studies, where its contemporary outlook on the systematic discrimination against African American people, stemming from the remnants of colonisation, would provide an important touchstone. The Hate U Give could also be taught in a course related to Young Adult Literature as it reorients the Young Adult genre, a genre dominated by the narratives of white people. The Young Adult genre is often overlooked in academic contexts, yet The Hate U Give engages with concepts explored in several academic texts written on race and taught in universities. As well as the aforementioned connection to Dubois, we can consider Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, which illustrates how for the ‘black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.’ (4) For Fanon, the black man has to appropriate the culture and language of their coloniser, which is echoed by the depiction in The Hate U Give of Starr having to change her behaviour when entering her school, a space in which she is not part of the dominant racial group.
The Hate U Give provides a subversive take on the current systematic discrimination against African Americans, and undertakes an important deconstruction of the media narrative surrounding police brutality against young black people. It therefore provides a more contemporary outlook that is lacking in the syllabi of postcolonial studies in universities. Furthermore, Starr serves as an empowering character through her journey to using her voice against the racial injustice in the US. This provides a useful tool for the current youth as to how they can use their own voice to challenge systematic discrimination against racial minorities.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk.Simon and Schuster, 2014.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Pluto Press, 1986.
Larsen, Nella. Passing. Courier Corporation, 2012.
Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Kindle ed., Harper Collins,2017.
Tupac Shakur. “2Pac Interview about Definition of Thug Life.” Youtube. uploaded by Thugg Staz,. Nov 15, 2009,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX8Hv0ImG4Y.
About the author
Jasmine Thakral is a third year undergraduate student studying English Literature and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. She is currently on a year abroad at McMaster University in Canada. She has a keen interest in literature written by women of the Asian diaspora.