Why ‘The Hate U Give’ is Important

It is not easy in the slightest to talk about police brutality especially when the victim happens to be a person of color. ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas focuses on the life of Starr Carter and how her life is affected when her friend Khalil, a young black man, is shot and killed by a police officer while she is sitting next to him in a car. Starr is faced with being the only witness in the criminal proceeding, but also weighing her need to be an activist against her need to keep her identity a secret from the public. The events that follow the shooting are instances that are all too familiar to these situations in real life. 

In the past few years, examples of police brutality especially against black men have been ubiquitous.  From my perspective, opinions on these types of occurrences became the most polarized during the summer of 2016. On July 5, 2016 Alton Brown was restrained and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and one day later on July 6, 2016 Philando Castillo was shot and killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. These shootings were followed by a terroristic attack on white police officers in Dallas, TX on July 7th. Over the course of those three days, police and civilian relations as well as race relations across the nation were in an uproar. Months after the later, ‘The Hate You Give’ was published and it could not have been more than timely. 

Angie Thomas was inspired to write this story in 2009 after the highly criticized death of Oscar Grant; a black man who was shot and killed by a police officer in a train station. Similarities between the Oscar Grant shooting and the shooting of Khalil, which takes place in ‘The Hate U Give’ can be noticed, but what makes the book so compelling is how the death affects the people around the main characters, specifically Starr. Starr is a sixteen-year-old girl whose personality is distinct but can also be reflected onto anyone. This type of character composition allows the reader to empathize with her but also be exposed to an opposing point of view. An example of this would be Starr’s conflicting presences in her life. Her father was incarcerated for a number of years while she was a child, which would give legitimacy to any ill feelings towards the justice system, yet the uncle who stepped into her father’s place while he was gone, works as a police officer. These relationships make it different for Starr to blindly subscribe to one side over the other.

One of the greatest aspects of ‘The Hate U Give’ is that it takes the impersonality out police brutality. In many cases in the United States, when an interaction with police results in a violent outcome, American’s are given the facts without considering the humanity of the situation. It becomes much more difficult to fault a person for their actions. 

There are some elements of ‘The Hate U Give’ that are far from politically correct. Although the book does succeed in not demonizing a person for their race, it does have its flaws. Starr, her friends, and her siblings all struggle with processing the various issues that accompany race. Their perspectives on race go past the definition of the color of a person’s skin and sometimes includes stereotypical behaviors and ideologies. Even though racial identity is inherently a social construct and therefore can vary from person to person, one must remember that these characters’ opinions and behavior are their own and should not be generalized to all people. That does not mean that the problematic statements in the book should be pardoned. However, they should be acknowledged in the context in which they are being made and how they contribute to the overall message. When a character makes a negative statement about race or relies on a stereotype to make an inference, the author is including it to give insight to the character’s inner thoughts in a specific situation or to highlight a character’s change in behavior during various social situations. When you consider the author’s reasoning it becomes apparent why such statements are included. 

All in all, Angie Thomas does a wonderful job of crafting a thought-provoking novel that works to unite individuals by shedding light on an often ignored perspective. It would be remiss not to mention that this book will soon be converted to film, however, to embrace the full meaning of the Thomas’ original message, reading the book is the best method of delivery. In her own words, “I’ve always seen writing as a form of activism. If nothing else, books give us a glimpse into lives that we may not have known about before; they can promote empathy.” Reading ‘The Hate U Give’ can offer a multitude of perspectives that any person living in a polarized society would benefit from.