Inspired by recent events and The Hate U Give, I’m no closer to expressing what I want to say. I find myself trying to whitesplain my growth from an accepting but blind child to a jaded and aware adult. But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how I was raised or what woke me up to the truth of racial divide in this country. What matters are the statistics.
Statistics of Racial Discrepancy in Policing
In 2012, according to FBI data, 43% of people killed by the police were black and Latinx people; 31% of that number is contributed to black people. While less than half of the total amount, it’s important to note that black people comprise 13% of the US population. That means black folks are more 2.5x more likely to be shot and killed by the police than a white person. In July 2016, the Washington Post released an article stating that since the beginning of 2015, black men between the ages of 18-29 had been killed by police 175 times. 24 of those men were unarmed. In direct comparison are 172 white men of similar age, 18 of whom were unarmed. In the year 2015, forty percent of the unarmed and murdered people were black men, who make up a mere 6% of America’s population.
But #BlackLivesMatter is about white genocide, right?
You see, it doesn’t matter why I feel the way I do, and I don’t have to explain it or qualify it. Because to ignore those numbers—to ignore the suffering of the minorities in this country—is wrong. It’s wrong and it’s selfish and it’s so whitewashed that we make up excuses and believe the victim-blaming societal rules because it’s easier than admitting that we’re privileged and protected because of an accident of birth. That’s not opinion. That’s statistical fact.
And people are beginning to demand answers, and creatives are starting to use their platforms and their voice to highlight an American epidemic of legalized and justified murders. The Hate U Give is a shining example of this.
The Hate U Give Hits Hard
Starr is a sixteen-year-old black girl from Garden Heights, a neighborhood riddled with drugs and deep loyalty. The daughter of a former gangbanger-turned-shopkeeper, Starr and her brothers escape the dead-end high school nearby for a prestigious private school almost an hour away. Torn between two different worlds, Starr finds herself living a double life until reality blows up in her face, and the death of her childhood friend has his blood mixing the two closer than she could have ever imagined. After witnessing his murder at the hands of One-Fifteen, the officer who held her at gunpoint as she sat sobbing in Khalil’s blood, Starr goes on a journey to learn that nothing changes if you don’t make it.
And more importantly, sometimes it doesn’t change at all.
There’s more than a small amount of truth and reality hidden in the pages of The Hate U Give, and it raises questions about the world we live in, the one we’ve spent our lives insisting was progressing.
Look around you. Has it really?
Inspired by America’s long-standing systemic racism, the dismissed murders of people of color by police, and Tupac, Angela Thomas’ life-altering The Hate U Give offers up a strong, memorable view into what’s become, sadly, a common event in this country. We follow Starr as she struggles with the loss of a friend and then sees the way the community crumbles and how high emotions cause violent reactions as a demand for accountability. But more than that, Thomas humanizes the community that mainstream media likes to blame. There’s more to the dope-dealing kids than flashy shoes, and there’s pride in roots at war with a need for survival and emotional webs that will have you in tears by chapter six. Thomas allows a peek into the mind of a young woman who’s seen too much of reality and witness her grief and anger-driven steps to activism. With riots and fights, Starr and her family and friends take us on an intricately dramatic ride where secrets are revealed, stands are taken, and accountability is demanded. Accountability of One-Fifteen, of Garden Heights, of white privilege, and of those who see but never speak.
Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.
-Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give will leave you raw, hurting, and painfully aware of what’s been surrounding you. Despite finishing it in a matter of hours, I put it down several times just because the times I was crying far outnumbered the times I wasn’t. I spent the time afterwards angry. Angry at the alleged justice system. Angry at the systemic racism that looks the other way and keeps places like Garden Heights from being able to recover and rebuild from the lethal drip of poverty. Angry that I thought it was enough to tweet about it and speak about it and teach my children to be about it. Angry because I haven’t been Chris, the out-of-place white boy who stood by Starr and took tear gas to the face just to tell the world that Khalil lived. He hadn’t just died. He had lived.
And angry because I have moved a little over an hour away from my hometown into the big city, and again find myself to be one of the few white families around and haven’t gotten involved enough. I speak to my neighbors. But I haven’t invoked change. The Hate U Give leaves your throat scratchy and red and your heart burning to scream from the rooftops and paint picket signs. And I haven’t done that, but I’ve been calling myself an ally.
That needs to change. I can teach my children to think better, but I also have to teach them to ACT better. We all do. We need to be the ones lending our voices and our actions to demand the police across the land know that it is not okay, and it isn’t just the POC seeing it. White people need to wake the hell up and clean up the disaster we created. Y’all, there are women calling the police on teenage boys for trying to go swimming or on families for barbecuing. That isn’t okay. And guess what? They aren’t listening to POC because they’ve never had to.
So you listen. You speak. You amplify and you boost their concerns because POC stands for people of color—the keyword being people—and no person warrants the kind of treatment we unknowingly give out daily.
Or maybe you do it knowingly?
I look at books as being a form of activism because a lot of times they’ll show us a side of the world we may not have known about.
-Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
I picked up The Hate U Give after reading that a group of parents had actually brought it and another book of similar content, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, to the attention of local law enforcement. Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, has LEO’s calling for the removal of the books from the summer reading list for incoming freshmen. They feel the content is inappropriate given the age of the students, claiming that freshmen will have limited law enforcement experience, and that it depicts the police poorly. And it does so… because it should.
I had a felony charge in seventh grade. More than a few misdemeanors by ninth grade and was on probation. Freshmen aren’t second graders, and the censorship of these books and others like it are a whitewashing tactic designed to keep as many young minds in the dark as possible. If you can smother free thinking until they’re adults, chances are, they’ll never change. And with more than 4,000 students enrolled in Wando High as of 2017-2018, keeping that 81% white population as unsympathetic to the truth is a powerful weapon in continuing the abuse of minorities in America. How can they call for equity and fair treatment when almost the entire population is deemed ‘too sensitive’ to even hear their side of the story? 81% of the school’s population, albeit some unknowingly, benefit from the privilege being white gives them. Their parents and their community want to ‘protect’ them from the harsh lessons life has to offer because they’re just children.
Tamir Rice will never receive his high-school reading list.
Public Education is Whitewashed
This is on par with other works being removed, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451, both books that question society and the way it’s run, the treatment of others, and how deal with questions regarding accountability and censorship. You know what I read going into ninth grade? Anthem by Ayn Rand.
We were taught the dystopian novel as a celebration of individuality and free thinking. It wasn’t even mentioned that Rand was a racist, disgusting, and vile human being. We read The Catcher in the Rye, an infamous book often linked to serial killers.
But books that tell the true story of how white people have brought upon centuries of oppression to an entire race to the point of still dismissing their murders in modern times? Poor Johnny can’t handle that! What if he identifies as Hailey, the white friend from school who is low-key racist and just assumes her friends should ignore it? Or worse, as Chris? Starr’s boyfriend who swallows his fear of Garden Heights and joins her in her activism for justice? As a white woman who went to school in a small town of less than 16,000 with a large population of white folks but grew up in a smaller one of less than 600 made up of primarily black folk, I can say with certainty….
Parents are more scared of the Chrises of the world than the racist conditions that create them.
They want their children to be ‘enlightened’ enough that race doesn’t matter, ignoring the need to celebrate differences. They want to paint rioters and angry members of marches as irrational thugs because they don’t want to admit white privilege benefits them while keeping racism alive. Tupac, as always, spoke truth in his words. T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. ‘The Hate U Give Lil Infants Fucks Everyone.’ The lessons we teach our children, the way we treat the children of others, the corruption of the innocent, it harms everyone around them. The way we treat people of color, the way we victim shame and the lack of accountability for those cops who literally pull the trigger? It breeds the very thing white people are so certain black communities are about.
Hate. Anger. Violent.
If you kick a puppy enough, it’ll eventually bite you. What do you expect to happen when what you’re kicking is an entire group of people with horror stories from parents and complex human emotions and their own intelligence telling them this isn’t right?
Reality Permeates Fiction
Last night, I read a detailed fictional account of a teenage girl, crying at the end of the barrel of a gun, with her friend’s warm blood seeping through her clothes and her fingers. A girl who’s seen too much and lost too much. A girl who could have easily been any of the kids I grew up with in our small town.
A girl who was some of the kids I grew up with.
A girl I know I’ll never have to be because I’m white.
America is broken right now. It’s been broken for a very long time. But it isn’t irreparable damage. It can be fixed, slowly and surely, through activism like Starr’s and through the anger driving the marchers and through the pain of the families who don’t want their children bleeding in the streets or going to jail for doing nothing but existing. It can be fixed by demanding accountability from the people calling the cops on little girls for selling water or little boys mowing the grass.
But it can’t be fixed by pulling stories like The Hate U Give out of the hands of the youth and deeming it inappropriate. Because it isn’t. What’s inappropriate is that experience shows the cop will walk. The victims will be dragged across social media. The vigil candles will burn out and the fight will become silent. But that’s beginning to change. More and more, it’s changing. And I was wrong before. That statistics? They don’t matter. They aren’t what’s important, except they show solid proof of what we, as white people, like to deny. They are tangible. But what matters? The ones hidden in the statistics.
The people we pass in grocery stores and assume will step out of our way. The ones we looked at uncomfortably in high-school during the section on Civil War. The people that America has decided are only more then 3/5 of a person in definition alone.
Akiel Denkins. Samuel DuBose. Brendon Glenn. Freddie Gray. Natasha McKenna. Walter Scott. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Laquan McDonald. Tamir Rice. Yvette Smith. Rekia Boyd. Shereese Francis. Alton Sterling. Antwon Rose.
All people of color who died by lethal use of force by police. Shereese Francis was a mentally ill woman who died of strangulation. More often than not, there is no jail time for the officers involved. In America, in 2018, being black is still a death sentence.
The Hate U Give focuses on the societal reality that people of color, in America, are ignored and abused simultaneously. From the alleged friend Starr has that drops racist ‘jokes’ that she can’t address without being labeled as ‘too sensitive’ to the news media digging up every stain in Khalil’s life to prove his murder was justified, Thomas leaves no stone un-turned in her quest to highlight and demand visibility for the unjustice that is sweeping our nation. When Starr’s family loses their livelihood for speaking out, we see a clear depiction of tangible repercussions of using your voice. And when the neighborhood bands together to protect them against a homegrown threat from a gang, she illustrates the power of roots and knowing where you come from.
The Hate U Give has a scene towards the end that seems so iconic to me. The attorney for Starr spent a good portion of the story emphasizing using her voice to demand the truth for Khalil. She urged Starr to testify if that’s what she needed to do, and guided her in her internal struggle of fear and responsibility.
And when One-Fifteen walked out of court and justice was not served, she was the one who extended a hand to Starr, pulled her atop a car and said, “Use your voice.”
And in front of a shrine to her best-friend, cops demanding she leave and strangers waiting to hear the truth, she began to speak.
And so must we.
“People are realizing and shouting and marching and demanding. They’re not forgetting. I think that’s the most important part. Khalil, I’ll never forget. I’ll never give up. I’ll never be quiet. I promise.” – Starr
The Hate U Give will be in theatres October 19, 2018.