Be Careful of The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, has shown up on Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, websites, New York Times Bestseller Lists, and everything in between as an amazing, insightful, life-changing read. John Green hails it as, “Stunning.” Others have proclaimed it to be, “Absolutely riveting!” and “Fearlessly honest and heartbreakingly human.” With so much talk about it, with so many cries for “diverse” books, with this one being the diverse book of the moment, I figured I needed to read it.
Now, let me start by saying…okay, well…I want to say it’s a good book. I do. And in regards to books changing the way you see a person, see a society, for allowing you to enter a world you’ve never entered before and changing your outlook on life, it does that. Very well. So, to Angie Thomas, I say thank you. Thank you for making me see and understand a perspective other than mine, one I’d never discover without outside sources like your novel.
I am white. I am a privileged Canadian living in a small northern town. I have never lived in what could be termed as, “a poor neighborhood.” I knew very little of the “thug life,” (which is basically what she is describing in her novel, to a point. The Hate U Give is a play on Tupac’s quote in that Thug Life stands for, The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone) before reading this novel. Yes, I’ve seen the news articles, I’ve listened to the arguments, I’ve heard of the protests and I know there is too much inequality dividing people and hurting children. But I did not truly understand where some of it came from until reading this novel, so for that, it is brilliant. And yes, I think everyone should read it if only to seek to understand another group of people better.
However, there is a huge part of this novel that does not sit well with me. At all. Something no one seems to be talking about.
Okay, let me give you a quick breakdown of the book so you can understand what I’m saying a bit better. Actually, I’ll just give you a quote from the book jacket: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor black neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.”
Okay, so, the parts where Angie Thomas describes and brings you into the lives of the black people living in the poor neighborhood filled with drugs and violence and gangs and so forth, is amazing. Really, really well done. The depiction of the unfairness of the shooting, the police brutality, the absolutely horrific way in which these people are seen and treated, the racism they endure, is very well done. I am not arguing any of that, and this is what has opened my eyes. It is for this that I think everyone should read the book.
However, there is a part that is very, very unsettling for me. Starr, the protagonist, goes to a school in a richer neighborhood to get a better education and to get away from the gang violence of where she lives. And in that school, she is one of two black kids. And the way its written, she’s is one of two black kids in a school of clueless, racist white kids.
Okay, that might be taking it a little too far, but, if I went to school with Starr, I would not be friends with her. The way she treated her friends in this novel, or her, non-black friends, was not okay. As far as I’m concerned, racism goes both ways, and her attitude towards the white people of her school was unjust.
Starr has two friends in school that make up a three-some, you could say. A triangle of best friends. Except, the ringleader, the white girl, is bossy and pushy and continually makes insensitive comments. Insensitive comments that insight rage in Starr and her minority friend because they are racist. Like asking if her Taiwanese friend had cat for thanksgiving, or, suggesting she’d pay more attention in basketball if the ball was “fried chicken,” because she’d eaten a lot of it at lunch.
Basically, this character is the token racist white kid, who makes insensitive comments and does not seem to care if she is hurting her friends. She is one of the most significant white characters in this novel apart from Starr’s white boyfriend, who really isn’t much of a character in this novel at all (I’ll get to him later). And so, when she does stupid things, things that make Starr erupt because of their racist nature, Starr doesn’t try to talk to her. She gets pissed off, refuses to listen to any explanation, and walks off. This is what she does for almost every little thing in this novel. Gets pissed because someone dared offend her, and then is angry until they apologize, despite the fact that she doesn’t make any attempt to explain her feelings, she doesn’t sit down and try to understand why the other person said or did what they did, she simply decides their behavior was wrong and is pissed at them and gives them the cold shoulder until they apologize.
How is that working towards acceptance and tolerance? What about that behavior is helpful? There are countless incidents in this novel where someone hurts her, where the white people do something insensitive and racist, and she decides they’re all ignoramuses and waits for the apology, never once seeking to understand their point of view.
Do we not all have reasons for our behavior? If our intentions are to help and hurt, but maybe we make a mistake or go about it wrong, should we be judged for that? Does that make us racist?
Starr is angry. Angry at all the privileged white kids who have what she doesn’t have. She hides the fact that she’s dating a white kid because her dad and many others would give her shit because she is somehow betraying her own race, her own people and where she came from by dating outside of her race. She can hardly look at her boyfriend at one point because his skin is white, white like the cop who shot her friend.
Is that not racist?
Everything about this novel is about how hard Starr has it, how unfairly they (the black people) are being treated, and how ignorant the white people are for allowing it to happen. Yes, it’s unfair. It’s total bullshit. But where, in this enlightening novel, are the good white people? Where are the non-racist white people who see people as just that, people, and not a color of skin. Hell, where are the black people in this novel who see people as people and not as white or black?
Starr is constantly making statements about what white people say or think or do, blanket statements that she is applying to an entire population of white people and justifying it by saying something like, well, sorry, but they do. For instance, when going to a school dance she says, “White people assume all black people are experts on trends and shit.”
What? We do? Since when?
Starr continues by saying, “I’m not even that dope, but these white kids think I am and that goes a long way in high school politics.”
These white kids. Because they aren’t kids at her school. They are white kids. White kids who dance funny, talk funny, and are too damn spoiled to even appreciate their privilege. White kids who make it so that her and her minority friend have to make a pact to have each others backs because, “minorities have to stick together.”
Why? Well, because the evil white kids are too stupid to realize we say racist things, do racist things, and basically make life a living hell for them. I mean, yeah, I’m taking her words to the extreme, but basically, that’s the impression I got throughout this novel.
Oh, but what about the good white character. I mean, there is that, so how could Starr be racist.
Let me explain to you the scene with her white boyfriend that really seemed to symbolize what is wrong with this novel, how she’s trying to show all of us how racist and ignorant we are while being completely oblivious to just how closed-minded she actually is.
There is a scene where they are driving in a vehicle. It is the white kid/boyfriend with all the black kids/Starr and her brother and a friend. They’re joking about his lack of whiteness, making up for it by calling him light-skinned instead, because somehow that not as bad as being white. You see, Starr’s dad dislike’s her boyfriend because, why? He’s white. So now they’re basically trying to justify how it’s okay that he’s white as long as he agrees with them on certain “black” issues, such as, green bean casserole and macaroni and cheese. Once he somewhat passes the test, they go on to ask him about the stupid shit white people do, like, “treating their dogs like they’re their kids,” and, “purposely doing shit that could kill them, like bungee jumping.” There are about five or so questions/comments in this conversation that the black kids use to basically make fun of/question white people for being clueless. The white kid does nothing to argue, only sits back and begins to realize just how stupid white people really can be.
And then he does what white people should never do. He says, “Since you guys want to go there with white people, can I ask a question about black people?”
And everything halts there. They all turn on him.
Yup. Because they just spent the better part of a drive condemning whites, asking why they do stupid shit, and the moment he tries to ask them one question? He’s the asshole.
They do allow him to ask his question, but very reluctantly, and then instead of accepting it and thinking about it like he did with theirs, they turn around and tell him how his question is wrong, and how by asking it he is partaking in “white normalization.”
This is my issue. The purpose of this novel is to condemn racism, is it not? And yet, it more or less feels like its purpose is to condemn white people for not saying the right things, not acting the right way. For not being them.
Yes, I do believe the poor black kids in this novel are getting the shitty end of the stick. Their lives suck in comparison to her friends and that whole cycle of poverty thing makes it really hard to get a good break. And yeah, the police brutality is completely fucking bullshit and I can imagine the kind of rage and hatred I would have if I had to witness that kind of marginalization based on my skin color on a regular basis.
But is the answer to then separate the entire world into black and white? Is it to show white people how racist they are without ever seeking to understand their point of view?
Should we not attempt to understand EVERYONE’s point of view? No, I’m not saying the cop who shot a kid has a valid reason, although, in his mind, he did or he would not have done it. I’m not condoning that behavior. But what bothers me is the lack of white characters in this novel who do care, who don’t see color, who are trying their hardest every single day not to be like that cop who shot first and thought later. All too often I feel like that white boyfriend in the car of black kids, who does not feel like I can defend myself because I’m the majority, who is too afraid to speak in the first place for fear of saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong questions, offending the wrong person.
I’m not racist. But I have lived a rather sheltered life. I am doing my best to understand other perspectives, other points of view, other ways of seeing the world. Why wasn’t that person, me, represented in this novel? Why is there only two ways of being? Black or white, racist or non, majority or minority? Why, when her friend said something stupid, could Starr not have simply said, you realize that was stupid, right? Instead of jumping to attack immediately?
I have felt hatred towards me. I have had looks in my direction for the simple fact that I am white. And I have felt that from black people. Not because I said the wrong thing, or done the wrong thing, but because I was simply who I am. Now, this novel helped me understand where they are coming from a little bit, but it sure as hell doesn’t justify hating me for my color of skin. Yes, I don’t know what it feels like to be a minority and if I did, maybe I’d feel differently. But what I do know is that if I behaved the way Starr did, with that kind of anger towards another race of people, I’d be the racist. And yet, she’s the protagonist of a book that is being praised for it’s anti-racist message.
The only message I seemed to have received is that, I simply need to step back and shut the fuck up because us white people have forced our agenda on minorities for too long and there doesn’t seem to be a single one of us who is capable of not being racist.
Well, I try. I try every single day. And what I try, unlike poor, marginalized black Starr, is to see people for who they are and not judge them by the color of their skin.
What I would like to see, what I believe needs to happen in order for racism to end, is to understand where each person is coming from. This book, and books like this, do that. I will say that. But we need to take it further. Because the hate Starr (and many of her friends and family members) is giving is just as bad as the hate she’s been given, and ultimately, change cannot come from hate and anger. Acceptance cannot come from forcing someone to simply agree and keep their mouth shut. Acceptance has to come from everyone having a voice.
You may disagree with me, hell, I’m sure 99% of those who’ve read this, disagree with me. If you do, please, don’t hesitate to comment, because I’d like to know why and if I missed something while reading. And if you don’t disagree, if you noticed the same thing I did while reading this novel, please, share as well, I’d love to hear what you have to say.