The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was the book I needed to read when I was a third year in college, watching police brutality videos alone in my dorm room, crying so hard it felt like my heart was broken.
Thomas’ novel centers around Starr Carter, a high school student trying to navigate two worlds, the life she lives in her home neighborhood, Garden Heights– a place she condemns as “the ghetto,” yet defends from outside ridicule– and the life that she lives at the prep school she attends, surrounded by a cast of privileged white students. When her long time friend from Garden Heights, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer while she sits in the passenger seat, Starr is suddenly, and excruciatingly, aware of the stark differences between her two lives. She has to make difficult decisions, the most important of which being whether she will stay quiet in the face of injustice or stand up.
The title of the book comes from rap legend, Tupac Shakur, who states that the name of his album, “Thug Life,” is an acronym, which stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everybody.” Hip Hop is everywhere in this novel, providing a soundtrack as you read. Drake and J. Cole are name dropped, Kendrick is referenced. However, hip hop is not the only place Black power is exhibited in the novel. Starr’s father, Maverick, should’ve been a Black Panther just based on his love of Huey Newton alone, but solidified by the fact that his kids can recite the Black Panther 10 point program faster than they can the 10 commandments. Thomas manages to seamlessly blend 1970s Black Power activism with the “hashtag activism” of today’s cyber age, mixing classic hip hop with today’s big names in rap.
Thanks to Starr’s exposure to such music and history and with a father who makes a point for his children to understand the truth of an America most of us choose to overlook, having been a victim of the prison industrial complex himself, she is no newcomer to racial injustice. Despite knowing all of this, Starr still feels on the outside. She regularly mentions that no one in Garden Heights knows anything about her aside from the fact that she is Maverick’s daughter who works in the store. Her circle of friends are not in her neighborhood, but at her school and on her basketball team. Garden Heights knows nothing of her life when she is in school, and her school friends don’t care enough to ask or know anything about Starr’s home. She spends her time code switching and carefully separating her two halves, so the pieces don’t touch.
She fights with her prep school friends when Khalil becomes a reason to “protest”— which for them, equates to a reason to get out of class. She deals a friend whose racism Starr believes she has been skimming over for years. She wants so badly to let the world know that Khalil wasn’t a thug– that her Khalil had the odds stacked against him, and he was doing the best he could to stay afloat in a world that wanted to bring him down.
And while Starr fights the good fight of racial injustice, she is unapologetic about her love for Harry Potter and the Jonas brothers. She knows the lyrics to High School Musical songs, and is also a sneaker aficionado. She and her white boyfriend love The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air– and Thomas reminds us that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.
We have a tendency to imagine that being supporting Black Life means only caring about Black culture, only listening to Black music, only appreciating Black art, only surrounding yourself with Black people. Thomas gives us a protagonist that is representative of a truth that we like to forget– Blackness is complex and there is no one true “Black Identity.” It felt nice reading about Starr, a girl who’s a lot like me– someone who doesn’t seamless fit into her hometown, but who becomes too self-aware to be completely comfortable with her white classmates, and struggles to just be herself, no matter the environment.
It felt good to see a Black girl discovering her voice and her power in a new age of Black protest.
After note: Just wanted to let y’all know that a UVA Arts graduate, Debra Cartwright, designed the art for the cover of The Hate U Give. (#BlackWahooPride)