The Hate U Give (Review)
Even if you don’t follow the news, stories of white police officers shooting African-Americans will most likely have made it to your Facebook newsfeed a number of times. Watching those harrowing videos and hearing about how officers are often let off with almost no repercussions, I was made aware of how I was unable to fully empathize with the struggles of the black community in the US, just like others might not understand how demeaning racial profiling at airports is. Thus even though my heart went out to those affected by the systemic biases of America, it was never truly put into perspective for me until I read The Hate U Give.
At its heart, the book is about the identity markers that unfairly disadvantage people based on characteristics they do not have any control over, the focus being on race. In her debut novel Angie Thomas explores the experiences and encounters of young black teens with law enforcement agencies and the way they deal with racially inspired fear, insecurity and suspicion.
When Starr was young, she was instructed by her father on how black people behave when stopped by the police. Four years later when she and her best friend Khalil are stopped by the police on their way back from a high school party in their ghetto, she remembers the significance of that lecture. No sudden movements, hands visible in the air, complete submission, an utterly depressing set of instructions because it presupposes that black people are always guilty until proven innocent. The helplessness Thomas portrayed reminded me of the times when Pakistanis and other brown-skinned folk get “randomly” searched and interrogated while crossing international borders, or the look of suspicion we might receive if our beards get slightly longer and too “Muslim-looking”.
What happens next is the crux of the book where Thomas depicts the shooting in a manner that highlights not only the horror of being on the opposite end of a bullet, but also delves into what an individual must go through when innocent life is taken away from them simply because the color of their skin is associated with criminality and is erroneously deemed dangerous. The story follows Starr coping with the loss of Khalil as she is exposed as the only eye witness of the incident. Her father had told her how evil the police can be and she is scared of coming out however she is repulsed by the media depicting Khalil as a stereotypical black drug dealer and gang member and later decides that silence will only grant the oppressors a free reign to continue oppressing her community.
Starr exists in two strikingly different worlds: her ghetto community and the upper class white majority school where she studies. As she navigates the two we experience how each community perceives the other; the subtle prejudices and misunderstandings as well as the desire to understand and find commonalities. The Hate U Give explores identities, the differences that at times dominate our relations with others, and what it means to belong to a community. In a world marked by politics of hatred and hysteria, with far right movements in Europe demanding to expel all immigrants, and the racial profiling of brown people all across the globe, The Hate U Give attempts to make us empathize with stories of suffering that are not necessarily confined within our territories. It is not just the story of Khalil and Starr, but of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin and thousands of other young black teens who are the victims of police brutality. Starr and her community’s interaction with the police humanizes America’s race issues and her journey from the point of Khalil’s death to when she raises her voice against the atrocity resonates closely with what we see of the Black Lives Matter movement and underscore this book’s importance and necessity in today’s day and age by helping us empathize with each other in more concrete ways.
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