Black Lives Matter Too
In the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009, 22-year-old African-American Oscar Grant was fatally shot by a BART Police Officer, Johannes Mehserle, in Oakland, California. The BART Police Officers were responding to reports of a fight on a Bay Area Rapid Train returning from San Francisco. Unarmed, Grant was kneed in the head and was forced to lie face down on the Fruitvale BART Station platform. While in a prone position, Grant was shot in the back by Mehserle. Grant was rushed to the Highland Hospital but was pronounced dead later in the day. The incident, captured by several official and private digital videos, immediately went viral when the various footage were disseminated to media outlets and various websites. Several violent and peaceful protests took place following the incident.
The unfortunate incident was the focal point of budding writer Angie Thomas’s short story titled The Hate U Give. She wrote the short story for her senior project in Mississippi’s Belhaven University’s college creative writing program. She shelved the earlier material but would later on develop it. In 2017, The Hate U Give was officially published as a full-length novel, becoming Thomas’ first venture into the world of published letters.
At the heart of The Hate U Give is sixteen-year-old Starr Carter. Starr’s life has the most unusual setup. Her family lives in the fictional black neighborhood of Garden Heights but she attends a predominantly white high school an hour away from her home. Her life got even more complicated when she bore witness to the fatal shooting of his childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. The shooting instantly became a national headline. As more details surface, Starr finds herself in an impasse.
“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” ~ Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
The Grant shooting and several similar incidents that ensued has inspired many an author, including Angie Thomas, to immortalize these incidents through their works. As the shootings and the violence escalated, literary works which highlight these incidents begun to proliferate. These incidents have also inspired the founding of an international activist movement, the Black Lives Matter. Established in July 13, 2013, the movement advocates against the escalating violence and the widespread racism towards the black community.
These sentiments have slowly tricked down different avenues. With the call slowly resonating on various corners of the world, the world of literature is also responding. Racism, and discrimination has long been depicted in various seminal literary works such as Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Despite the overwhelming criticism and the massive social campaigns, racism remains prevalent in today’s society.
The Hate U Give was derived from African-American rapper Tupac Shakur’s THUG LIFE concept: “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” Apart from advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement, it is also a study on racial relationships with the ultimate goal of inciting intellectual discourse on this heavy yet timely and socially relevant subject.
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.” ~ Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Such goal, however, is hardly original and with the increase in literary works that deal with this subject, it is slowly becoming a challenge to make any significant impact. For her part, Thomas laced the narrative with several ubiquitous concerns that today’s young adult encounter, including, but not limited to search for identity and acceptance, bullying, teenage rebellion, and substance abuse. Each subject was finely embedded into the tapestry of the novel.
Another one of the novel’s better facets is the palpable growth and transformation of the characters. Most characters, most prominently Starr, experienced character development during the progression of the narrative. For the most part, the novel’s powerful words and lines leave impact. To Thomas’ credit, the use of current teenager language made the narrative easier to relate to and the characters easier to connect to.
However, the pace at which the characters developed and grew felt ephemeral and implausible; most characters were forced to mature in a very short span of time. Moreover, the obscured details left some critical plot holes. It didn’t help that the ending was predictable.
But whilst the novel’s aim is pure and sincere and the character development commendable, the overall impact of the narrative was weighed down by the pedestrian storytelling and prose. What could have been a powerful narrative was hampered by the bland writing, a common fault amongst works of young adult fiction. The execution fell short, causing a domino effect and negating some of the novel’s better qualities.
“Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people’s lives too. Saving them from their “wild African ways.” Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving.” ~ Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Black Lives Matter, undoubtedly, is one of today’s more important movements. Its quest for justice and its positive advocacy is powerful and all-encompassing. It is thanks to literary works like The Hate U Give that his powerful message is being disseminated to a wider and bigger audience. It is only through educating the general public do we make real progress in such undertakings.
For all its good intentions, The Hate U Give, however, is not peak Black Lives Matter material. In its less than 500-pages, Thomas is trying to convey a powerful message. The weight of the subject could have used a little more tightening up, and a little toughening up. Notwithstanding its flaws, it is a step towards the right direction.
Characters (30%) – 23%
Plot (30%) – 21%
Writing (25%) – 15%
Overall Impact (15%) – 12%
I don’t dislike the book. The premise, actually, was very promising. At times, it felt under-explored, however as the story developed, it became more about Starr rather than the actual message. But my biggest gripe on the novel is its passive storytelling. The storytelling was just a little too bland for my taste. The pace was a little off, as well, and many details were obscured. This affected my overall appreciation of the story and the prose.
However, just like a fellow book blogger, I do recognize that Thomas has deeper and heavier messages to convey. It is just unfortunate that it was weighed down by the underwhelming execution.
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: 2017
Number of Pages: 444 pages
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Coming-of-age
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.
Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does – or does not – say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.
About the Author
Angie Thomas was born in 1988 in Jackson, Mississippi, where she also grew up near the home of the assassinated civil rights activist, Medgar Evers.
After witnessing a shootout when she was six-years-old, Thomas’ mother took her to the library to show her “that there was more to the world than what she saw that day.” This inspired her to take up writing. Thomas earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Belhaven University, becoming the first black teenager to graduate in creative writing.
Before writing The Hate U Give, Thomas wrote in the fantasy genre. Worried that her stories would not matter, she spoke to her professor who told her that her experiences were unique and that she could use her voice for those who have been silenced. Taking cue from this and inspired by Tupac Shalur’s music, she wrote The Hate U Give as her senior project. She would later develop it into a full-length narrative which was officially published in 2017 as her debut novel. Her second novel, On The Come Up was published in February 2019. She has also won several awards for her literary works.
She is still residing in Jackson, Mississippi.