THUG LIFE

I FINALLY got around to reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s been on my “READ RIGHT FREAKING NOW!” list for months, and yet, in those brief moments when I had time to read for fun rather than work, other books kept jumping their place in the queue and ending up in my hands.

HateUGive

I bought THUG (read the book, catch the meaning) for my oldest over the holidays, so she read it first and then handed it back to me with her most emphatic, “MOM! You HAVE to read this!” Sometimes we just need a push from the younger generation to do what we already know is right.

The Hate U Give is a focused, timely, beautifully written book about all the things you’ve heard – police shootings, life in an urban community, life as a Black teenage girl, love, friendship, family – but mostly and more than all of that, it’s a book about intersections and how we navigate them.

Starr is a wicked smart, wicked together teenage girl. She goes to a fancy prep school, gets good grades, works hard at her dad’s store, doesn’t party, doesn’t mess around, she is on track to be “one of the lucky ones.” The ones who survive, the ones who get out. In fact, if you ask her old friends, she’s already got one and a half feet out of the neighborhood. “You act like you don’t know nobody ’cause you go that school.”

But one night, all of that changes.

Starr agrees to go to a party in her ‘hood. She runs into one of her oldest, best friends, Khalil. Just as they are reconnecting, shots ring out. They grab each other and run. He takes Starr to his car and starts driving her home. He’s driving safe, sober, following all of the traffic laws when they get pulled over.

When Starr was 12, her parents had two talks with her. The birds and the bees, AND, what to do if a cop pulls you over. You can tell the second one stuck, because a tape of that conversation starts playing in Starr’s mind, this is something she’s thought about, prepared for, this is a hurdle she was trained to survive.

Do whatever they tell you to do… Keep your hands visible… Don’t make any sudden moves… Only speak when they speak to you…

Khalil is clearly frustrated, annoyed that he’s been pulled over. He wasn’t do anything wrong, and he knows it. His only “crime” is that of driving while black.

When the officer asks for Khalil’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, Khalil exercises his rights and asks why he was pulled over. Minutes later, Khalil is dead, shot three times by Officer One-Fifteen. Get a good look at the cop’s face… If you can remember his badge number, that’s even better…

What happens next is a nightmare I could only imagine before this book arrived, and yet it’s a reality all too many in our country have to live out daily.

Starr is called in for questioning, she recounts the events of the night, she does everything right, she tells the truth – and the officer is not charged with murder. Instead, Khalil’s name is dragged through the media. He is labeled a thug, a drug dealer, a low-life who probably had it coming.

This is all further complicated at Starr’s fancy school. The kids there don’t know Starr is the witness, they know the shooting took place in her neighborhood, but they don’t realize this was her friend. We see the impossible line Starr has to try to walk to stay “respectable” while also trying to stay true. As she struggles to navigate these treacherous fault lines, her neighborhood is reeling. Riots and looting break out as militarized police roll into the area one armored tank at a time. The anger and frustration hit a tipping point and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone.

Standing at the intersection of these two worlds, we see Starr, a young girl forced to carry and navigate so much more than anyone has a right to ask of her. We see her frustration as she comes to see just how deeply broken the system truly is. After all, Khalil did everything the cop asked – and the cop still killed him. Starr did everything right, she told the truth, and the cop STILL walked. Now, Starr has to make a decision, stand tall and tell the truth, the whole truth, and much, much louder – damn the consequences, or stay “respectable” to her white friends and watch her neighborhood burn.

As I read this book, I watched Starr struggle to bite her tongue as her prep school friends appropriated her “ghetto” language and style while simultaneously dissing her ‘hood and talking trash about Black people. I saw, and felt, those micro-aggressions that seem small, harmless really, just a joke… and I felt the weight of them, stacked as they were on years, decades, centuries really, of abuse. I saw the struggle to stay a proud Black woman, while being asked to work to inch ever closer to Whiteness in order to seem “respectable.” And I felt every moment of Starr’s realization that she lived in a world where she and her family and neighbors would never be able to “behave away” their skin color to just be people first.

I saw the harm of pretending to be color blind in a world that isn’t.

I wish this book was required reading in every high school. At the very least, I wish it was required reading in mine. As I read it, I replayed conversations I’ve been having with some of my students, students who aren’t (intentionally) bad people, but who are ignorant and don’t know how to start educating themselves, because they don’t see the need to. For these students, reading To Kill a Mockingbird was just a history lesson. There wasn’t anything relevant or pressing in that book, nothing timely at all – and no news story I brought in could convince them that racism was still alive and well in America. I don’t know if The Hate U Give would open their eyes, some people seem determined to live in the dark, but if any book could do it – this is the one.

The Hate U Give is a beautifully written story. It’s powerful, eye-opening, and absolutely worth all the hype and praise it has received. It is a master course in empathy. If you haven’t read it yet, the time is now.

If you’ve already read it and want more – here’s a helpful list that Barnes and Noble put together.

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