The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas features Starr Carter, an African American teenager who sees her childhood best friend, Khalil Harris, being shot and killed by a police officer after a routine traffic stop escalates into Khalil’s untimely demise. Starr is then forced to decide whether she will adhere to the unspoken laws of her local neighborhood and stay silent about the injustice she had witnessed, or testify in front of a grand jury and join an ongoing movement to end racist/xenophobic violence and police misconduct in communities across her area.
Starr is involved in two separate lifestyles: the impoverished neighborhood where she currently lives in, and the affluent suburban prep school she presently attends. The uneasy balance between her dual lives is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her longtime friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Following the events of the traffic stop, Khalil’s death becomes a national headline. Some people are inclined to label him as a common thug, even a drug dealer and a violent criminal. Protesters take to the streets in Khalil’s name as they strive to avenge his unexpected death at the hands of a Caucasian police officer. Police officers in support of Brian Cruise, the man responsible for murdering Khalil and the local drug lord within Starr’s community attempt to intimidate Starr and her family from speaking out about the events that had unfolded when Khalil was shot and killed. The people within Starr’s neighborhood and across the country all want to know what actually occurred on the night of Khalil’s murder, and the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
Underlying the traumatic events of The Hate U Give is the systemic nature of racialized poverty. Widespread racism restrains African American communities from attaining the opportunities and resources needed for financial prosperity, with poverty being able to feed upon itself, affecting generations of African American families. This vicious cycle entraps many of The Hate U Give’s African American characters into a situation where they cannot escape poverty without relying on the drug business, which is then used to devalue them as humans in both life and death. Due to the burdens created by poverty, Khalil sold drugs to pay off his mother’s debt. Starr is initially confused as to how Khalil could sell the same drugs that are ruining his mother’s life, but realizes that Khalil felt pressured to provide for his family and was unable to find a better alternative to provide for his family. Through Starr’s extensive understanding of racialized poverty, we see how this intergenerational cycle is difficult to end as various African American communities, such as Garden Heights, do not have adequate access to resources such as education, employment, and protection from police brutality.
The Hate U Give examines the way society uses stereotypes attributed to African American people to justify and defend violence and racism against them. These stereotypes protect Caucasian communities, such as the students at Starr’s private school, from reflecting upon systemic racism, which perpetuates further discrimination. This prejudice is seen clearly in how the police officer Brian Cruise defends his presumptive murder of Khalil. Brian has no reason to think that Khalil was reaching for a gun other than Brian’s presumption that Khalil will show aggressive behavior because of his identity. The media and many Caucasian characters within the novel endorse Brian’s version of events because by protecting him, they protect the rest of law enforcement from accusations of showing racist behavior. Uncle Carlos, Starr’s African American uncle who is assigned to the same police force as Brian, initially defends Brian’s actions before realizing he wrongly tried to justify the shooting of Khalil. The media works to disguise Brian’s biased actions by portraying them as logical and hence justified. For example, news coverage of the incident emphasizes Khalil’s alleged gang connections, perpetuating stereotypes of African American men displaying hostile and intrusive behavior. Upon hearing these reports, Hailey, Starr’s Williamson Prep friend, concludes that Khalil was nothing more than a merciless thug. The media’s impropriety surrounding Khalil’s death demonstrates how some media outlets can be biased in prioritizing and protecting law enforcement and perpetuating stereotypes over African-American lives.
The Hate U Give advocates a progressive view of its subjects, but it does so with a varied emotional energy, a set of complex characters in uncertain situations, and a perspective that emphasizes the novel’s open-ended and fierce engagement with society at large. The novel does this with a sense of balance, with a discerning mood of alertness that suggests a dramatic type of peripheral vision that stays consistent throughout the entire novel. The strongest aspect of this book is the social commentary and political criticism displayed within the novel. It entices readers to become aware of various current issues and social injustices, educating them on important matters in society, and encouraging them to get involved to promote change, even if it’s only in their community. The Hate U Give introduces many important questions regarding racism, police brutality, discrimination, and prejudice in modern culture while also answering them in an alluring manner. It was fascinating to see the actions and beliefs of such a powerful movement like Black Lives Matter to be transformed into an accessible form of media for all to read.
The Hate U Give strongly suggests that the most powerful weapon a person can wield is the action of using their voice to speak out against injustice, which makes readers realize how much their words matter. Starr Carter is an exceptional example of an individual who feels that their voice does not matter at first, but by staying determined, taking risks, and using her inner strength, she realizes how fundamental it is to speak up for what you believe is morally right in society, no matter how imposing the consequences are.