Of all the books I have read during 2019, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is the book that I was most impressed by.
The Hate U Give is about a teenager named Starr Carter. After witnessing her unarmed friend being shot and killed by a police officer, Starr finds herself in a difficult position, caught between fear and the need to speak up on behalf of her friend. The book deals with a lot of issues, including (but not limited to): racism and racial profiling, economic disparity, and police violence.
The title comes from Tupac Shakur’s concept of “THUG LIFE.” (I’m not going to censor this, so if you have issues with profanity, I’m giving you fair warning that it’s coming.) “THUG LIFE” is actually an acronym, which stands for “The Hate You Gave Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” In a video, which you can view on YouTube, he expands on this phrase, explaining that “What you feed us as seeds, grows and blows up in your face.” It’s a concept that has a big impact on the plot and characters of The Hate U Give, as well as in real life.
In the article Banned Spotlight: The Hate U Give, located on the Banned Books Week website, author Betsy Gomez lists several reasons challengers have used to support a ban on the book, including: “drug use, profanity, and offensive language.”
“That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.”Captain James T. Kirk, explaining profanity to Mr. Spock
(Star Trek: The Voyage Home, 1986)
Another challenge apparently came from the Fraternal Order of Police in South Carolina. Rebecca Slocum, author of the article The Hate U Give and All American Boys Challenged By Charleston County Police, included a quote by the FOP president stating that the novel is “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we’ve got to put a stop to that.” Betsy Gomez referenced the same statement in her article as well.
After having read the book for myself, I cannot agree with this view of the novel. The Hate U Give is an example of art reflecting real life, and banning it is not going to change attitudes that already existed prior to its 2017 publication date. If those attitudes are going to change, it will need to happen through empathy, positive experiences, and time.
“A dangerous book will always be in danger from those it threatens with the demand that they question their assumptions. They’d rather hang on to the assumptions and ban the book.”Ursula K. LeGuin
Studies referenced in Claudia Hammond’s BBC article, Does reading fiction make us better people?, suggest that reading fiction has an impact on empathy. One study in particular looked at the level of empathy shown by students after reading a chapter from a novel. According to the study, “When students read the story, not only did their empathy levels rise immediately afterward, but provided they had felt emotionally transported by the story, a week later they scored even higher on empathy than they did right after reading.”
Rather than censoring The Hate U Give and other books like it, what if we let our young people learn about topics like discrimination through fiction? What kind of world would we have if we replaced “seeds” of hate with those of empathy and compassion? I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’d like to see.