Starr and her brothers straddle two worlds. In one world there is a strict code of behavior and an excellent education with kids from wealthy families and in the other there are gangs and drive-by shootings and poverty. Starr lives in the ghetto and attends school in a bubble neighborhood of privilege. Her mom is a nurse and her dad, Maverick, runs a market where Starr helps out. He is an ex convict. He covered for another gang member who would have been a three time loser, sacrificed himself, and spent three years in prison. He is respected and has a lot of positive influence in his ghetto community of Garden Heights. He has no intention of ever going back to prison.
Starr is a senior at Williamson, a posh private school. She has created two personalities for herself. One is her ghetto half in Garden Heights, and the other is the one she takes to Williamson. The two worlds do not mix and even her mode of speech changes from place to place. What is cool in one place is definitely not cool in the other. No one in the private school world knows much about the Starr from the ghetto, not even her boyfriend Chris, a very wealthy white teenager who is also a senior. She keeps the two worlds separate and apart, unwilling to expose both sides of her self in either place, unwilling to expose herself to ridicule.
Chris’s world is completely different from Starr’s. Her house could fit into one of the rooms in his house! He took her to the prom in a Rolls Royce. He believes that they have been totally honest with each other and is surprised when he learns that he knew so little about her, that her world is so different from his. He is hurt when he discovers the secrets she has kept from him. When he learns that her ten year old friend, Natasha, was murdered in a drive by shooting, and that she witnessed the recent shooting death of Khalil, her close friend, by a police officer, he wants to be there for her, but she is not sure she wants him to let him into her worldview or to experience her lifestyle.
The author highlights the differences in the lives of Starr and her family when compared to her private school friends. How can the differences, injustices and misunderstandings in our “bubble” communities be addressed? Why are there so many misinterpretations and over-reactions by those in the two communities and those charged with protecting them? Why do police officers assume that a person of color is immediately suspect? Why do minorities distrust authority? I haven’t walked in the shoes of those who live in oppressed neighborhoods, although I am part of a minority, as a Jew. My background’s oppression has been different, although horrific as well. I don’t believe that I can fully comprehend the mindset or the prejudice that exists in poor minority communities. I haven’t watched as my friends were harassed by law enforcement or seen their unarmed friends senselessly gunned down. Living “while black” is not a condition a white person can understand or judge alone. For an honest assessment of the issues and concerns presented in this book and perhaps an honest approach to changing them, an honest dialogue between all parties is required, honest being the watchword. Some responsibility exists on all sides of the dilemma and must be acknowledged.
I had questions, as I read, that still remain unanswered, questions that a person of color might mock, i.e. why would a black person want to sound uneducated to be cool? Why is that cool? I wanted to lose my Jewish inflection as fast as I could so that I would fit in with the mainstream of America and open locked doors. Why wouldn’t a person of color dress for success? I can understand why some turn to lives of crime, almost as if they have no choice, because they need money, but why do so many turn to a life of crime? Why are the gangs in charge? Why is education mocked? Why is crime glorified in the so-called “hood?” How did the gangs get so much control that even the residents live in fear of them? Why are policeman so afraid in those neighborhoods, that when they are confronted, they become trigger happy? As a white person, I can’t answer those questions? My initial impulse is to respect authority, not to ignore it, to obey police officers and not to defy them. So if I am told to stop, I stop. If they tell me to keep my hands in one place, that is where my hands stay, if they speak to me in a way that I do not like, I generally swallow my pride and hold my tongue, I do not run because I am afraid to show defiance or resist their authority, but I am not afraid that I will be shot or hauled off because of my color.
The author has left me with the impression that the teenager was wrongfully murdered and had no responsibility in the outcome that took his life. His personal behavior seemed to have no bearing on what happened and was not interpreted to represent a threat to the officer. Only he was guilty, period. It didn’t help that the officer was portrayed as a blatant liar. The author wanted the reader to believe that the officer was totally guilty and the victim totally innocent. I believe that there has to be some gray area between the black and white of guilt or innocence.
The community wanted respect, once and for all, and when a verdict came down that they disapproved of, that wasn’t what they expected or hoped for, they took to the streets looting and rioting. Then when the police came to maintain order, they cried police brutality. If respect was demanded from the police, why wasn’t it also given to the police? If unlawful behavior like looting and rioting was the common practice everywhere, our society would be chaotic, and law enforcement would be completely powerless. Anarchy would prevail. There would be no safe space for anyone. Why, in protest, should a neighborhood’s lifeblood be destroyed to show disappointment? Why disabuse the merchants of their positive reasons to serve the community by destroying their investments?
Still, overall, I found the novel to be eye-opening. No one deserves to be murdered by a policeman or a rival gang member, but the aura of false bravado that is being elevated to acceptable standards seems to be a false solution. The author has done a wonderful job of showing how a community can come together to fight against what is destroying it. She reveals and explores the layers of distrust that exist. I don’t think enough emphasis was placed on the broad fear that the police officers’ have for their own safety. Denying the reality of the danger in their community won’t correct the situation that exists, let alone eradicate the outright bias on both sides. Still, beyond the shadow of a doubt shooting an unarmed man is problematic, but what should a policeman do, if his authority is mocked, if he is disobeyed and fears for his own life? Should he presume someone running away is innocent of criminal behavior? Should he let the suspect get away? I wondered which came first, the community’s fear of law enforcement or law enforcement’s fear of the community. Then I had one final thought, if a policeman is harassing a victim, does the victim have the right to fight back and if so, how?
The author’s political persuasion was pretty obvious, even though the dialogue in the book was subtle. She referred to one news network that she thought was prejudiced, and it was easy to guess which one it was. Why is an alternate opinion so difficult to accept and address? How can the problem be resolved if it is unaddressed?
The “hate u give” of the title refers to the idea that the minority community is underserved. It does not prepare anyone for a successful future. So, why is it that when alternatives are offered, there is resistance, especially if it is not offered by the left? Why not improve conditions regardless of how the offer is advanced?
I hope this book opens up some meaningful dialogue to help bring all people to the fount of success. This book cries out for discussion. In some ways it was flawed, i.e., the interracial nature of the relationship was really shown as a problem for Starr’s family, while Chris’ got barely a mention. He seemed to have pretty much free range to date whomever he pleased. However, overall, the main message of the story seemed authentic as it represented the collision of two disparate worlds. The narrator expertly portrayed each character in terms of personality and dialect and I was truly immersed in the book, feeling all of the emotions of the characters, all of the tension and all of the frustration. What I didn’t feel so much were the kumbaya moments.