Dignity and Pride in The Hate U Give

Confession time. I nabbed a teenagers book the other day from her house. OK fine, her mom said I could borrow whatever I wanted, so really it’s her fault.

The Hate U Give is a 2017 breakout debut novel that is now either required or banned reading in many schools. I don’t think you could get more props than that as an author! It's also a movie now, so yes, I'm late to the game.

Why required and why banned? For one, it has some objectionable language. But the content is enough to scare any sweet southern belle’s daddy into making a stink.

Two acronyms sum up much of the book’s theme. THUG LIFE and DAP. Tupac popularized Thug Life back in the day. To him, it stood for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. Take that one in a second. To me this meant that whatever you put on a child, they multiply it back into the world. It wasn’t until late in the book that one of the characters applied it directly to the system that marginalizes minorities, poor, and other disadvantaged people.

And DAP. My husband really likes his rap, so yeah, I’ve heard dap, but wasn’t sure if I really knew what it meant. So this admittedly uncool 40 year old white chick googled it. The physical action was about what I thought, but its background is what’s interesting. Black soldiers started the greeting in the 60’s and it’s meaning is Dignity and Pride. Damn! That’s way deeper than a rap video. And yes, they were persecuted for it during the Vietnam War.

The story follows Starr and her split life between a ritzy private school where she is one of a handful of black students, and her home life in the ghetto. One of her friends is killed by a cop and she is the only witness. I won’t give any more of the story line away, but suffice it to say I lost focus a few times because of this watery substance obstructing my vision.

Judging from the doodles on the outside cover and notes in the book, I read a copy that was required in my friend’s teenager’s rich private school.

A little background… I recently moved to a new home. In my new home, I’m a minority. We live on the beautiful island of St. Croix. Starr talks about the senseless gang violence that divides her neighborhood, and that is prevalent here, but none perpetrated by police officers as far as I know. But man are the racial divides noticeable. I’m sure I’m not supposed to say anything about it, but it kind of bothers me. It’s like growing up in my small Texas hometown with only a few kids that weren’t basic white. People fear what they don’t know. If you keep them divided, they will come to fear one another. For logical Americans, we are a tad short sighted on this very simple logic.

Regardless, I found myself relating to Starr in many ways because the author, Angie Thomas, did a beautiful job of showing us what was going on in the protagonist’s teenage brain. Not an easy feat I assure you.

I grew up poor and embarrassed about it in a rich town. I rarely let people come to my house and cringed every time I heard a joke about ‘Happy Crappy Homes’ (some genius named our neighborhood Happy Country Homes – wtf kind of a name is that?). When friends would tell me about their all-inclusive vacations in Cancun, I wouldn’t tell them about my summer trip to Mexico in dad’s van, staying in houses that only sometimes had running water and electricity. Giving some of my favorite – and only - toys to other kids because they had never owned a toy. My Mexico didn’t include jet ski rentals and guided excursions. We built churches and sang hymns in our terrible Spanish.

So I understand all too well Starr’s double life, though I never felt fear for mine or fear of the people who are paid to protect it. She was forced to overcome her shame, a word she doesn’t use but floats under the surface of her teenage angst. What she learned is that people felt she was ashamed of them. Her rich, white friends didn’t get the opportunity to decide for themselves if they were cool with her poor, black friends and vice versa. She unwittingly continued the illusion of separation. When she realized she was part of the problem, by giving in to fear and not speaking up, by giving into shame and not building bridges, she changed the game. She spoke up. She let people into her entire world. And they were all better for it.

In the end, the justice they sought was not found. But unity was forged. And that is what long-term solutions need. Unity and strength in numbers.

This is why I was so excited that the book is required reading. Because teenagers can handle it. Better than most adults can handle it. They can build friendships and alliances based on mutual interests rather than matching skin tones. Connections based on trust and shared experiences. While these teenagers may not change their parents minds or behaviors, they can decide for themselves what kind of world they want to live in because their school and Ms. Thomas exposed them to something most kids don’t see. All through a story.

And this is why I write. Thanks for unknowingly lending me your book kid.