We met Thursday, June 14th to talk about The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
From the publisher: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
We started our meeting with an ice-breaker question, “Who are you today?” We stood in a circle and answered the question in six word poems/memoirs. One student’s poem was, “I’m quiet today and that’s okay.”
After everyone recited their own six word poem, we sat down to talk about the book by starting with code-switching after watching this Key and Peele two-minute video and how it relates to Starr and to ourselves including why people feel they need to code-switch. We talked about how Starr deftly code switches between her two worlds of Garden Heights and her nearly all white school of Williamson Prep. We talked about the unfair burden placed on some folks who are BPOC to adhere to the white standard to fit in and be respected.
Our guest presenter was Ericka Cox from King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice. She started our conversation by asking if The Hate U Give was realistic, specifically the indefensible brutal murder of a black teenager by a white police officer. Everyone unequivocally agreed that what was depicted was realistic. It was sobering to hear that the students were all fully aware of the current, racist reality that they’re living in. They also felt the unfair burden that has been passed on to them from previous generations – to try to navigate, survive, and positively impact their world. They may not want to become activists, but they’re feeling that pressure.
Ericka also talked to us a lot about institutional racism – how it plays out in the book, in our lives, and here in King County (including the work that her office is doing). It got us talking about how whiteness is the default in our society and how we see it play out in the media we consume, textbooks and standardized tests in schools, and even the memes we share.
As Ijeoma Oluo discussed in her book So You Want to talk About Race, “We celebrate the complex lives of white children, when they are good and bad, cute and exhausting. We see them as whole children. But, children of color are rarely depicted that way, as complex individuals in their own environment…. When our society only defines “children” as young people of a certain color [e.g. predominantly/only white], it can prevent some from seeing children of color as children to be loved and protected.”
In the book, we saw this with how the white officer (115) saw teenage Khalil and his hairbrush as nothing but a threat. Another example was Starr’s white friend Hailey and her refusal to listen to and empathize with Starr. Hailey plays the victim and is the epitome of white fragility when she is actually the one committing the micro-aggressions. Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend is very well-intentioned, and gets a lot right, but he’s also white, so he messes up a lot. Chris asks “Why do some black people give their kids odd names?” and says that they’re “not normal.” Seven points out to Chris that he’s “fallen into the trap of the white standard” and that their names are not any less normal than white people’s names and not any less common either (it’s all about perspective).
Ericka talked about the opportunity gap for BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) students. (Opportunity gap – is the disparity in access to quality schools and the resources needed for all children to be academically successful).
We continued our discussion of the book, by working through these questions:
1) Throughout the novel, Starr talks about how she has to be one person in her neighborhood and another Starr when she’s at school. Some have called this type of posturing “code-switching,” referring to how a person might switch up their speech or mannerisms depending on the social situation they’re in. Is Starr a successful code-switcher? How about other characters in the book? How do you feel about code-switching in your own life?
2) In the opening chapter, Starr and Khalil talk about rap music and listen to influential 90s rapper, Tupac, who (in)famously had the phrase “T.H.UG. Life” tattooed on his stomach. Khalil explains that, for Tupac, the word “thug” was an acronym for “the hate u give.” Why do you think the author chose that phrase as the title of the novel? How do you see the concept used throughout the book? How do you see the term “thug” used today?
3) Starr has a somewhat complicated family situation. She lives with her parents, an older brother (who has a different mother but same father) and a younger brother (who has the same mother and father). She also has a relationship with her older brother’s sister, and a police officer uncle who lives in the suburbs, and any number of community members who treat her like family. How do you see Starr defining family? Is it purely about blood relations or something else? How does this compare to how you feel about your own family?
4) Starr initially has a hard time getting her non-Black prep school classmates to understand her complicated feelings about Khalil’s death and even just living in her neighborhood. What gets (some of) them to understand her perspective? Have you had a situation where your friends just didn’t get where you were coming from? Were you able to change their minds?
5) Starr’s on-again, off-again relationship with her boyfriend Chris has its ups and downs. What do you make of Chris’s attempts to prove his love and loyalty to Starr? How does the fact that they are in an interracial relationship complicate and/or strengthen their bond? What do you think will happen to Chris and Starr after the end of the novel?
6) Community protests in the wake of unpopular legal verdicts are a big part of history, from the Watts protests in the 1960s, to the protest after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, to the more recent protests after the death of Mike Brown in 2015 in Ferguson, MO. Starr’s neighborhood erupts into disbelief, frustration, and rage after the grand jury’s decision for Khalil’s murder. How and why does the neighborhood react to the grand jury’s decision? How does Starr speak out? Why does she feel compelled to jump into the fray? How would you have reacted in a similar situation?
7) Young people of color across the country are currently coming together to advocate for stricter gun laws, citing the recent shootings in Parkland, FL and other places. What do you think Starr would think of these recent events? Would she be involved? Why or why not?
Who’s ready to watch the movie??? It debuts in theaters:
October 19, 2018!