Status: Finished Reading (20 July 2018)
Edition: Walker Books Paperback (UK Edition)
It took me a while to write a review for this book because I needed to give myself a day to process the events I had just read and to not let myself get pulled under by the wave of multiple emotions I was feeling. Those emotions are still very much there – anger, pain, sadness, fear – but I don’t want them to be the ones that fuel this review. In fact, I don’t want to even call this a review because it is not going to be written in the same way I write my other reviews. It is more my reaction to the book.
I know the task I’ve taken on as an amateur critic is to criticise books, both on a technical level and on a cultural level – it is a task that entails analysing characterisation, plot, plot resolution, subplots, prose, etc. But cultural context is vital to books that are written about very real sociopolitical climates: and right now my task is not to criticise those things. I am still trying to be a critic, but before a critic I am a reader and a human being. As a non-black WOC, my task with reading this book was never to analyse the story elements, but to understand the message. It was to listen and signal boost – to not let my own passionate feelings about the issue stomp out the voice of the author and Starr’s story.
I remember running a fandom blog on Tumblr in 2014 when Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed because of police brutality. I remember watching my dashboard flip on itself. My circle of mutual followers and I had never hesitated to reblog and comment on the socio-political posts that came our way, but as the Black Lives Matter movement caught national attention in USA (where most of my mutuals were from) and international attention (where I was), it became glaringly obvious just how much people cared – or, rather, didn’t.
My follower count fluctuated with every reblog I did, some fandom-accounts not wanting to see “that stuff” on their dashboard (“Sorry, I know this is sad, but like, I’m trying to keep it a fandom only dash :/” to paraphrase). Every single BLM post that I saw had the tagline or hashtag “I don’t care if this is not a fandom post. If you have a problem with seeing this on the dash, then you’re ignorant.” Watching how fandom blogs both lost and gained followers was telling of exactly how much people wanted to turn a blind eye to harsh realities they did not want to accept.
Reading Starr’s story was an experience that I think every single non-black person needs to have. It’s necessary for the rest of us to fully understand what is at the core of this movement – it is panic and fear, the knowledge that sometimes doing nothing will still get black people killed. The book mentions minority alliances – I can understand that. I think those are sorely needed. POC are often seen as this scary, uniform monolith by white people – lending to the fear of “us” and “them”. While nothing about that is true – we fight each other, we stereotype each other, turn on each other, and we’re all very diverse – it is necessary to understand how POC solidarity can become powerful.
Just look at the difference it made to Starr’s life in school and in her friend circle after she had an honest conversation with Maya about Hailey’s behaviour. Maya’s experiences made Starr feel less alone in facing micro-aggressive behaviour around her peers. While Maya can and never will have to face the same treatment Starr and Seven do, nor can she alleviate the pain of losing people in the same manner that Starr’s community does, it still helped both of them in a way – it helped them give each other a sliver of courage to not be silent, even about the little things. After all, it’s the thousands of little things that turn into one big thing and blow up.
As a brown person I can say that I’m used to be racially profiled when I travel abroad. I am used to having to prove my Asian-ness to fellow Asians because of how I look. I come from a community where dark skin is a considered a curse and colourism ruins people’s lives. But that doesn’t change that black lives are persecuted on a level that is entirely different from other POC.
Black people have always been treated badly by white communities and POC communities because of the the anti-black sentiment created by those who have the dominant narrative. Even in communities without many black people in their demographic, the stereotypes associated with them come from the media portrayal which is riddled with dehumanising ideas – not to mention, the casual perpetuation of these and usage of slurs is fairly common because we were taught by the dominant narrative in media, the white narrative.
Both non-black POC and white people need to read these stories because as hard as it is to come to terms with reality, it is a lot harder to be the people suffering in them. While teenagers like Starr learns to find their voices, we need to open our ears and listen. It appalls me when the same people who don’t have a problem understanding feminism criticising patriarchy, or LGBT folk criticising heteronormativity/cisnormativity, suddenly start sticking to the “not all cops” defence when it comes to discussing BLM and police brutality. It’s not a matter of all cops – it’s a matter of enough cops. The statistics are staggering on how many unarmed black people get killed at the hands of police officers – and you can say that media and society has nothing to do with the police but that’s not true. The stories we hear, the stereotypes that are fed to us are what make fearful adults – and it is those wrongly informed presumptive adults who have their fingers on a trigger.
I could keep writing about this but I will let Angie Thomas and Starr do the talking because they can say it ten times better, and it is their voices that are more important than mine. Please put this book on your to-be-read shelf. In the current socio-political climate, hearing the stories of the people who are hurting matters, reading stories of the minorities who suffer matters. You cannot come out of this book unchanged.
Even someone who is well aware of the BLM movement will still benefit from reading this because we need to keep hearing the voices that need to be heard. Moreover, there are a lot of things the book addresses about how non-black people handle elements of black culture that are also necessary to understand. The appropriation of clothing, hairstyles, language (especially in social media) is fairly normalised and needs to stop – the book is a reminder of how unfair it is to steal from a culture what’s convenient and “cool” but it’s not so easy living that life.
It is not, by any means, an easy read. The prose is straightforward and hard-hitting. There are moments of levity with Starr and her friends, with her family, but that drives home the pain with every sentence because every page is filled with an undercurrent of fear and anxiety. With every tug of a smile I had when Starr had a cute moment with Chris or Maya, or when she laughed with her siblings and family, I felt my stomach flip because I kept thinking oh god, what if something bad happens? And that is only a taste of what it must be like living with that kind of fear for your life – I have the privilege of fearing for a character on a page. Just like how people have the privilege to walk past this book, of not clicking that reblog, of hitting that unfollow because “they don’t want to see that stuff”.
We need to see “this stuff.” Because there are people who don’t have the luxury to not. Pick up The Hate U Give. Read it. Talk about BLM. Listen to the people who suffer, and don’t speak over them. But when you have a chance to speak (especially when you’re in your own community who might not be informed, or surrounded by privileged people who want to ignore it) don’t stop talking about it.