The Hate U Give may be categorized as a fiction novel but make no mistake, there is nothing fictional about it. Yes, Starr, Khalil, Seven, Maya, Devante, Big Mav, Lisa and Kenya don’t actually exist but their story does. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who lives in the hood but goes to school in private school in the suburbs. Her worlds could not be different. Over Spring Break, her best friend Khalil gets shot and killed by a police office during a routine traffic stop and Starr is the only witness. Starr must reconcile her own feelings about what she witnessed and the realities that come with it while also coming to grips how it effects her two different worlds. It gets thrown into sharp relief how her family and neighbors think what happens versus what her friends at school do. Starr grapples with her own fears and find her own voice to stand up for what rights, stand up to the authorities and her own friends too. This book is heartbreaking because it’s a story that we have seen played out too many times in the last couple of years. Khalil was unarmed when he was killed. Yes, he did sell drugs and had involvement with gangs but none of those facts should be justification for what this officer did. You could replace Khalil’s name with Michael, Philandro, Tamir, Tayvon or any other young black men unjustly killed by law enforcement and you would go through the same emotions. Angie Thomas does a brilliant job of outlining all the many view points about this issue. From Starr’s father, a former gang member and ex-con who is far to aware of how the justice system works to Hailey, Starr’s rich white friend who is willing to protest only because it got her out of class for a day. As the reader, we see what happened and how it happened at the beginning of the book. We know it was unjust but since the other characters weren’t there, we get to see how they process it through how they relate to Starr. They accept or deny it depends mostly on their own socioeconomic background and yes race plays apart of it too. Starr’s family of course understand immediately that Khalil did nothing wrong and that Starr did nothing wrong. They also know that because of the neighborhood that they live in it could be dangerous for Starr to speak out even if can help bring him justice. Whatever her decision, they always have her back. The first thing that really struck me was when Starr and Khalil were pulled over, Starr goes over in her head how she is supposed to act when interacting with cops. She says when she was 12 her father told her to do as the officer says, don’t talk unless spoken to and keep your hands visible. She was told this at twelve. Meaning that her parents thought, even as young as twelve years old she could be in danger. I tried to think if my parents and I ever had a talk about what to do if I got pulled over and I don’t think we ever did. Why would we? We are white, there is no reason for cops to look at me or my sister and assume we were up to no good. That we were criminals. That we could be dangerous but Starr’s parents and many black parents have to worry about that for their kids. That is truly heartbreaking. Two of the most interesting characters, okay maybe not the most interesting are Chris and Hailey. Chris and Hailey are both white, privileged and rich. Chris is Starr’s boyfriend. They share a love for sneakers, basketball and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He at times is completely oblivious to their differences. He doesn’t notice or bother him that people stare at them when they walk down the hallway. He wouldn’t say he was racists and most people would agree with him but because of his own privilege, without even realizing it he sometimes falls into the insensitive thinking. He doesn’t understand why Starr is so upset with him or just in general but when she tells him he does try to understand. He wants to be supportive to Starr and that means challenging his own misconceptions and that’s what makes a good ally. Hailey also wouldn’t call herself a racist either. She would be one of those people who says, “I’m not a racists have a black and Asian friend.” Throughout the book she makes insensitive comments and try to pass them off as jokes. When she gets called out on she gets defensive. “It was a joke” “I didn’t mean anything by it” “I can’t believe you would think I’m a racist” Even demands for Starr to apologize to her. She makes absolutely no effort to see Starr’s point of view or acknowledge that what she said hurt her feelings. When she does apologize, it isn’t because she sees what she did or said was wrong it’s that she wants things to go back to what they were before. Since I assume there are going to be a lot of young white readers of this book, Chris and Hailey are important because they may not be able to relate with Starr and her family but they probably can relate to either Chris or Hailey, whether they want to admit it or not. I hope they take a hard and close look at both of those characters and ask themselves some uncomfortable questions. Are they more like Chris or like Hailey? This novel really should be required school reading. Not just because it was well written but also because it does outline all the point of views and how much it should be it’s not just black and white but shades of gray. Only be listening and understanding what people of color and marginalized communities are saying and owning up to our prejudices will we able to end this. So one day, we won’t have to teach our children how to act in police presence and police won’t make snap judgments about civilians based on skin color.
And now for something timely
A lot of terrible things have happened…well, all of human history might accurately categorized as action and reaction when terrible things happen. One of those actions that people can take is educating oneself and trying to be a better person and/or not be as much a part of the problem. I have been heartened to see what might be a new trend in book lists: the syllabus. (Can a tool for teaching in the classroom be thought of as a “new” trend out of the classroom?) I am always happy to see thematic lists and I’m always looking for new things to read, so I have been collecting them. Some of the following are actual syllabuses for college courses and some of them are just curated lists on a topic. I’ve got them and I’ve been looking back through them now that I’m aware of how far behind I am on my reading challenge. While I was looking at them, I thought I might share them with you.
This first link is an in-depth list but together following the mass shooting in Charleston in June of 2015. This list is amazing in its detail. It provides historical context starting with a general overview before readings on slavery in both the North and the South before going onto the civil war, reconstruction, and Jim Crow. There are readings on race and religion. There are readings on white identity construction and white supremacy in the US and abroad.
The next syllabus I have to offer is the Black Lives Matter 2016 Fall Syllabus. This syllabus was put together by Professor Frank Leon Roberts at NYU for a class. This is a nice syllabus because it includes not only papers and texts to read but it also includes videos and films to watch. The syllabus also includes writing prompts for reflection papers, so while you are reading and watching, you can also do some digesting.
The Standing Rock Syllabus, put together by the NYC stands with Standing Rock collective includes readings on topics like settler colonialism, the histories of indigenous peoples in North America, environmental racism, and readings on Indian sovereignty and treaty law.
The Lemonade syllabus grew out of a desire that many people had to understand and better get all of the references in Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade. It was put together by Candice Benbow and is beautiful. It is stunningly laid out, once you’ve followed the link from the site. It is 36 pages and includes space to make notes and to write down the date when you finished reading. The syllabus is divided into topics that include (but are not limited to) fiction, non-fiction, black feminism, womanist theology, photography, music, critical theory and poetry. It is so cool. People had questions, they took to twitter and using a hashtag gave each other answers. I cannot understate how in awe of this syllabus I am.
The Luke Cage Syllabus is a look at the literature in the netflix show Luke Cage but together by Tara Betts at Black Nerd Problems. These are books that are seen or referenced in the show. This syllabus is my convenient excuse for re-watching the show.
These last two I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to look over yet. One of them is a google doc and I’m not sure who it is edited by but it is a reading list for white people who want to educate themselves so that they can be more informed. It is divided up thematically and includes readings on systemic racism and racist ideology, the history of black lives matter and readings on steps you can take to combat racism. The last one is from Haymarket books and is called the Stop Trump Reading List. This list contains books that talk may help you understand how Trump was elected and it includes a link to a list of books especially for young people.
So, there you have it. Syllabi and reading lists to help you find your next book(s) and to learn a little about issues in the world and also about references in pop culture you may be missing!
If you have any suggestions or have seen any reading lists/syllabi out there that I missed, please take to the comments and let me know!