The Hate U Give | Study Guide

Angie Thomas

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The Hate U Give | Themes


Identity and Double-Consciousness

In an 1897 article in the Atlantic, sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois applied the term double-consciousness to the experience of African Americans. He noted how he felt a "two-ness" that came from seeing himself through the eyes of others. In The Hate U Give, Thomas imbues Starr with this sensibility and sharpens her dilemma by having her dramatically straddle two worlds: the African American Garden Heights neighborhood where she lives and the white Williamson Prep where she goes to school. With her Garden Heights friends, Starr uses slang, liberally doles out "stank-eye," and talks about neighborhood issues such as "gangbanging." With her Williamson Prep friends, she is careful to always use proper English and watches her tone so no one can dismiss her as an "angry black girl." She learned early on, when she tried to have a slumber party with both sets of friends, that the two worlds do not mesh, and she finds it exhausting to keep up two separate personas. She has become an expert in code-switching.

Starr's attempt to be acceptable to both worlds causes an identity crisis and prevents her from being her authentic self and truly connecting with others. She wishes she could be like Will, the main character in the 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, whom she believes acted true to himself despite attending a fancy school. Starr and her white boyfriend, Chris, share a fondness for the sitcom and can recite entire episodes to each other. Starr admits she feels normal around Chris, probably because he is more accepting of African American culture than her other white friends. Still, Starr does not feel safe enough with Chris to reveal her trauma over the deaths of Natasha and Khalil. When Chris confronts her at prom about being the witness to Khalil's death, it is a watershed moment for Starr. She allows herself to be truly vulnerable with him for the first time.

Bolstered by this validation, Starr continues to work on integrating her two identities and being more authentic to her true self. At Seven's birthday/graduation party, Starr notes how her two worlds are colliding. Chris continues to stick around even when she is at her angriest during the protest riot and she lets go of her friendship with Hailey, who cannot understand the ways in which her racist statements cause harm. By the end of the novel, Starr has owned up to and apologized to Kenya for being ashamed of Garden Heights and resolves to use her authentic voice in the African American cause.

The Pervasiveness of Racism

Institutionalized racism drives the plot in The Hate U Give. Khalil is a victim of thug life both in life and death. In life, lack of economic opportunity led to his drug dealing. In death, racial profiling led to his being blamed for his own murder. As Khalil's friend and the witness to his shooting, Starr must navigate the overt racism of One-Fifteen and those who justify and defend him. And as an African American student in a predominately white school, Starr must contend with the daily microaggressions from people like Hailey who refuse to acknowledge their white privilege.

One-Fifteen symbolizes the constant threat of police brutality against African Americans. Although he is barely present as a character, he looms over the entire narrative. One-Fifteen pulls the teens over because of a broken taillight, but he is unnecessarily aggressive toward Khalil, assuming Khalil is up to no good because he is African American. In a television interview, One-Fifteen's father characterizes his son as "afraid for his life" during his encounter with the teens, when in fact, Starr and Khalil posed no danger to him. One-Fifteen's father also paints his son as some kind of white savior, nobly risking himself "to make a difference in the lives" of the residents of Garden Heights. Starr calls this attitude out as no different from how slave masters thought they were "saving [African Americans] from their 'wild African ways.'" Because of a justice system stacked against African Americans, One-Fifteen suffers no consequences for killing an unarmed teen.

Hailey's brand of racism is less overt than One-Fifteen's, but it is still harmful. Her casually cruel comments dehumanize Starr and Maya, and she refuses to acknowledge that she has done anything wrong, even when directly challenged. Instead, she guilt-trips them and turns their argument around, making herself a victim instead of a perpetrator. Thomas illustrates how this behavior is a form of gaslighting that makes Hailey's victims question themselves so she can retain the moral high ground and maintain the status quo. Thomas suggests that the only way to change the system is to keep fighting and to keep challenging racist attitudes.

The Crushing Cycle of Poverty

The truth of Khalil's character is at the forefront of Starr's mind and thus becomes one of the focal points of Thomas's narrative. Through Khalil's life and death, Thomas investigates the way the crushing cycle of poverty limits choices for African Americans and how their crimes provide justification for white people to continue to dismiss and oppress them. Starr has known Khalil since they were babies. Ms. Rosalie is his grandmother and Starr's former babysitter. Even though they have drifted apart somewhat since Starr began attending Williamson Prep, she trusts him enough to get in his car without a second thought when shots ring out at a party in Garden Heights. Khalil's death is tragic and traumatizing to Starr. She knows he did nothing wrong and that One-Fifteen murdered him, plain and simple.

However, Starr finds herself conflicted and wondering how much she can defend someone who dealt drugs and may have been a gang member. When her Williamson Prep friends dismiss him as a thug, Starr is ashamed and denies knowing him. When she hears One-Fifteen's father lying about Khalil and painting him as a threat to his son's life, Starr realizes she must speak for Khalil and let people know the true story, that Khalil is as much a victim of institutionalized racism as he is of One-Fifteen's gun. Racism prevents economic investment in African American communities, which leads to a lack of opportunities for employment. Without a living wage, many may feel forced to turn to crime to support themselves and their families. Khalil earned some money at Maverick's store, but his grandmother's cancer treatments became unmanageable. When DeVante reveals that Khalil's drug-addicted mother stole from King and that Khalil sold drugs to reimburse King for her theft, Starr reflects that she cannot say she would not have made the same choice. She wonders if this makes her a thug, too, providing justification for white people to kill her as well. Starr knows she is lucky to have two loving, gainfully employed parents who have successfully escaped the crushing cycle of poverty. She knows that most in Garden Heights are not so lucky, and it is up to her and those like her to help out in any way possible.

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