A Hairbush is Not a Gun
Review of 'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
By Kriti Sarawgi
Racism is not dead. Comical YouTube videos, wordy Instagram captions, and school textbooks may make it appear to be an act of the past but that is an idea far from the truth. These false assumptions are nothing, but speculations based on privileged individual’s experiences. Not only are they incorrect and unworldly, but they are also menacing to our growth as a society. It is as if a section of the community is waving a ‘mission accomplished’ banner above their heads while many others suffer whilst being silenced by the authority, as stated by Jan Miles; sounds a lot like a modern-day dystopia to me!
The young adult novel, ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, impeccably discussed this idea through the eyes of sixteen-year-old, Starr, who is stuck between two stark opposite worlds– the poor ‘black’ neighborhood she lives in which has been captivated by drugs, gangs and violence; and the posh suburban prep school she attends. On top of it all, Starr had the misfortune of seeing her two best friends die before her eyes– Innocent, Unarmed, but Black. She soon comes to realize that “It's dope to be black until it's hard to be black”. After being the witness to her childhood friend, Khalil, being shot at the hands of a police officer, Starr can either choose to remain silent or speak out for justice; but what she says may alter her community and put her life at risk.
The rapper Tupac Shakur defined ‘THUG LIFE’ as an acronym for “The hate U give little infants f**ks everybody”, hence, the title of this novel. This becomes an important motif throughout the story. Based on my understanding, this means that children make up the future of the society and the ‘hate’ given to them by raising them in a world of oppressive political systems, racism, and sexism will undoubtedly destroy the life of not only members of that society, but the oppressors as well. This has been seen evidently in the novel as the racism that so many of the members in Starr’s society face: whether it's in the form of being unrightfully abused by the police, being unable to find good jobs, or being forced to live in a system designed against them; it all results in social evils such as drug dealing and gangs, but above all misery and anger. I personally also felt that this was in reference to a movement in communities where mass incarceration took place, and they started using the word 'thug' as a countercultural rebellion against racism, and a form of self-empowerment and protest. This was used in this novel to bring to people's attention that in many situations, every colored individual is considered a ‘thug’ when he/she isn’t involved in criminal activity. This was a similar case with Khalil as, after his death, the world portrayed him to be a drug dealer, gang member, and essentially, a thug when very few knew the reality about him; but went as far as saying that he deserved to die. Hence, bringing out how not only does the media orchestrate how a situation is seen, but also brings out society's double standards.
A moment from the novel which perhaps impacted me the most was when Starr’s uncle, a police officer, was asked if he would treat a black and a white person in the same manner, and even as a proud colored man, his answer was still no. Racism has penetrated so deep into each one of us that to a certain extent, mistreating certain individuals has almost become justifiable. When was the rightfulness of shooting a young teenager without reason even a debate? One of the many important lessons this book taught me was that I can’t change where I come from or who I am, so why is that one of the breeding grounds for shame and being judgmental?
With Khalid’s death, Starr, although scared, was brave enough to speak out for justice. She, along with the readers of the novel learned that there is no point in having a voice if you're going to be silent in those moments you shouldn't be. This particular movement, initiated by Starr and supported by many, soon became a hashtag and trending subject. However, Khalid and the many others suffering still didn't get justice, but the hope that there will be a day when things will end right is possibly the only thing keeping people going. This may be why many of us still choose to turn to social media in order to support issues. The problem with this, however, is that many of those who participate, don't know what they are standing for. It is crucial to understand and support world causes but after reading this novel, I understand the importance of understanding the situation well and not falling victim to pretense. But above all, I am moved and inspired by Starr, who used her voice to speak up for those who don’t have the same privilege because after all, “you can destroy wood and brick, but you can't destroy a movement.”
A hairbrush is not a gun. Being black is not a sin. And Khalil was just a boy who died after living nearly not long enough. His story was not a fairytale, just like many other stories in our world, but by standing up towards issues that we see around us, just like Starr and the many fighting for justice, we are making it clear that we are not willing to give up on a better ending.
The above article is more than just a book review. In light of the recent events regarding police brutality and systematic racism, it reminds us take advantage of the one thing we all have in common , regardless of race, religion or nationality– a voice. A hairbrush is not a gun, and George Floyd did not deserve to die.