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{bbw} The Hate U Give : Challenging Censorship.

hate u giveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Balzer + Bray, 2017. Hardcover, 444 pages.

Young Adult (YA) Contemporary Fiction.

Please. Please, read this book.

Once you’ve read this Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, you’ll be as angered, saddened, amused, and unsurprised as I was to find this book challenged/banned.

Once you’ve read The Hate U Give, you’ll want to make sure this book is in every library and classroom you can reach. You know I loathe designating books as IMPORTANT—but it really is. Not only because of the painfully relevant narrative Thomas so eloquently (re)constructs, but ideas concerning: agency; healthy/constructive communication of needs and wants and emotion; both community and individual response and responsibility; human dignity; grace.

Please. Please, read this book.

BBW-logo-300x221#8 on the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2017” list.  This YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.

When I peruse the Challenged/Banned lists, it is with a shake of the head, especially if I’ve read any of the books. I think: “they have not actually read this book.” And sometimes, I think, laughing, “they actually read this book.” I read the Hate U Give before I found it on the list, but once I saw it sitting at #8, I had a few thought about those who are afraid of this book. The ones who heard the listed complaints about it and will miss out in their ignorance or anxiety. The ones who read it, but didn’t actually read it—or they did read it and that’s why they’re throwing around words like “drug use” and “profanity.” They desire to keep people (including themselves) from engaging in the text and its conversation. The Hate U Give will engage you. Don’t be afraid. And don’t be deceived.

I know many, many people who would see the listed complaints and not allow it on their shelves. These are the same folk who wish schools and other public spaces would offer literature that would model civilized behaviors like politeness (sir and ma’am), eye-contact, and hand-shakes. The parental figures in The Hate U Give encourage these tokens of civility. It may (more subtly) question why we ask these of our young people, let alone each other, but that manners are encouraged is encouraging.

I’m sure there are those who are/will be offended by the presence of a praying-together, church-going, gospel-music-singing family. And how members of the Carter family have an ongoing conversation with Black Jesus. But I believe the majority of the offended petitioners are those who wish schools and other public spaces would offer literature that models positive religious tenants like prayer, church attendance, charitable giving, and living one’s faith.

The Carter family circles up and Maverick prays over and for his family (more than once). Each have comfortable, respectful conversations with Black Jesus. They struggle with their faith in the face of hardship, even as they cling to it. They struggle with the dynamics of church-going-life, believing attendance is important enough to suffer imperfection. The Carters give much and risk much for their community members; they are hospitable, generous people. And then there’s the juxtaposition of Black Jesus on the cross and a photograph of Malcolm X holding a gun on a wall in the family home. That last one is a tension I know speaks to many Christians in America today (regardless of color or neighborhood)–it just might not be a photograph of Malcolm X; and their Jesus may be White.

Maybe it’s because the Jesus of that anxious person is White.

Maybe this person did actually read The Hate U Give. Congratulations on writing something that leaves a healthy mark, Angie Thomas. And I’m sorry that this sometimes means a reader will find the need to silence or erase, and most certainly re-frame the narrative. Of course, the author of the words in this book already understands this horrible impulse. It is terrifying the lengths people will go to maintain their sense of comfort—whether they are fully conscious that that is what they are doing, or not. Thomas writes various scenarios regarding that pressure to maintain the status quo. Folk will murder children to maintain the status quo.

You may be thinking: whoa. Leslie! But read the book. Because when you read the complaints of ‘vulgarities,’ drugs, ‘profanity,’ or ‘offensive language,’ you will roll your eyes. No one who complains about and challenges The Hate U Give for those reasons are being honest—intellectually or otherwise.  If you are seeing a word on a page, or viewing an excised sentence or scene, that is not reading the book.

via epic reads
photograph via Epic Reads, see their article on the cover art.

I get the concern when we hear books have things we may not want our kids or ourselves interacting with. I have a short list of my own. I want to reassure you by addressing the list of complaints. And maybe interrogate just what the hell is going on here.

>> The “drug use” is depicted in a negative light. It is viewed as dangerous and destructive, and is highly discouraged, not only in the partaking, but selling it. Users and addicts are offered assistance. The existence of drugs, users, or addicts in the novel hardly encourages drug use–which is why I’m confused by the complaint.

Is it that the novel acknowledges drug use? Who doesn’t acknowledge the existence, let alone reality of drug use? If only to suggest you say “no” to it?

>>A delightfully humorous part of the novel is how the father has to put money in a “swear jar” aka young Sekani’s pocket. The caregiving adults discourage the children from using profanity–but even they have to make allowances because, really, what other word is appropriate in that context? Profane things occur in The Hate U Give and we need to hear about it and respond accordingly. An aspect of the novel and Starr’s conflict is figuring out which words are meant for which contexts; when is it appropriate, acceptable or palatable to use certain words or mannerisms? How much is that dictated by cultural expectations? So, I am confused by the “mind-your-tongue” crowd when I think about this novel and how it engages  thoughtfulness.

Is it that the novel acknowledges profanity? Who doesn’t acknowledge the existence, let alone reality of profanity? If only to suggest you don’t participate in it or perpetrate it?

>>Any offensive language is hardly gratuitous and it’s kept in check by context, e.g. the n-word is used by someone allowed to use it and commentary is provided on who isn’t allowed to use it. For example, white teen Chris, while rapping along to a song, is credited for going silent and not repeating the n-word in the lyrics. Racist language and situations are called out. For any anti-police sentiment (again, in a given context) there is a positive. I didn’t keep a chart, but our protagonist Starr (with whom we witness the murder of her friend by a police officer) is persistent with the reminder that there are police officers—like her beloved Uncle—who are trustworthy, sincere, positive figures.

Is it that the novel acknowledges offensive language? Who doesn’t acknowledge the existence, let alone reality of offensive language? If only to suggest you don’t participate in it?

Is it that the novel acknowledges racism? Who doesn’t acknowledge the existence, let alone reality of racism? If only to suggest you don’t participate in it?

Is it that the novel acknowledges that a cop is capable of murder? Who doesn’t acknowledge the existence, let alone reality of cops who have committed murder? If only to suggest you don’t support a violation of that kind of human or institutional conduct?

>>What is “pervasively vulgar?” Is it the devastatingly impoverished conditions of one community juxtaposed a more privileged class of living? Is it a judgment on the culture of a community for which the reader will find some true appreciation? Does the accusation have to do with the existence of gangs, the reality of imprisonment, the familial-make-up and dynamics put into play? A question that even our protagonist contemplates throughout the novel: Could one iteration of Starr be vulgar just by sheer existence?

I find it adorable when a challenge/complaint proves a novel’s point.

Now I’m going to go ahead and talk about the sexual content.

Sex could result in pregnancy. I know, shocking to learn, but not shocking in the novel. It’s a part of the everyday conversation of the community, and a present concern in a household where a mother had a child before graduating high school and had to find childcare while pursuing nursing. Lisa Carter’s story is a powerful/inspiring one. So is Maverick Carter’s.  Starr’s parents want an easier path for their daughter, and Starr is making decisions about her own body. Making decisions about your own body and your own voice is a conflict central to a book about agency.

Starr has more than one falling out with her adorable boyfriend about the lines we can and cannot cross. The first boundary is a sexual one, a decision they’d discussed and she believed he just decided to ignore. Starr’s response is beautiful to watch as she decides for herself what is best for her. It isn’t tidy. The novel does not often find our human responses or impulses to be simple, timely, or tidy. We revisit this sex-related tension later when Chris demonstrates the kind of loving consideration (for them both) that we should find heartening.

the hate u give pb

An imperative to communicate your needs, wants, and feelings—in healthy and constructive ways—is central in The Hate U Give. A love and grace that inspires courage and light, that is what is pervasive in this novel.

Please. Please, read this book.

Angie Thomas puts you in the front passenger seat with Starr. You know what happens. You don’t have to–get to?–speculate as to what happened or whether that young black man deserved it. You know Khalil didn’t, and neither does Starr deserve what happened, and neither does their family or community. Maybe that’s what makes The Hate U Give so scary.

No reader of The Hate U Give is going to be inspired to use drugs or racist language or—well, maybe they’ll want to use an obscenity after reading this novel. What they will be inspired by is the humanity of the characters and community. And they’ll be made to question. They’ll know to believe the humanity within every soul of color when someone tries to tell them otherwise. Who wouldn’t want for us to believe in the humanity of every person of color? Maybe they’ll be less afraid. Who doesn’t want for us to be less afraid?

 

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