The Hate U Give

by: Angie Thomas

Context

Angie Thomas was born in 1988, in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up in the primarily black neighborhood where she still resides. After six-year-old Thomas witnessed a shootout between gangs, Thomas’s mother introduced her to the library to show her that the world was bigger than the violence outside. The library experience birthed Thomas’s love of stories. In 2009, while Thomas studied creative writing at Belhaven University, police officers shot an unarmed black man named Oscar Grant in California. Thomas’s classmates dismissed Grant as a criminal, but Thomas saw him as someone who could have come from her own neighborhood. Soon after, these feelings grew into a short story for Thomas’s creative writing class about a teenage girl who witnesses her best friend shot by police. This short story would later become The Hate U Give.

Violence against black communities continued after Thomas graduated college. In 2012, George Zimmerman fatally shot seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. Media outlets reported widely on the attack, and the state took Zimmerman to trial. The jury found him innocent. The resulting anger and frustration led three community organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—to create the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. Black Lives Matter organizes civil action and protests in response to violence against black communities. After a police officer shot eighteen-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Black Lives Matter activists organized protests and rallies against police brutality. Elements of these real-life events appear in The Hate U Give. In the book, the police’s militarized response toward protesters reflects the behavior of the Ferguson police, who sent officers in riot gear to fire tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades into the crowds. As in The Hate U Give, some vandalism of businesses happened amidst the chaos, but most protesters remained peaceful.

Thomas found inspiration in the story of Rachel Jeantel, one of Trayvon Martin’s friends, who spoke on the phone with Martin at the time of his death. Jeantel gave testimony for the prosecution at Zimmerman’s trial. She became a subject of public ridicule because many claimed Jeantel sounded uneducated. Infuriated by the media’s dismissal of Jeantel, Thomas created Starr Carter, a character who knows how to talk in a way that the white mainstream media identifies as well-spoken, but who delivers an account of police brutality similar to Jeantel’s. Starr knows how to switch between the speech and mannerisms of her predominantly white school and black neighborhood, and therefore receives less scrutiny than Jeantel. Similarly, Thomas tried to overcome the stereotypes associated with her neighborhood by “code switching” at her mostly white college.

In 2015, the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books awarded Thomas their very first grant. Founded as a response to the lack of diversity in children’s fiction, We Need Diverse Books argued that all children deserve to see themselves as the protagonists in fiction and to read stories written by diverse authors. The Hate U Give—a story written by a black woman about a black teenage girl—speaks directly to the organization’s mission. Growing up, Thomas could not find teen fiction that reflected her experience, instead finding a mirror in hip hop. She even attempted a career as a rapper. Now, Thomas infuses hip hop into her books. The title “The Hate U Give” comes from the late rapper Tupac Shakur’s “THUG LIFE” acronym, which stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F---s Everyone.”

The Hate U Give released to critical acclaim, reaching the number one spot on the New York Times Young Adult Best Seller list its first week in print and won multiple awards. The film adaptation released in 2018. Despite its positive reception, the book became frequently challenged by school districts and law enforcement groups, with its harsh language and negative depiction of police cited as problematic. These groups protested The Hate U Give’s inclusion on required reading lists for students. Nevertheless, the book continues to sell well, and in 2018, Harper Collins published a collector’s edition with bonus content, including Thomas’s original short story.