“The Hate U Give” and The Reviews I Hate.
***DISCLAIMER: I saw a lot of the reviews mentioned weeks ago, mostly during release week.***
So, first off, yay! THE HATE U GIVE is a #1 fucking New York Times Bestseller. I can’t be happier about this.
THE HATE U GIVE (aka THUG, if you’ve seen the hashtag on Twitter) by Angie Thomas is a truly revolutionary book. It’s introduced to the YA community and publishing industry that not only do diverse stories written by people of color and marginalized writers matter, but also that they are demanded by consumers. For years, agents, editors and publishing houses were saying that there was no market for books like THUG. Welp. As it turns out, that was just fake news! Anyway, THUG hitting the New York Times is a massive deal, and I think we’ll see more changes within the industry. At least, one can hope.
The point of this post though is to open up the discussion of how to talk about THUG without being problematic. And this is mostly aimed at white reviewers, bloggers, journalists, etc. I’ve read several reviews, blog posts, Tweets, and general articles about THUG that rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m just going to highlight some of those things here.
My thoughts are probably going to be scattered and this might have a zillion typos because I’ve not yet had coffee and it’s early for me, but just hang with me.
First off – let’s start with the title. THE HATE U GIVE. It comes from Tupac Shakur who had a tattoo and a life motto of: T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. It stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” It’s a statement of what white society feeds into our youth (hatred, racism, and systems of oppression) and how it comes back around with long, devastating effects and stereotypes between white society and the black community. That’s why a lot of times when we see black and brown kids getting gunned down by racists, we’re always hearing that, “they were no angel. They were just a thug.” This is what Tupac was warning us about.
The usage of the letter “U” and not “you” is AAVE. The letter “U” is deeply rooted in black culture, mostly through music. I’ve seen a lot of people (usually white reviewers) write “THE HATE YOU GIVE” and though a lot of people don’t get corrected, it’s still kind of a microaggression. If you find that annoying, it’s probably because you’ve internalized that your way of speaking is superior, thus, walking the lines of white supremacy. Ignoring the usage of the letter “U” is erasure of an intimate element to Angie Thomas’s novel and black culture. Please don’t intentionally correct the title to “THE HATE YOU GIVE.” That’s offensive.
Speaking of AAVE:
AAVE is African American Vernacular English. It’s a whole rule-bound dialect of English with very clear, defined grammar structures. THUG is full of AAVE, which is part of the reason I love it so much. If in your review, you mention something along the lines of “a language deficit” or “incorrect/ungrammatical” structures, that’s problematic logic. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong. If you don’t understand what something means, please don’t hesitate to Google, if you can. It will save you.
However, Starr, the main character in THUG is constantly code-switching. Code-switching is when black people switch our behavior and language to certain navigate situations. It’s how we balance who we are with who we have to be at times. Starr lives in the hood, but goes to a very “preppy” school in the suburbs where she’s one of the only black kids in her class. She speaks and behaves differently around her friends than she does when she’s at school and around white folks because she absolutely has to. It’s a survival tactic. That’s a real thing that people have to do. So, stop calling it “inauthentic” and “unrealistic.”
Which brings me to…
Comparisons to novels by other black authors
It’s important not to box in black culture, especially when it comes to language. Yes, we code switch. Yes, we manipulate the English language. But black people are not a monolith. When you read books by black authors who write black characters don’t expect them to use AAVE in it and don’t expect them not to. We know standard English. A lot of us have degrees in English. In a lot of reviews by white reviewers, I’m seeing people compare THUG to ALL AMERICAN BOYS. Just stop it. Don’t. Do. This. You’re totally allowed to like one more than the other and whatever, but comparing the two, saying one is “more realistic” than the other because it fulfills whatever prejudiced views you have of black people and our experiences is pretty dang racist, if you didn’t know.
Lastly, for now because I may come back to this: #BlackLivesMatter
If you haven’t already, go pick up THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. You won’t regret it. It’s amazing and beautiful and heartbreaking and real as fuck.