Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give explores themes of police brutality, family, community, and what it means to be black in America. Below you’ll learn what inspired bad-ass author Angie Thomas to write such a gripping novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement.
This blog post is part of our on-going Real Talk blog series where we ask authors to get real about some of the most controversial and important topics of today.
Why I Wrote The Hate U Give
By Angie Thomas
I remember the first time I saw Emmett Louis Till.
I couldn’t have been any more than eight years old. I came across his photo in a Jet Magazine that marked the anniversary of his death. He was only fourteen when he was murdered for reportedly whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi back in 1955. Yet when I saw his picture, I was convinced he wasn’t a real person. What was supposed to be his face was mutilated beyond recognition. He looked more like a prop from a movie to me; a monster from some over-the-top horror flick.
But he was a person, a boy, and his story was a cautionary tale, even for a black girl in Mississippi who was born more than three decades after he died. “Know your worth,” my mom would say, “but also know that not everyone values you as much as I do.”
Still, Emmett didn’t seem real. There was no way I’d ever have to worry about anything like that happening to me or to someone I knew. Things had changed, even in Mississippi, which is unfortunately more known for its racism than anything else. Besides, I wasn’t worried about the KKK wandering onto my street— I was more worried about the gunshots I heard at night.
See, my neighborhood was notorious for all the wrong reasons: drug dealers, shootings, crime, insert other “ghetto” stereotypes here. Although those things were daily threats, they were slightly outweighed by the good; the things you wouldn’t see unless you lived there. My neighbors were family. The neighborhood drug dealer was sometimes a superhero who gave kids money for snacks and beat up pedophiles who tried to snatch little girls off the street. The cops could be superheroes too, but I was taught at a young age to be “mindful” around them. So had my friends. We’d all heard stories, and though they didn’t come with mutilated photos they were realer than Emmett.
But just like Emmett, I remember the first time I saw the video of the shooting of Oscar Grant, a young black man in Oakland, California who was killed by police. As graphic as the video was, one of the most shocking parts was that someone actually caught it on tape. This was undeniable evidence that had never been provided for the stories I’d heard.
But at the mostly-white university I was attending at the time, in a much nicer side of town than where I lived, my classmates had their own takes on things:
“He should’ve just done what they said.”
“He was resisting.”
“I heard he was an ex-con and a drug dealer.”
“Why are people so mad?”
“They were just doing their job.”
I was hurt, no doubt. And angry. Frustrated. Straight-up pissed. I knew plenty of Oscars. I grew up with them and I was friends with them. This was like being told that they deserved to die.
As the unrest took place in Oakland, I wondered how my community would react if that happened to one of our Oscars. I also wondered if my classmates would make the same comments if I became an Oscar. I wasn’t an ex-con or a drug dealer, but I was from a neighborhood they were afraid to visit. They once jokingly said it was full of criminals, not knowing that’s where I lived.
From all of those questions and emotions, THE HATE U GIVE was born.
It started as a short story my senior year. It was cathartic at the time, and I thought I was done telling Starr and Khalil’s story because I foolishly hoped Oscar wouldn’t happen again.
But then there was Trayvon. Michael. Eric. Tamir.
Emmett was no longer history. He was still reality.
In the midst of it all, there were more conversations just like the ones I heard at school but on a wider scale. Sometimes even politicians and officials echoed my former classmates. Disappointed and frustrated, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I expressed my feelings through story, in hopes that I would give a voice to the kids in my neighborhood and neighborhoods like it who felt the same way that I did.
As we witness injustice, prejudice, and racism rear their ugly heads even higher both in the US and abroad, I think it’s important to let readers know that they aren’t alone in their frustration, fear, anger, and sadness. But it’s also important to provide glimmers of light in the darkness. I hope that “The Hate U Give” provides some of that light.
But my ultimate hope is that every single person who reads it walks away from it understanding those feelings and sharing them in some way. And then, maybe then, Emmett Louis Till can truly become history.
About The Hate U Give
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.