5/5. Read it. Now.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas needs to be a compulsory novel read in secondary schools across the world. It is a modern classic, speaking from a perspective not quite heard in the book community; and that is from the perspective of people of colour. Even though there is a movement (thank god, people took their sweet ass time) in the book community wanting more representation in race, in culture, in sexuality, in mental and physical health; there is not a book that will puncture your soul to the extent of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
In last week’s post, I wrote a little something-something concerning my impressions…
“THUG was, is, incredible. I don’t think I have read a book that made me feel such an avalanche of emotions. It is a book that, in my opinion, should become a classic of modern literature. If you are right now reading this, it is your civic duty to read this book. I won’t go into too much detail because I am drafting a full-length review of this book currently, and will hopefully be posted in the next few weeks, so I’ll stop here. Just, I do need to say that this novel speaks for many and narrates many individual’s personal experiences of police brutality, racism and systemic oppression. This book, this story and these characters, is an act of speaking out, of trying to fight those who are the oppressors. Angie Thomas is an artist, and THUG is her masterpiece.”
It is more than just a book.
What comes to mind is a poem by the incredible Nayyirah Waheed, and it goes like this:
to not be safe on the earth.
of the colour of your skin.
how does a being survive this.
– trayvon martin.
(Salt, p. 122)
An unarmed seventeen-year-old African American teenager, gunned down by George Zimmerman in the early evening of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. Martin, ‘armed’ with a bag of skittles and an iced tea, was shot dead by resident neighbourhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman, a then 28-year-old white Latino male of Peruvian descent. Nayyirah Waheed, in her critically acclaimed anthology Salt., pushes the lived experience of Black folk at the forefront of her poetry in ways that mirrored the surge of conversation surrounding racialisation of criminality in the United States, in an alleged post-civil rights era of racial equality in the twenty-first century. Waheed’s poem simply titled ‘trayvon martin’ concisely and profoundly, surmises the existence of structural racism underscoring interactions between white people and people of colour, especially in terms of police brutality and racial profiling. This is also what Angie Thomas is emphasising in her brutally honest narrative, illustrating the profound effects of systemic racism, and the way in which society is either indirectly or directly maintaining prejudice, especially in the racialisation of criminality in the United States of America.
It is a conversation that needs to happen. And it needs to happen now.
It is a mobilising call to action, a lamentation over the politics of justice and of race, and those who get caught in the middle of such violence. There is structural racism at work and methods such as community policing, which rely on the performance and institution of racial profiling.
The fact is that state violence and racial injustice has been an ongoing struggle for the African-American community, present throughout history. 57 years before Trayvon Martin’s murder and the conception of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was murdered in a brutal lynching perpetrated by white supremacists in August 1955. On August 24, 1955, Till supposedly entered the local grocery store in Money, Mississippi to purchase candy, when he “disrespected the owner”, Carolyn Bryant. According to Bryant, Till engaged in ugly remarks concerning her person and whistled, others maintained that Till only said ‘Bye-bye Baby’. Nevertheless, Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River days later severely mutilated “with a cotton gin fan around his neck”. Killers, Roy Bryant, husband of Carolyn Bryant, and J. W. Milan, were declared innocent by an all-white jury in September of that year, sparking demonstrations in Chicago, Newark and New York in protest of Till’s death. To fan the flames of racial injustice, Milam and Bryant sold their story to reporter William Bradford Huie, confessing their guilt in the murder of Emmett Till, for four thousand dollars. His death has been considered as the galvanising event for the Civil Rights Movement. As Robin Kelley notes, “violence held the system of structural racism and oppression together”. As demonstrations and protests were organised, incidents of police violence escalated. Between 1964 and 1972, instances of police violence sparked rebellions across 300 cities. The extent of violence is conveyed through figures detailing the response of the police towards these urban uprisings as surmised by Robin Kelley:
Altogether, the urban uprisings involved close to half a million African Americans, resulted in millions of dollars in property damage, and left 250 people dead, 10,000 seriously injured, and countless without a home. The causalities were overwhelmingly Black. Police and the National Guard turned Black neighbourhoods into war zones, arresting at least 60,000 people and employing tanks, machine guns, and tear gas to pacify the community.
The escalating militarisation of the police also had a hand in the police brutality and the institution of state violence. Even with 57 years separating them, the experiences of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, have tragic similarities: both instances of violence were racially fuelled, both instances depicted the perpetrators as committing acts of ‘public safety’ and both incidents triggered urgent conversations and protests on race and inequality in the United States of America.
Let’s look towards the death of Freddie Gray. His murder perpetrated by six Baltimore Police Officers was cognisant of deeper issues concerning police brutality and the criminalisation of the local African American community. According to ACLU of Maryland, between 2010 and 2014, 109 people died in police custody in Maryland alone, and only two of the accused police officers were charged. What made Freddie Gray’s death a novel experience, and one that in the aftermath was heralded as a period of possible future change, was the announcement that the six police officers were being criminally charged in Gray’s death.
Criminalisation on a racial level thus occurs, enabled through methods such as broken windows policing that enforces an era of racial discrimination seen within periods of the Jim Crow era. Post-Civil Rights, Michelle Alexander notes processes such as racialised criminal profiling and the proliferation of African Americans in U.S. prisons and jails, illustrates an engagement with structures of racism and oppression. She contends that although “it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt…Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of colour ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind”.
I may even post the essay that I wrote, where I got the majority of this content from, because it is incredibly important that we all unite together and STAY FUCKING WOKE, and question systemic oppression, racism and prejudice when we hear and see it.
So, that was my long-winded version of saying, please please please read this book. Angie Thomas speak about these real-life issues (I REPEAT SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION IS HAPPENING NOW FOR THOSE OF Y’ALL IN THE BACK WHO REFUSE TO SEE THE FUCKING FACTS) with such eloquence, and her characters fly off the page. I love her, I love her writing and I cannot wait for any other books that she writes.
Till next time, gentlefriends! Happy reading y’all!
 Alexander, The New Jim Crow Era, 2-3.
 See also Kamat, “The Baltimore Uprising”, 73-83.
 “ACLU Briefing on Deaths in Police Encounters in Maryland, 2010-2014”, ACLU of Maryland, March 2015. See also Kamat, “The Baltimore Uprising”, 73-75.
 Kamat, “The Baltimore Uprising”, 73.
 See Burran, “Urban Racial Violence in the South during World War II: A comparative Overview”, 167-77.
 Bynum, NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936-1965, 79-82.
 Ibid., 80.
 Ibid. See also Hawkins, “Emmett Till was brutally slain in 1955. Now, a sign marking where his body was found is riddled with bullet holes’, Washington Post, October 24, 2016.
 Kelley, “Thug Nation”, 22.
 Ibid. See Gans, “The Ghetto Rebellions and Urban Class Conflict”, 45-54; and Marable, Race, Reform and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1990, 91-4.
 Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son, 192.
 Kelley, “Thug Nation”, 22-3.
 Capehart, “From Trayvon Martin to ‘black lives matter’, Washington Post, February 27, 2015.
 Fasching-Varner, Martin, Albert and Reynolds, “Introduction: Writing Wrongs in Post-Racial American Justice”, 1.
 Ibid. See Waheed, Salt. for a compilation of profound poetry on issues such as gender inequality, racism and personal empowerment.