"People Like Us Become Hashtags, But Rarely Get Justice"
The Hate U Give, a novel by Angie Thomas, is a story taken right from today’s headlines regarding a traffic stop that turns into tragedy when a Black 16-year-old named Starr Carter witnesses her best friend, Khalil, killed at the hands of a white police officer. The novel traces the trajectory of events after the shooting from the community outrage expressed at Khalil’s memorial service, to the media’s representation of Khalil as a thug, to Starr’s eventual transformation into impassioned activist.
As I read this book, the recent shootings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and others are still fresh in my mind, as are the subsequent charge dismissals of the police officers involved. The Hate U Give is essentially a novel that reflects the racial discrimination inherently present in our criminal justice system, but Angie Thomas approaches a myriad of other issues, as well. Starr has complicated feelings regarding her community, including a family member that’s a police officer. She commutes to a private school where her best friends and boyfriend are white, and not surprisingly, clueless about what Starr confronts daily.
However, what stood out to me personally was this particular quote:
“…people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice.”
What happens when various media platforms get ahold of the shooting narrative? As is experienced by Starr, and others in her community, people of color become stereotypes, stereotypes that are deeply rooted in the psyches of white America. After Khalil dies he is portrayed by the media as a drug dealer and a thug, as if these alleged pieces of his identity somehow justify the action taken by the police officer. In an interview with NPR, Angie Thomas talks about the inspiration behind Khalil and his death, “I grew up with Khalils who have made decisions that may not be the best. But at the time when Khalil is in his last moments of his life, his past should not influence what happens to him in that moment. So Khalil is a combination of a lot of what we see with young Black men, particularly, when they lose their lives.”
As we move forward in confronting our own racial bias, it’s important to analyze the destructive effects of how Black men and women are portrayed in the media. What we want to call implicit racial bias is rooted in generations of white supremacy. The stereotypes perpetuated by the media only serve to keep racism alive in the 21st century. Stop for a moment and examine the difference in portrayal of white vs. Black. When a white male college student is accused of rape, the outcry in his defense is that he made an error in judgment; a mistake should not overshadow the sum total of who a person is. However, when a Black man is robbed of his life a very different perspective is spoon-fed to us, and suddenly, mistakes in the man’s past now define him as a person. The disparity between white and Black in the media is not subtle and I challenge all anti-racist activists to hold them accountable. Stand up and be a voice for those who have been robbed of theirs.