Let me preface this whole thing by saying: I am white. I am Jewish, and that does mean something in terms of not being “white enough” – but I am white Jewish. I consider myself white. People who aren’t white supremacists consider me white, and I get all the privileges that come with being white and growing up in a white, suburban, middle-to-upper-middle class family. There certainly is anti-Semitism that affects my life, but it is not racism, and the difference does matter.
With all that said, I read a book yesterday called “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. It’s the story of a young black girl named Starr Carter who lives with her family “in the hood” but goes to an elite “bougie” school. Her father is a former gangbanger who went to prison, but now is successful as a grocery store owner. Her mother works in a hospital. Starr is dating a white boy from school. She feels she has two separate personalities – the one at school and the one at home, but neither of them are really her, and both of them are really her. But one night, on her way back from a party, Starr’s friend Khalil is shot by a police officer right in front of her. Starr becomes a key witness in a case much like many we’ve seen in the U.S. all too recently: A white police officer shoots first and asks questions later. Now Starr is caught up in an absolute circus of events, where she has to recount the events of the night over and over to people who don’t believe her, or who believe because Khalil was a drug dealer, that he deserved to die. And SPOILER ALERT – at the end of the day, at the end of it all, the white police officer doesn’t get indicted. Even as we see the story from Starr’s point of view, and know what truly happened, the police officer gets away scot free with killing a young, unarmed black boy. And even though this book is fiction, it closely mirrors real world events. I can’t even name all of the “incidents” like this that have happened in the past year in the US. Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile – those are some of the names you may have heard on the news, but it’s not all of them. Not by a longshot.
I think everyone should read this book. First of all, it’s a good book. But it’s a young adult novel, so it’s written as something that’s easy to digest. It’s not inflammatory like a news article might be, but if you truly understand it, you will get angry on behalf of Starr, on behalf of Khalil, and on behalf of all the real world black men and women, boys and girls, who have been mishandled, mistreated, and outright abused by the police. What happens in this book is what happens in life, and it’s something everyone should know, but doesn’t.
As a white person, I can say this and hopefully other white people will listen: All white people say and do racist things. All white people are, to a certain extent, racist. Because of the way our society is built, on the backs of slaves and at the deaths of Native Americans who had their land stolen to create what is today our country, it is impossible to not be racist if you don’t actively work to be anti-racist. It’s hard, and it’s exhausting, and you’re going to fuck up, over and over again. You’re going to put your foot in your mouth over and over again. But the point is to learn from it. And it’s the very least you can do. (I say you – but I also mean me. I also have to work to be anti-racist. And I’m still learning! I fuck up! But I keep going to work to live an anti-racist lifestyle to the best of my ability, and use the privileges I’ve gotten from being white, from being middle-to-upper-middle-class, from being able-bodied if not quite neurotypical, et cetera, to help make the world a better, more equitable and equal place.)
Angie Thomas has done us all a favor by writing an incredible book that can help us, as white people, have a very necessary conversation with our friends and family. Because even though the particular situation she writes is fictional, the story she tells is not. This book should be on summer reading lists. This book should be at the top of bestseller lists. And from there, white people should research. They should take what they learned from this fictional account and go read about the realities of police violence and abuse. It shouldn’t stop there. “The Hate U Give” is where the conversation should begin, not end.
And I’m here to help get the conversation going. Any of my non-white friends and followers, I may not have much influence, or a loud voice, but if you need a platform to speak from, I will do my best to give it to you and step aside. Because this country is racist. But I do have hope that one day it won’t be. But we have a lot, A LOT, of work to do first.