Why a Texas school district's decision to ban "The Hate U Give" is so dangerous
It seems almost fitting that this regressive year would come to a close with schools just randomly banning books. On Thursday, word finally reached young adult author Angie Thomas that a Texas school district had banned The Hate U Give, her debut novel that’s been dominating the New York Times bestseller list, was longlisted for a National Book Award, nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and added to tons of other “to read ASAP” lists since its release. In case you’ve somehow slept on The Hate U Give, which is often referred to as THUG in shorthand, you should add it to your winter reading list right this minute.
Yes, it’s a young adult book, but it’s grown up AF and will almost certainly be the best thing you’ve read in a long while. The book is written from the perspective of Starr, a young black teenager who commutes from the “bad side of town” to the “good side” to go to a fancy prep school. One night, a white cop murders her unarmed friend, Khalil, and events flow from there as his story makes national headlines. It’s so good that they’re making a film adaptation of it, starring Issa Rae, Regina Hall, and Common. So if you haven’t heard of it yet, you will very soon.
However, it appears that the Katy Independent School District has banned the book after a teacher received complaints for “inappropriate language,” although they did so without the standard formal review a district has to go through before taking a book out of curriculums and school libraries. Usually, the district’s challenge policy means that a building principal or teacher can offer an alternate assignment for a student whose parents have complained, but they can’t remove the book for everyone. The administrator also then gives the parent a challenge form to submit to a review committee that then decides what ultimately happens to the book. Katy ISD did not immediately return HelloGiggles’ request for comment.
When Thomas learned of the books removal, she tweeted, “I’m saddened to hear that a school district in Texas banned #TheHateUGive, but I’m also empowered – you’re basically telling the kids of the Garden Heights of the world that their stories shouldn’t be told. Well, I’m going to tell them even louder. Thanks for igniting the fire.” She added that she understood that some people might take issue with the language — there are a few curse words and even the use of the n-word — but that she wrote the book she has a “HUGE issue with how little value is given to black lives.”
“I can only hope that you’ll look past the curse words and see that,” she added.
On Friday, the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (ALA OIF) tweeted that they were working with the Texas Library Association to get the book off the banned list. Some on Twitter suggested that the “normalization of sexual activity” was another problem with the book, since Starr talks about not being ready for sex with her boyfriend and her parents are presumed to be having sex in one scene when they “leave the room to do what married people do.”
Whether it was language, implied sex, or the fact that the book’s main theme is police brutality doesn’t matter. Teenagers need to have the option to read this book.
All of those reasons are ludicrous defenses for the ban, since so many classic books with curse words and the n-word are taught in classrooms all the time. The sex in the book is also super responsible — it opens with Starr being angry at her long-term boyfriend because he pushed the issue of having sex when she said she wasn’t ready and she’s therefore not talking to him at school. She and her mother talk frankly about birth control. What better lesson could there be about safe sex and how consent works than a narrator who feels so close to the actual teenage experience?
But the main issue isn’t language or teen makeout sessions. So many victims of police brutality are teenagers themselves, whether they are actually shot or their parents and loved ones are. Banning the book from a classroom’s library or curriculum doesn’t change that or make it go away. Michael Brown was 18 when he was killed, Trayvon Martin was 17, and Tamir Rice was 12.
In THUG, Starr has two friends killed by gun violence: one in a drive by shooting when she’s 12 years old and then Khalil at 16 years old. Thomas told Cosmopolitan in an interview that she wanted to reach readers not just of all races, but all ages to really consider these issues.
We talk so much about representation in film and TV, but it’s just as important for books, too. Giving teenagers a novel about racial issues, written so profoundly, and told in the voice of a young, black woman is exactly what school libraries need right now. It’s not just the content of the novel either. Far too many curriculums and library shelves are stacked with authors who are mostly white, and overwhelmingly male. Thomas didn’t just write a badass novel, she broke into a white-dominated industry in a huge way.
According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, there were 3,400 new children’s books written in 2016 and only 278 were about African Americans, and even that was a record high for 12 years. In the same 12-year period, there have been anywhere from 70 to 100 African-American writers. If this school banned THUG without a formal review, they’re doing young readers and writers a total disservice all around.
Hopefully, the school district can get THUG back on its shelves, because in 2017 especially, we can’t afford to censor characters like Starr or the writers that give them life.