I watched a video on Facebook and it was about a child who was told it was time to go home. When he heard this, he went around the park and started hugging everyone. He didn’t care if you were black, white, green or blue, he just gave everyone a hug. I thought to myself, wouldn’t the world be better if everyone was just as loving and more unassuming of everything? Can we just love? As I pondered on this, a few days later, I picked up Angie Thomas’ book to read and I was drawn in.
The book is set in Garden Heights with the protagonist Starr who witnessed the death of her friend Khalil as he was shot by a white policeman who assumed that Khalil (a black boy, 16 years old) was a threat. His crime, He was black and a criminal by reason of his colour. This led to protests and riots insisting that justice be brought to Khalil’s family. Starr who was the witness of the gruesome murder had to deal with the trauma that came with seeing Khalil die which was the second death she had witnessed in her neighbourhood. This book is good on so many levels. First of, the writer paints a very vivid picture of the challenges that the black community faces in a very highly racialized country and system. The odds are always stacked against them and it always seems like it is their word (the whites) against the blacks.
I was telling a friend that I might have difficulties writing a paper on race because as a Nigerian, who has lived in Nigeria for the most of my life, I may not have a deep or first hand experience on this subject matter. However, reading this book I realised that the world really hasn’t moved on from the very many lines of division that existed in time past (Slave and Master, Colonizer and Colonies, Black and White, Rich and Poor). These lines are still there and the social and economic relics of it still exists. They are stylishly institutionalised, rationalised or even seen as not convenient areas of discourse.
Starr in the book found it difficult to speak at first due to fear. In fact, her parents put her in a dominantly white school because they wanted to shield her from the problems inherent in the black community which Angie Thomas does not shy away from discussing (Gangbanging, drugs, domestic violence, poverty). Her (Starr) father reiterates this fear when he says,
“I have seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I have tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, I am too afraid to speak.”
However, the thing is, there is one aspect of the narrative that is dominant and it is not from the people of colour. Despite, Starr’s detailed narration of events, it seemed that her account didn’t matter in the end. What usually happens, happens. The ‘dominant’ win. The encouraging aspect of this whole story was that it brought Starr to find her voice and speak for Khalil. The process helped her grow and come to terms of the realities of her race and community. She became a voice which may as well be the message Thomas is trying to pass across.
Now, the part that I loved a lot was Starr’s relationship with Chris. Yep! He is white but a white guy who didn’t see colour but saw a wonderful girl and person. For me, that relationship is symbolic on so many levels. Chris fought alongside with Starr, offering her a shoulder when she needed it. His love wasn’t hindered by the colour of her skin but he did his best to understand her, her likes (like her favourite show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air) her hurts, her family and just be there for her. When we truly see one another as humans not just people of varying colours, we will move past these issues rather quickly. Everyone is first a human being before he/she is white, black or any colour whatsoever.There is so much we can be and do together when there is a conscious effort to erase the lines of division. Click To Tweet
Other issues that Angie Thomas also brings to the table is the need for stronger communities. Starr’s father suffers the loss of his grocery store and the community rally round to help clean it up. Uncle Carlos, helps Starr’s mother as much as he can when Starr’s father was imprisoned. The beauty of it all was everyone coming together to help one another during dark times. That is key for growth and in making the case for racial equality. Everyone must realise how important they all her to promoting their causes. Though, riots and chaos is not the way to getting one’s word out like Starr’s father admonished the gangs but one thing is clear, everyone must speak out.
I am not one for giving ratings to books but I can assure you that this book is worth your time and money. The story is written well though filled with ‘foul language’ which I think is the language of the hood and adds to the realness of the story. The characters have unique personalities that contribute to the overall development of the plot. In all, the book is a really great book. The book is relevant to contemporary times because it speaks to the Race and Social Equality discourse that is still predominantly a social issue.
Thank you Angie Thomas for this powerful story!