[WARNING: spoilers for The Hate U Give (2018)]
Once upon a time, I really thought racism against African-Americans was a thing of the past. Luckily, watching The Hate U Give opened my eyes to some of the systemic challenges African-Americans still face.
The film follows Starr Carter, an African-American teenage girl who navigates between living in a predominantly-black neighborhood and attending a predominantly-white prep school. Although she has to hide aspects of her identity in each environment, she does, on the surface level, traverse these different cultures and locations, even dating a white boy at her school named Chris. However, after her African-American friend Khalil is shot to death by a police officer, she confronts both worlds with a new perspective.
The movie is a tale of not only police brutality against African-Americans, but also what it means to be African-American—and this latter aspect really made me rethink my own approach to respect. How should we actually address differences in treatment across marginalized groups?
Not by pretending these differences don’t exist—that’s what the film suggests when Starr and Chris get into an argument over what Starr’s racial identity means to her.
Chris: “I don’t see color. I see people for who they are.”
Starr: “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.”
Admittedly, I’ve taken Chris’s “colorblind” approach to diversity all my life—I try not to let color (or gender, etc.) influence my treatment towards anyone; but as a side effect, I also don’t care about these features. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t realize the extent of racism in the US today until watching this film. I’ve really taken the “we’re all the same, we’re all human” sentiment to heart.
It’s not necessarily a bad mindset—I think it encourages open-mindedness and kindness towards people from all walks of life—but it can mean that we aren’t acknowledging or appreciating diversity. And we need to—despite our similarities, there are differences between races that are cultural. For African-Americans especially, if we don’t acknowledge their race, we don’t acknowledge their history of oppression and enslavement. Similarly, if we don’t acknowledge present-day racial issues, patterns that are strongly correlated with race—like police brutality, mass incarceration, or low socioeconomic status—then we can’t solve them.
And so something I find really interesting and useful about this film is that it not only raises awareness for an issue that could be addressed through policy—discrimination against African-Americans in the realm of police brutality and mass incarceration—but also provides insight into what such policies should entail. The film suggests that there needs to be a balance between respecting diversity and maintaining equality. By equality, I mean equality in rights—and yet perhaps equal policies aren’t leading to equal rights. So racial equality isn’t enough—there are other aspects, unique to African-American experiences, that need to be considered. In crafting policy, then, solutions should pursue racial—and gender, and socioeconomic—equity. Maybe policies about race shouldn’t be colorblind—maybe using language that acknowledges racial issues, policies that are explicitly tailored to specific groups in society, will actually allow the issues to be addressed.
Although I think the film provides insights that can be applied to policymaking, it doesn’t offer concrete policy solutions—it just gets us thinking. But thinking is important. Thinking—acknowledging the issue—is where all policies begin. Acknowledging the issue is also something I think the film does well. I think the scene where Khalil is shot is particularly powerful—he was shot just for appearing to hold a weapon, even though it’s clear to the audience that he was only holding a hairbrush, and Starr’s immediate, intense grief highlights the emotional consequences and dangers of such racism.
And Starr and Chris’s argument brings issues of racism into everyday interpersonal relationships, highlighting how these larger social inequities can damage relationships at the individual level—serious issues presented in a casual setting. Art and policy issues intertwine to create social impact.
So let’s open our eyes—colorblindness isn’t the solution.
Sources: The Hate U Give (2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hate_U_Give_(film), https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/equality-is-not-enough/, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander