Colorblindness and The Hate U Give

[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. 

-Teresa

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

4 thoughts on “Colorblindness and The Hate U Give

  1. Hi Teresa!
    This is by far my favorite blog post of the semester. I love the movie The Hate U Give and am also guilty of previously not understanding the issue of “colorblindness.” I think the fact that this movie portrays a young black girl in a white high school allows for a greater audience than if the characters were just from one race or community. I also think the fact that Starr and Kahlil are so young adds incredible emotion to the story. Most importantly, I think the fact that Sekani is so abruptly shoved in the position of pointing a gun at another human at the age of 6 or 7 is the most powerful call for change in the movie. This scene is, in my opinion, almost as gut wrenching as seeing Kahlil get shot. I cannot say enough great things about this movie and completely agree that it is a useful way to push policy. Of course, we can’t credit the effects of the movie without also recognizing Angie Thomas.
    – Currie

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  2. Hi Teresa,

    I thought this was a really interesting blog post that gets to the heart of the issue on how art can be used to challenge people’s opinions. At the same time, I’ve also noticed that Black people and non-black people often tend to have different relationships to films that deal with issues of racism.

    As someone that’s spent my whole life watching Hollywood tell stories about black people dealing with police brutality, slavery, and segregation, I’ve often felt as though these movies flatten the black experience into only being about the oppression that we face.

    More than that, I’ve often felt like the repeated financing of these films reproduce a notion that the only black stories worth telling are those that feature us in positions of suffering.

    Often times, I feel as though media featuring black people is actually being made for non-black audiences, leaving us with very limited forms of representation. While I am happy that these films can help challenge the way that non-black individuals view the black experience, I can’t help but wonder how black people are impacted by this narrow form of representation.

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  3. Hi Teresa,

    While I haven’t seen the movie adaptation of The Hate U Give, I read the novel two years ago and appreciated that Angie Thomas wrote for a YA audience, especially with Gen Z’s involvement in social justice movements today. I think colorblindness can partly be owed to American education and media, as both have the tendency to indicate that we live in a “post-racial” society where anyone can achieve the American dream. There are textbooks that frame civil rights such that racism seems like it ended with the 60s. There are movies in which the white protagonist has a Black best friend—serving as the writer’s effort to seem inclusive—yet the Black character’s life revolves entirely around the white character. And given how pervasive the notion of racial colorblindness is, minorities themselves can buy into this mindset, to their own detriment.

    —Alice

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  4. Hi Teresa, thank you for discussing this important issue. I, too, grew up learning in school about all the ways people in the Civil Rights Movement helped stop the worst forms of racism, but as I’ve matured and learned more about the current state of society, I’ve realized that racism and discrimination are far from gone. Though I haven’t seen this movie, I agree that it raises important discussions surrounding identity and how even though we should not focus on differences, we should respect differences between different cultural groups in order to give them the recognition they deserve.

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