Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Hate U Give

We can all agree that a policeman’s job is hard, right? We can also agree that it’s a policeman’s job, reinforced by their training, to remain levelheaded during chaotic circumstances in order to keep us safe, right? A lot of people have no chill, and we don’t want them to be the face of law and order. We only want Ice-T to be the face of law and order. (I previously wrote Ice Cube and my boyfriend had to correct me. In other news, I'm very white).

I think we can also agree that it’s a policeman’s duty to refrain from excessive force and definitely avoid using a lethal weapon at all costs, especially since officers have a bunch of other resources at their disposal. Lethal weapons, like guns, are...lethal. You can’t turn back time on those things. When an unarmed boy is violently confronted for “looking suspicious” and then he’s shot, that’s murder [Trayvon Martin]. When a man is pulled over, immediately tells the officer he has a weapon in the car, explicitly says that he is reaching for his license and registration (as asked) and not that weapon, and then he’s shot seven times, that’s murder [Philando Castile]. When a man suspected of illegally selling cigarettes is choked as he says, “I can’t breathe” 11 times, that’s murder [Eric Garner]. When you’re a woman partying with a group in a park and you get shot because the officer mistakes a cell phone for a gun, that’s murder [Rekia Boyd].

Like any given population, cops are not “bad”; but, there are poorly trained bad apples, and the consequence of those bad apples isn’t a terrible fruit salad, it’s murder.

I know that white people get shot by police too, but, put simply, that’s not what The Hate U Give* is about. The black community is understandably incensed by systemic racism, and they want change. They want accountability for police officers who wrong them. Is that so bad? Shouldn’t we all want to improve our communities? Shouldn’t we support a movement that fundamentally wants the world to be a safer place?

Angie Thomas started writing The Hate U Give after Oscar Grant was shot by a policeman while he was lying on his stomach, hands behind his back, and confirmed unarmed. The murder is depicted in the movie Fruitvale Station with my boy Michael B. Jordan.

In the book, Thomas creates a fictional situation that seems all too real. [Note: The next sentence is not a spoiler-- it’s on the back of the book] The main character, Starr Carter, witnesses firsthand the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil, who was unarmed, cooperative, nonprovocative, etc. (all the usual excuses people give are out the window). Cue community outrage. The novel does not condone violence, but it does give some perspective on how the frustration of oppression might lead to violence.

I expected to confront tough, racially charged topics in The Hate U Give. I did not expect a lesson in second chances. Through Starr, Thomas advocates for forgiving people...when they deserve it. She acknowledges that some people make mistakes that they can atone for over time. She also acknowledges that when people make irrecoverable mistakes that speak to the core of their character, and those mistakes are repeated and justified rather than repented, you can feel free to kick those knuckleheads out of your life. I think that’s excellent advice for adults and kids. The Hate U Give is marketed as “young adult” (am I in that age bracket still…?) but it’s certainly applicable to people of all ages. Thomas’ voice is unique, compelling, and funny. The Hate U Give receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.

*Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2017. Print.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Things Fall Apart

I’m dramatic, so in the wake of the midterms, I read Things Fall Apart* by Chinua Achebe. I vote that every high school English class lists the novel as required reading. Do I get a sticker now?

Even though Achebe writes in English, he uses the voice and syntax of the Igbo people, who are native Nigerians IRL. Writing from the third-person, Achebe focuses on Okonkwo, a fictional warrior in the fictional Umuofia clan.

Achebe spends more than half of the novel telling stories about the clan to help readers conceptualize how their superstitions shape every aspect of their lives. The clan has a predetermined answer for everything based on the traditions of their ancestors and the will of their gods. I am enamored by the black-and-white clarity that comes with belonging to their group. They know what to eat, how to eat it, where to eat it, what time of day they should eat it, and who should serve it (Taco bell, with your hands, in the car, during fourth meal, made by the public servants of the company). Life is more or less decided for them, and they (mostly) willingly accept those terms because they fear their god’s wrath and respect their god’s desires.

A few years ago, my interest in religion and its progression over time lead me to a wonderfully informative book: The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. In it, Wright details certain patterns of monotheism that have deep connections to “pagan” beliefs, like the ones practiced in Umuofia. Things Fall Apart inconspicuously shows parallels between the beliefs of the clan and the Christian beliefs of British colonialism and its missionaries. The progression of the novel brilliantly lures you in; the subject matter is interesting and “other” (I know very little about clan traditions) but Achebe opens your eyes to how that “otherness” isn’t so wildly unrelatable. Achebe also breaks down the “otherness” wall through poetic similes and metaphors. He speaks to the human condition, as it applies to people of all backgrounds.

Okonkwo, the novel’s protagonist, is elusive, which is a relatively odd choice for a main character. We don’t know much about his inner thoughts. I believe Achebe intentionally keeps us in the dark because Okonkwo is elusive to his own self. He’s an impulsive man who prides himself on his strength and derides the weakness of emotions; he’s not one to self-reflect. I don’t like him! I don’t think he’s a good guy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good book.

My only difficulty with Things Fall Apart is a result of me being sOoOoOo basic. Honestly, I had trouble keeping track of the names of characters (Okonkwo, Obierika, Unoka, Ogbuefi), because they aren’t names I’m familiar with and they sound similar to each other. Then, I remember we’re over here like Chris, Christopher, Christina, Kristina, and Chrissy. Overall, Things Fall Apart sucked me in, kept me interested, and taught me some important lessons, so it receives 5 out of 5 camel humps.

*Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. Print