The Change We Don't Make | Teen Ink

The Change We Don't Make

March 11, 2021
By LTODOROVIC1 BRONZE, Rochester, Michigan
LTODOROVIC1 BRONZE, Rochester, Michigan
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

It has been over a year since the tragic shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in her home in Fort Worth, TX when she was shot through her window by a police officer. As I reflect on the death of Jefferson, I can’t help but relate it to the death of Khalil in The Hate U Give. Both of these innocent people were shot down by police for nothing at all, Jefferson for being in the kitchen with her front door open, and Khalil when he turned to ask his passenger in his car if they were okay while police pulled them over merely because of a broken taillight. 

Unfortunately, these types of incidents aren’t at all uncommon, but rather, it’s as if they have become a normal part of American society, with deaths at the hands of police brutality. These instances of systemic injustices with deaths and failures of justice have included Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tanisha Fonville, and so many more. Alongside the deaths followed activism on the national level, led by people in the community of the respective victims. The leading activists tend to be the ones closest to the victims, Jefferson’s family and friends, and in the novel, it was Starr, who happened to be a childhood friend of Khalil and the passenger in the car. The book highlights a lot of the real-world issues that we see, and the inactions and injustices that are faced. 

In the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Starr is forced to live in two worlds between her white private school and her black neighborhood. When she was on her way home from a party with her childhood friend Khalil, they get pulled over and Khalil gets shot by the officer that pulled them over. After witnessing the murder of her close friend, she has two worlds collide-- she has to choose between staying quiet to fit in with the white world at her private school or to speak out and stand up for the black world in which she lives. The impacts on society like the death of Khalil in The Hate U Give are all too similar to the events that happen in society today, with the killings impacting mainly the black community and the white community tending to see it as nothing or not understanding the issues as a whole. 

The scenes of unjustified brutality are seen in this world, and it makes me and millions of others sick. That’s what makes Angie Thomas’s words jump off the page. She writes “Pow! One. Khalil’s body jerks. Blood splatters from his back. He holds onto the door to keep himself upright. Pow! Two. Khalil gasps. Pow! Three. Khalil looks at me. Stunned. He falls to the ground” (Thomas, 23). When I read about incidents like these, all I can feel is sorrow and anger, as so many others do. I wish I could say that these are rare accidents that have very little effect on peoples’ lives, but these incidents happen so often and affect people so directly, as it’s the murders of friends, family, lovers, that lead to an impact of such great extent. This impact is so vivid yet also vague at the same time.

A major aspect of what the Black community goes through is caused by a system that appears to be equal but fails to heal previous damage. This is a loop that has been present in the United States since its birth, yet people in power seemingly continue to ignore these issues but act sympathetic to them. The hypocrisy of the world many black people live in is expressed beautifully by Thomas when she says, “It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black” (Thomas, 11). It’s vague in the sense that it doesn’t specify one specific hardship of the black experience, but at the same time it’s that vagueness that genuinely highlights the hardships of the black experience, as it’s no one thing that makes it so difficult. 

Things such as the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, systemic racism, economic hardships, make being black in America so hard. But the thing that affects black Americans the most is the oppression they face when they confront these issues. Angie Thomas explores this issue when she writes “ “You have until the count of three to disperse”, the officer on the loudspeaker says. “Khalil lived!” we chant. “One.” “Khalil lived!” “Two.” “Khalil lived!” “Three.” “Khalil lived!” The can of tear gas sails toward us from the cops. It lands beside the patrol car” (Thomas, 412). This excerpt describes the oppression faced by black activists as even in a peaceful protest resistance is brought with force. This system of oppression has always been around, and events like the death of Khalil are far from fiction, and sickeningly common. 

I remember another instance of police brutality and systemic racism that was all too similar to the death of Khalil. That incident was the shooting of Terence Crutcher on September 16, 2016. Crutcher was unarmed and standing by the side of his vehicle when he was shot by Officers Betty Jo Shelby and Tyler Turnbough. Neither Officer Shelby nor Turnbough was convicted for the murder of Crutcher. In the novel, Officer Brian Cruise met the same fate when he was found not guilty of the murder he committed. To understand this issue, even more, we need to take a look back farther into the past and see that this system of racism and failure of conviction has been around since the creation of America. The roots run deep through the legacy of slavery, the failures of reconstruction after the civil war, the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Plessy v Ferguson and the Jim Crow laws that followed, lack of representation in positions of power, and so many other things. 

The sad thing is that despite the increase in representation and increasing equality, this system still runs on hate and oppression, as evident by these incidents of brutality and systemic racism. Unfortunately, the white community tends to turn a blind eye to the issues that the black community faces. They seem to view the movements as entitled or exaggerated, as the major news outlets tend to shy away from topics like these. Often white people are unknowingly the oppressors and overlook the issues as they don’t experience them personally. Sometimes hateful ways are taught by those around them and that leads to the prejudice that plagues American society. 

However, I can say that not all white people fall into these categories. People like me that listen to and understand the issues faced by the black community and try to help them in their fight for equality and an end to this hateful system. This is exemplified by Angie Thomas with her character Chris, the boyfriend of Starr. He was influential in the story as it shows someone who is not part of the typical white perspective on this issue, and wants to change and help. He is seen as this learning character who offers his support and tries to understand the issues that the black community faces. So while white people are the ones who benefit from this system, it does not mean that they support this system of hate. 

These killings of innocent black people happen in America far too often and are unfortunately overlooked by many, while the effects on the black community are harsh and continuous. The death of Khalil may be fictional, but the deaths of people like George Floyd, Breonnna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, and countless others happen just too often. The effects of these incidents and this system aren’t met with silence however, as people both black and white people act in protests and calls for reform with movements such as Black Lives Matter, however, the activism is still lacking on the white side as may are still not fully understanding of the issues at hand, whereas the black side is the leading voice in these movements, and they continue to guide activists like me through these calls for reform. 

The author's comments:

I was inspired to write this piece because of the issues of systemic racism that I feel are important to talk about. I have so many friends and family that suffer from issues of systemic racism and it breaks my heart to see that all that is wanted is change, yet there is such resistance to changing. I hope to open up some eyes about the lack of change and the social issues that are faced by the Black community. This is a literary analysis of one of my favorite books, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is a book that I feel really highlights a lot of the issues that are faced and how the lack of reform affects people. 

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