6 October 2018
The Hate U Give
“The Hate U Give” written by Angie Thomas is a young adult novel that won several awards, such as the “William C. Morris Award,” the “Odyssey Award,” the “Coretta Scott King Award,” and the “Michael L. Printz Award” (“The Hate U Give”). The novel encompasses events in the life of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black female who witnessed the police shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. Following Khalil’s death, Starr’s biggest support system is her dad, Maverick; her mom, Lisa; her brother, Seven; her friend, Maya; and her white boyfriend, Chris. Starr code-switches throughout the novel in an effort to fit in, unintentionally, and to stay safe. Code-switching is the “practice of shifting from one language or dialect to another,” or frankly altering the way you portray yourself (Morrison). Starr’s admission of witnessing Khalil’s murder and releasing memories of Natasha’s murder to Chris is significant because she reveals a side of herself that she tries to keep from people who are not like her through code-switching.
According to NPR, young people in modern American society tend to code-switch to fit in with a certain social group. An example of code-switching for group identity in the novel “The Hate U Give” happens when Starr alters the presentation of herself to white people, in an effort to fit in. At Williamson Prep, an (almost) all white school, Starr transforms herself into an entirely new version of herself, eliminating many of her subtle attributes and slang so that she does not appear “ghetto” to her classmates and friends. In chapter five of the novel, Starr presents herself as a different person at Williamson Prep than she is at Garden Heights when she says, “Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friend’s do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her ‘hood.’ Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off, so nobody will think she’s the ‘angry black girl.’ Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is un-confrontational. Basically, Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto” (Thomas 71). Furthermore, Starr and her family also exhibit social group code-switching when they go to the National News interview by dressing nicely, and to ensure that they will be taken seriously by the white society and not viewed as “hood rats,” Lisa tells them “when we get there, don’t touch anything and only speak when somebody speaks to you. It’s ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir,’ or ‘no ma’am’ and ‘no sir’” (Thomas 282). In these quotes, it is obvious that Starr, just like any other human being trying to fit in, feels as if she needs to represent herself as somebody she is not in order to conform with her classmates and friends, and her family also feels like they need to portray themselves how whites would like to see them. Starr ultimately lives two life’s: Garden Heights Life and Williamson Prep Life. She monitors everything she says and thinks before she says what she does, as she fears her classmates, friends, and teachers will view her as “ghetto.”
In addition, young Americans code-switch subconsciously, without even realizing. In the article “Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch,” Matt Thompson claims that “the most common examples of code-switching were completely inadvertent; folks would slip up in a different language or accent without even realizing it or intending to do it.” In the novel, Starr proclaims that “I don’t have to choose which Starr I am with Chris, maybe without realizing it, I have to an extent” (Thomas 301). This quote confirms the study that more times than not, we This eften code-switch without even realizing it, or really intending to. Although Starr thought she was her normal “Garden Heights Starr” with Chris, she realizes that she was still trying to hide her true Starr-self from her white boyfriend as she fears he will think differently of her or even reject her as the two of them were brought up in two opposite atmospheres, living two opposite lifestyles.
Another reason we code-switch is for our own protection, especially from those who hold a superior authority. In the article “Sorry to Bother You, Black Americans and The Power and Peril of Code-Switching,” AT McWilliams suggests that “when black people can be killed for simply being themselves, code-switching presents itself as a form of self-protection.” An example of this form of code-switching occurs in the novel when Khalil and Starr get pulled over by Officer One-Fifteen. Starr recalls the talk she had with her dad when she was 10-years-old about what to do if she was ever approached by a police officer, for her own safety as a black individual. Maverick told her to “keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you” (Thomas 20). In the same article, AT McWilliams proclaims that black people have been “killed by police for walking to their apartment, carrying a toy gun, staring, and many other harmless acts too ordinary to be worthy of a death.” This claim helps us understand why young Americans, especially African Americans, tend to code-switch in hopes of staying safe and alive during something as simple as a traffic stop by a police officer.
Starr’s admission of witnessing Khalil’s murder to Chris portrays her use of code- switching between the person she is at Garden Heights and the person she is at Williamson Prep around her white friends and classmates. Starr encompasses a fear, one of rejection, and therefore utilizes the act of code-switching. Starr chooses to code-switch, sometimes without even realizing it, in hopes of being accepted, especially by her white classmates and boyfriend, Chris, as they all come from a life opposite of Starr’s and this drives her with fear as she worries that her friends, classmates, and Chris will reject her for who she really is. In today’s society, it is acceptable to code-switch due to the many different cultural norms, to be more productive in communications with one another, and to stay safe in situations like one that Starr was faced with.
McWilliams, AT. “Sorry to Bother You, Black Americans and the Power and Peril of Code- Switching | AT McWilliams.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 July 2018, www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jul/25/sorry-to-bother-you-white-voice-code-switching.
Morrison, Carlos D. “Code-Switching.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 May 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/code-switching.
“The Hate U Give.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hate_U_Give.
Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. First ed., New York, HarperCollins
Publishers, 2017. Thompson, Matt. “Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch.” NPR, NPR, 13 Apr. 2013, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/04/13/177126294/five-reasons-why-people-code-switch.
Essay by Morgan Weitzke is licensed under a Creative Commons International 4.0 License