Starr feels pulled between two worlds throughout The Hate U Give—namely, that of the poor, primarily black Garden Heights and the affluent, primarily white Williamson Prep. Thomas explores the tension felt by characters of color who must navigate the boundary between who they are and how the outside world portrays them. In doing so, she evokes scholar W. E. B. Du Bois’ famous notion of “double consciousness,” the sensation of “two-ness” experienced by black individuals seeing themselves through the eyes of a racist society. Du Bois put forth this term in 1903 to describe the experience of being black in an American culture that has devalued blackness for its entire history. Black identity is split between the way black individuals perceive themselves and the way they know the white world will view them, creating a sense of internal conflict.
From the time she steps into Big D’s party at the beginning of the novel, Starr makes it clear that she feels there are two “versions” of herself. She negotiates the boundary between “Williamson Starr” and Garden Heights Starr, not fully comfortable with either identity and frequently shifting her tone and vocabulary based on her audience. “I don't talk like me or sound like me,” she says of the way she behaves beyond the boundaries of her neighborhood. “I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I'm ghetto.”
Lisa and Maverick engage in this sort of code switching too. When Lisa is talking to the District Attorney on the phone, for example, she “speaks in her ‘other voice.’” On the way to Starr’s network news interview, Lisa also gives her children specific instructions as to how to act: “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.’” Starr further observes that her family has dressed up so as to not look like “hood rats.” The Carters know they must speak, dress, and behave a certain way in a world that prioritizes white conceptions of respectability. Much like “the talk” the Carter children receive about how to act in front of police officers, this code-switching is a measure of self-protection in a society that dismisses and criminalizes blackness.
Other characters must also contend with competing pulls on their identities as a consequence of prejudice. Maverick, for example, is a former felon but also a father and activist. Khalil is a drug dealer, but also a desperate young man forced to take care of his own mother. DeVante is a gang member, but also a video-game loving teen trying to support his family. While Starr is easily able to reconcile all these facets of their lives, society flattens black identity and in effect robs black individuals of their full humanity. The media is quick to label Khalil a “thug,” for example, and to use a photo of him that aligns with racist narratives about poor black communities. Maverick calls this photo “Khalil's thugshot.” By turning all black kids into threats, the media is more easily able to dismiss the violence they face as the victims’ own doing. As Starr points out, it is as if Khalil is on trial for his own murder. Starr, meanwhile, begins a Tumblr blog devoted to showing the world the Khalil she knew. Thomas ultimately presents blackness itself as a multifaceted and often contradictory identity, complicating the stereotypical assumptions thrust upon Starr, her family, and Garden Heights at large.
Dueling Identities and Double Consciousness ThemeTracker
Dueling Identities and Double Consciousness Quotes in The Hate U Give
As long as I play it cool and keep to myself, I should be fine. The ironic thing is though, at Williamson I don't have to “play it cool” — I’m cool by default because I'm one of the only black kids there. I have to earn coolness in Garden Heights, and that's more difficult than buying retro Jordans on release day.
Funny how it works with white kids though. It's dope to be black until it's hard to be black.
The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me. … “Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do," he said. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you."
I knew it must've been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.
But I swear I wanna cuss Khalil out. How he could sell the very stuff that took his momma from him? Did he realize that he was taking somebody else's momma from them? Did he realize that if he does become a hashtag, some people will only see him as a drug dealer?
He was so much more than that.
Williamson Starr doesn't use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn't say it, even if her white friends 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 nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn't give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.
Hailey texted me immediately after, freaking out. I thought it was because she couldn't believe someone would do that to a kid. No. She couldn't believe I would reblog such an awful picture.
My voice is changing already. It always happens around “other” people, whether I'm at Williamson or not. I don't talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I'm ghetto.
The drug dealer. That's how they see him. It doesn't matter that he's suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” ever will be.
If it's revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?
“Drugs come from somewhere, and they're destroying our community," he says. “You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can't get jobs unless they're clean, and they can't pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s ‘Thug Life.’”
“That's the so-called gun,” Ms. Ofrah explains. “Officer Cruise claims he saw it in the car door, and he assumed Khalil was reaching for it. The handle was thick enough, black enough, for him to assume it was a gun.”
“And Khalil was black enough,” Daddy adds.
A hairbrush. Khalil died over a fucking hairbrush.
That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?
Being two different people is so exhausting. I've taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I've mastered it. As much as I say I don't have to choose which Starr I am with Chris, maybe without realizing it, I have to an extent. Part of me feels like I can't exist around people like him.
Hailey hands me two pictures. One is Khalil's thugshot, as Daddy calls it. One of the pictures they've shown on the news. Hailey printed it off the internet. Khalil wears a smirk, gripping a handful of money and throwing up a sideways peace sign.
The other picture, he's twelve. I know because I'm twelve in it too. It's my birthday party at this laser tag place downtown. Khalil's on one side of me, shoveling strawberry cake into his mouth, and Hailey's on my other side, grinning for the camera along with me.
Chris and Maya walk through the gate, and my stomach gets all jittery. I should be used to my two worlds colliding, but I never know which Starr I should be. I can use some slang, but not too much slang, some attitude, but not too much attitude, so I'm not a “sassy black girl.” I have to watch what I say and how I say it, but I can't sound “white.”
“Anyway, Chris,” Seven says, “DeVante's got a point. What makes his name or our names any less normal than yours? Who or what defines 'normal' to you? If my pops were here, he'd say you've fallen into the trap of the white standard.”