The Hate U Give depicts gangs, drugs, and violence as largely the result of lack of opportunity. The deck is stacked against many residents of Garden Heights, who may turn to gangs and drug dealing as their only means of supporting their loved ones and protecting themselves. This, in turn, traps the community in a vicious cycle of poverty and crime.
The cycle of crime is especially evident in Maverick, whose father was one of the biggest drug dealers in Garden Heights. Maverick was born into a life of “kinging” and joined the gang at just twelve years old, he tells Starr and DeVante, because “that was the only way to survive.” For Maverick, joining a gang was, ironically, the best means of protection from gang violence. “Somebody was always coming at me ‘cause of my pops,” he continues, “but if I was a King Lord I had folks to watch my back.” DeVante echoes this sense of security when he tells Starr, “With King Lords, we had a whole bunch of folks who had our backs, no matter what.” He appreciates the community and protection that the King Lords offer, even as they contribute to the insecurity of the neighborhood on the whole. Further illustrating the need for alternative forms of protection in Garden Heights is the fact that, after a brick is thrown through the Carters’ window, King Lords help protect the Carter family when the police can’t (or won’t).
Even for those not so explicitly born into crime, Thomas creates nuanced portrayals of characters who choose to sell drugs even when they can see the harm this has on their communities. At first, Starr cannot understand why Khalil would sell the same drugs that have ruined his mother’s life. DeVante explains Khalil’s specific motivations—paying back his mother’s debt to King—and also the broader pressures created by poverty. “Nobody likes selling drugs,” he says, “But I hated seeing my momma and my sisters go hungry, you know?” Once a part of that world, however, it is nearly impossible to get out; Maverick had to go to prison to escape, becoming a felon in the process—another mark against him in society that makes it even more difficult to get a job and support his family even years later.
It’s important to note that Thomas also highlights her characters’ resiliency and strength throughout the novel, painting a picture of a community defined as much by perseverance as oppression. In illustrating the cycle of poverty and crime, however, she rebuts the common racist narrative that her characters’ circumstances are the result of personal failings rather than broad, systemic injustice. The novel thus suggests that, unable to trust police and largely abandoned by the rest of society, Garden Heights has been forced to create its own system of economic opportunity and justice. The irony, of course, is that this system—powered by gangs and drugs—further entrenches Garden Heights in the issues its residents want to escape.
The Cycle of Poverty and Crime ThemeTracker
The Cycle of Poverty and Crime Quotes in The Hate U Give
Garden Heights has been a battlefield for the past two months over some stupid territory wars. I was born a “queen” ‘cause Daddy used to be a King Lord. But when he left the game, my street royalty status ended. But even if I’d grown up in it, I wouldn't understand fighting over streets nobody owns.
Listen! The Hate U-the letter U-Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?
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.
[Tupac] explains Thug Life like Khalil said he did. The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. ‘Pac spells out “Fucks” because that kid is looking dead in his face. When Khalil told me what it meant I kinda understood it. I really understand it now.
“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.
“I've tried to forget it, but I remember everything. The shots, the look on Natasha's face. They never caught the person who did it. I guess it didn't matter enough. But it did matter. She mattered.” I look at Ms. Ofrah, but I can barely see her for all the tears. “And I want everyone to know that Khalil mattered too.”
Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people's lives too. Saving them from their wild African ways. Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving.
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.
He said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” We did all that stuff last night because we were pissed, and it fucked all of us. Now we have to somehow un-fuck everybody.
It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It's about way more than that though. It's about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante.
It's also about Oscar.
It's even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first—Emmett.