The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Khalil's hairbrush (symbol)

Khalil’s hairbrush is symbolic of the distrust that police officers have for minorities. One of the protest chants, “A hairbrush is not a gun!”, represents the anger that the African-American community feels when it comes to the shooting of unarmed black people based on stereotypes, fear, and incomplete information. The hairbrush also invokes the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo. Police officers mistakenly believed that Diallo’s wallet was a gun and fired 41 shots at him. Diallo’s death led to an explosive controversy and national debate over racial profiling and police brutality.

Black Jesus (symbol)

Black Jesus is a symbol of the strength of African-Americans in the face of oppression. Maverick appropriates white-dominated Christianity by making Jesus black and leads his family in a group prayer each morning. The family derives strength from their prayer every day without relying on a white power or ideal. Black Jesus is also symbolic of the blended religion of Starr’s family; Maverick, for example, does not approve of eating pork, which is a Muslim practice. The Carters frequently turn to Black Jesus for guidance while feeling pride for the strength of black people everywhere.

Thug Life (motif)

Tupac Shakur’s concept of THUG LIFE—The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody—is an important motif in the novel and the source of the book’s title. Tupac’s acronym explains the cyclical nature of poverty and crime that occurs as a result of an oppressive, racist social system. Starr and Khalil discuss the acronym shortly before Khalil’s death, and Starr discusses Tupac’s message with her father later on, coming to the conclusion that she can’t be silent about the shooting. The acronym is symbolic of the struggles that black people in America face, emphasizing the generalizability of Starr’s story. This motif runs throughout the entire novel, as characters such as DeVante and Khalil get caught up in a system that traps them.

Chris's Rolls Royce (symbol)

Chris’s Rolls Royce is symbolic of his privilege, both financial and racial. Starr worries that the differences in her and Chris’s backgrounds will prevent them from opening up completely to each other. She hides the parts of her life that she believes will make her appear “ghetto,” including Natasha and Khalil’s deaths. However, the symbol of white privilege as a barrier to their interracial relationship is inverted when Starr and Chris have an honest conversation about the need to accept each other inside of the very car that represents the differences between them.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (allegory)

Starr’s favorite TV show is The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which stars Will Smith and tells the story of a black teenager who is sent from his West Philadelphia neighborhood to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in their mansion in Bel Air after he gets in a fight. Starr herself points out the allegorical nature of the show in regards to her own life. Just as Will was sent to Bel Air because of trouble in his neighborhood, Starr was sent to Williamson Prep after Natasha’s death. However, the analogy doesn’t extend to how comfortable Will and Starr feel in their respective new environments. Will still retains his own personality, while Starr feels the need to hide hers.