As soon as I saw its cover, I knew I had to read it: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas…when the first part of my muse’s most recognized tattoo is spelled out on a book—it was a no-brainer. I opened the novel and I met a complicated Black teenager named Starr and entered her world. Khalil, one of her childhood best friends, dropped some knowledge about the meaning and relevance of 2Pac’s “THUG LIFE” inking, “What society give us as youth,” he explained, “it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?” Moments later, Khalil is murdered by a police officer in front of Starr.
Although the The Hate U Give is a work of fiction, the reality and circumstances of Starr’s life are so real that I can’t help but to draw the parallels between her life and mine (none of which I will discuss here). I understand why this New York Times Bestseller was picked up to be a movie. I also see why people have issues with Amandla Stenberg playing Starr. This is not to bash Stenberg for her taking the part, she’s talented, dope and woke (I follow her on Tumblr, too). My issue is that it contributes to the effect of lack of representation of women who are darker than a paper bag in the Black community, in other words, colorism.
Colorism defined by Alice Walker is the prejudice or preference of same-raced people based solely on their skin tone. Colorism existed before Alice Walker gave it a name. It can be traced back to colonialism, where the hegemonic ideologies of beauty regarding skin color were internalized by the oppressed. Since then, it’s been a tool used to divide and conquer POC.
In the story, Starr described herself as “medium brown”, her boyfriend called her “caramel” and she is portrayed with a mahogany complexion on the book cover. In between those three hues, Stenberg is not visually a good match. The Hunger Games star is however, a new go-to for roles when it comes to casting young Black women. The usual argument is Hollywood wants a “familiar face” for sales, but hasn’t it been proven that there are breakout stars (Lupita Nyong’o) who make movie magic (12 Years a Slave) and generate revenue (187 million worldwide)?
For Black girls, seeing ourselves in all of our gorgeous hues is important in our psychological and social development no matter where we are on the birth to death continuum. It’s not just the angry dark-skin friend like Pam from Martin or the strong and independent woman like roles Angela Bassett plays. There also needs to be representation that shows vulnerability and complexity and all the other nuances that we embody…like Starr’s character. The representation of even seeing what we see in the mirror once may have lasting effects, like when Whoopi Goldberg saw Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. Sometimes, however, it takes a lot more.
In addition, it’s not just crucial for Black girls to see other Black girls, but Black boys, too. As Critical Race Theory expert, Dr. Luke Charles Harris advises, we need to acknowledge and honor “the linked fate of Black men and women.” To illustrate, rapper Kodak Black caused controversy when he said he loved Black women, just not the dark ones like himself. But how can anyone be mad at him? He is merely regurgitating the messages of beauty he has internalized and without a doubt, I am sure that he has been regarded negatively because of his beautiful skin tone. It’s sad, and he’s also not the only one.
For some young Black girls, their dislike for their skin tone is because they see mainly see lighter representations whom are portrayed as being “good” or “better.” This also goes for the other children who tease their counterparts which continues into adulthood (e.g. Gilbert Arenas comments about Nyong’o). Then what happens? Well to take from one of 2Pac’s popular songs “Keep Ya Head Up”, “we’ll have a race of babies that will hate the ladies that make the babies.”