Policing Racial Equality

T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E: Tupac’s Message Manifested Through a Fictitious Reality of America in 2018

the hate u give.jpg
Khalil and Starr in The Hate U Give. Image from 20th Century Fox

The Hate U G[a]ve Little Infants F**ks Everybody, meaning What you feed us as seeds grows and blows up in your face”

– Tupac Shakurpac.jpg

The Hate U Give is a powerful, must-see-drama/thriller. While the film is heart-wrenching, its message leaves its viewers with much optimism. The film was inspired by a phrase coined by the late, iconic rapper Tupac Shakur: “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.” Throughout his 25-year life, Tupac revolutionized the music industry with hits like “Dear Mama,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Changes,” and dozens more that would inspire generations to come. ‘Pac also used his platform to shed light on how racism was the catalyst for social and political issues facing the Black community, such as poverty and police brutality. These are constant themes present in The Hate U Give.

In The Hate U Give, director George Tillman, Jr. highlights one of American society’s most sensitive topics: racism. Particularly, it examines racism manifested through police brutality, microaggressions, implicit bias, and cultural appropriation. The plot emanates from the shooting death of an unarmed Black teen, Khalil, at the hands of a white policer officer. Starr Carter, the main character in the movie and Khalil’s lifelong best friend, witnesses the shooting.

The film centers on how Starr is particularly affected by Khalil’s death because, although they grew up in the same neighborhood together, their lives at the time of Khalil’s death, were completely different.

Starr grew up with both parents in her life, whereas Khalil did not. Starr’s parents were determined to make the best for their children’s futures by protecting them from the negative elements present in the “‘hood.” They did so by sending their children to a private, predominately-white school in the suburbs.

Throughout the film, Starr is constantly at war with herself both at school and in her own neighborhood. Starr deals with microaggressions – a form of racism experienced frequently by many people of color – at school on a daily basis. She convinces herself that she can’t act “too Black” at school, as she’ll be perceived (negatively) to be “ghetto”, “ratchet”, or “hood.” On the other hand, Starr must maintain her Blackness while in her neighborhood. Back home, she fears that she may be perceived as the bourgeois sellout who goes to school in the suburbs and hangs out with all of the white kids. Khalil’s reality, on the other hand, was in stark contrast to Starr’s.

Khalil wasn’t able to escape the negative elements trapping him in the ‘hood. Unlike Starr, Khalil did not grow up in a stable household. His mother was strung out on crack and his father was absent. Khalil’s parents didn’t raise him, his grandmother did. She had cancer and was unable to find work. All of these factors led Khalil to “hustling” – selling illegal drugs – so that he could earn a living wage and provide for himself and his family.

Contrary to the stereotypes so often seen in films and other popular media of young Black males growing up in the ‘hood, Khalil was a good kid with a great heart. He loved and cared for his family. He wasn’t violent. In fact, he didn’t even own a gun. But, following his death at the hands of a white police officer, the film depicts how Khalil’s humanity was elided and his second-class citizenry reified by those very institutions that are supposed to protect and inform us.  For example, in the film, the police department and opportunistic media outlets focus solely on the fact that Khalil dealt drugs; they ignore the circumstances that led Khalil to criminal activity and the fact that he was wrongfully killed by a police officer whose racism led to Khalil’s death.


The general public’s refusal to acknowledge these more complex and complicated elements embodies what happens when unarmed Black people are killed by police officers in the 21st century. Very seldom does the public address the social conditions causing the rift between law enforcement and the Black community (e.g., Blackness being equated with criminality, cycles of poverty leading to crime, the disproportionate number of Black families living in poverty, and the Black community’s distrust for law enforcement). Instead, the victims are demonized and blamed for their own deaths.

That is the very message that Tupac conveyed through his music and mantra, T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. – “The Hate U Give Little Infants F**cks Everybody.” And it is the same message portrayed in The Hate U Give. Currently we live in a time where the brittle relationship between the Black community and police is worsening. Though fictitious, The Hate U Give reflects exactly what happens in 21st century America when an unarmed Black person is killed by the police. Instead of recognizing a victim’s humanity, the general public blames and shames the victim, focusing on any dirt they can dig up on a victim, particularly if the victim had a criminal history. They discuss everything that they think the victim should have done differently, ignoring the wrong done by the officer who is, after all, supposed to be trained to handle encounters without resorting to deadly force. Very rarely do we, as a collective body, attempt to address the complex root of the problem.

Just some of the many unarmed Black men and women killed by police officers. Image from Medium

The Hate U Give is a fictitious reflection of the real-life consequences of Tupac’s mantra, “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.”  The hate little infants learn teach them racist stereotypes associated with people of color, such as Blackness being equated to criminality. Little infants grow up to become teenagers like Starr’s high school peers, whose microaggressions and cultural appropriations take a mental and emotional toll on her daily. Little infants also grow up to become police officers whose biases make them fearful of Black people, causing them to kill unarmed Black people like Khalil. Finally, little infants grow up and see news stories on TV where unarmed Black people are killed by white police officers. The dominant cultural response engrained in society – which is informed by hate – refuses to acknowledge when an officer over-reacts. The little infants turned adults demonize victims like Khalil, while the officers’ actions are deemed heroic. All of this is exposed and explored in The Hate U Give.

At the individual level, immersed in the complexities of race in America, Starr must reconcile her two realities while dealing with the death of her best friend. She struggles to remain silent, fearing that she will be viewed as a troublemaker at school and a snitch in her community.  Yet, she yearns to do what she knows is right: speak up and tell the world who her best friend was as a person, and what really happened him. In the end, Starr stays true to herself. Her reaction, if taken by society as a whole in today’s America, has the potential to reverse the detrimental effects caused by T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. Thus, The Hate U Give, though grim and often depressing, succeeds in inspiring its viewers to act as individuals against societal hate, in order to help bring about positive change.

Click here to watch the trailer.

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