Texas School Shelves Black Lives Matter-Inspired Novel for ‘Racially Insensitive Language’

HarperCollins Photo: Anissa Hidouk
Katy, TX

A Texas school district shelved a Black Lives Matter-inspired novel to review its “pervasive vulgarity and racially insensitive language” after a parent raised concerns to the board of trustees at a recent meeting.

The controversial The Hate U Give centers on a fictional 16-year-old black female teenager named Starr who grew up in the slums but now attends an elite prep school, Breitbart News reported:

Publisher’s Weekly has the rest of the synopsis: Her life is up-ended when she is an eyewitness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.

The social justice-minded, young-adult novel spent 38 weeks on The New York Times’ bestseller list and is being made into a film. Author Angie Thomas told Cosmopolitan she was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the late rapper Tupac Shakur’s THUG LIFE, an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*ck Everybody,” which influenced the book’s title.

At a November 6 trustees’ work study meeting, Katy Independent School District parent Anthony Downs voiced concerns with the book’s profane language. He said one of his children in junior high came to him that weekend.

“She said, ‘I didn’t think I should be reading this book’,” said Downs, explaining she checked out the novel from the school’s library. Downs said he read the first 13 of 444 pages “and I was very appalled.”

He excerpted specific passages in the novel to illustrate examples of offensive language. Downs read: “A haze lingers over the room, smelling like weed…headache from the loud-ass music and the nausea from the weed odor…Guys in their freshest kicks and sagging pants grind so close to girls they just about need condoms.”

Then he read: “Trust me, my school has hoes too” and “I’m good. Goddamn, it’s always some drama…”

“White kids love popping pills.”

“Damn. For real?” Chance asks. “Shit, bitch, next time…”

“The f-word,” said Downs, “and I will not repeat that here, but it is spelled out here in the book.”

He concluded his three minutes of public comments asking the school board, “Who reviews the books that go into the junior high schools because this is absolutely crazy?”

The Houston-area school district since removed the novel from its junior and senior high school libraries. Superintendent Lance Hindt released a statement about Katy ISD’s decision, which he acknowledged was “made after profane language in the book was brought to the district’s attention.”

Lindt said the book contains “pervasive vulgarity and racially insensitive language” and will be “removed pending further review based solely on its pervasive vulgarity and not its substantive content or the viewpoint expressed.”

The superintendent also commented on Katy ISD’s textbook review procedures, saying the district “has a formal process and policy whereby books are reviewed for inclusion in our instructional resources.” He continued: “The district strictly adheres to this policy when reviewing library material in order to follow policy and protect students’ First Amendment rights. To this end, consistent with the First Amendment, the district makes no judgment based on viewpoint when its committees meet to consider library materials.”

He added: “However, in accordance with U.S. Supreme Court rulings and Board Policy EF (Legal), the district does reserve the right to remove any book or material which is ‘pervasively vulgar or based solely upon the educational suitability of the books in question.'”

Vulture reported the school district’s action as a ban, asserting the superintendent made a unilateral decision and superseded existing policy. However, Lindt disputed such a claim. “Contrary to many reports, the book has not been banned. Again, it has been removed consistent with existing policy while an administrative review process is underway.”

Thomas also responded. On November 30, she tweeted: “I get it – some educators have an issue with the language. I will not criticize anyone for that.” She then said: “But I wrote it because I have a HUGE issue with how little value is given to black lives. I can only hope you’ll look past the curse words and see that.”

She also posted: “I’m saddened to hear that a school district in Texas banned #The Hate U Give, but I’m also empowered – you’re basically telling the kids of the Garden Heights of the world that their stories shouldn’t be told. Well I’m going to tell them even louder. Thanks for igniting the fire.”

In 2014, Breitbart Texas reported on a book battle that erupted in the Dallas-area Highland Park ISD. The school district yanked a collection of seven pop-culture fiction and nonfiction books off its high school English literature reading list following an outcry from parents over vulgar language, plus themes including sex, drugs, alcoholism, incest, rape, and mental illness. One of the books, The Art of Racing in the Rain, told through a dog’s perspective, was re-challenged in 2015. Ultimately, the Highland Park ISD reinstated all the books and overhauled its review process.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.