I will never forget the day I learned my cousin was pregnant. I’m almost 8, and the aunt who shared the news delivered it with this ominous foreboding—like a cautionary tale. Because my cousin is “only” 15 years old.
Fast forward: It’s 2018. I am 32 years old, married for 8 years, and have two planned and intentionally conceived children. I’m visiting a super-rich, prominently white private school to speak about my debut novel, Dear Martin.
I’m standing in front of a room with 150 people (super rich, dazzling white) Children talk about the link between systemic racism and implicit bias. A young woman in the front row raised her hand.
“But what about the bastard rate?” she asked.
“Now what?” I said.
“Illegal birth rate,” she repeated. “You know: the percentage of African-American kids who grew up without a father.”
I answered a question: “Honey, what exactly makes a person ‘illegitimate’?”
This experience will stay with me forever.It’s not just the blatantly offensive nature of the question deep into my skin. This is the confidence she asks it.
How certain she is that the “illegal immigration rate” is a concept that can be used to counter the need to examine and eliminate anti-Black racism.
I have long been aware of the stereotypes that pervade the perception of black families in America.There is a “fast” stereotype (Read: Promiscuity and Hypersexuality) Black girl who got knocked over as a teenager. Absent the stereotype of black fathers – baby daddy lark. There is the “broken home” stereotype, which assumes single mothers and multiple fathers if there are multiple children.
The problem with these stereotypes is the problem with all stereotypes: they create false, large-scale ideas about large groups of people, robbing them of the complexity and humanity of living, breathing human beings.
Enter Angie Thomas. Thomas in 2017 smash The hit “The Hate U Give” introduced us to a black “traditional” family — a unit of heterosexual married couples and their biological children together — but with a caveat: the eldest son in the Carter family, seven aged and has a different biological mother than his siblings Sekani and Starr.
We also learned that Seven and Starr are only a little over a year apart, which is sure to pose a danger to the illegitimate police. In order for siblings to be so close in age, one must be a baby when the other is conceived.
And since we also know that Starr’s mother, Lisa, was only 18 when she gave birth to Starr, and that Lisa was the same age as Starr’s father, Maverick Carter, it’s not hard to infer that well ol’ Maverick was a teenager. Two girls got pregnant.
Clearly, things are settled: when we meet Maverick in “The Hate U Give”, he’s a successful entrepreneur, happily married to Starr’s mother, and doing his best to lead and support his family make a living. Yes, he used to be a gang member and a drug dealer, but he left it all behind. Not only was he there, but he was persistent. Exactly the type of black dad that people think doesn’t exist.
but one of my favorite things Angie Thomas (people I know through work events) It was she who was willing to dig deeper and peel another layer. That’s why her latest novel “Concrete Roses” – her best novel in my opinion – is a gift. Not only does it dismantle the “quick black girl” stereotype and debunk the myth of the lark baby daddy, it also gives us an insight into the life of a boy most people wouldn’t try to look beyond the surface.
In “Concrete Rose,” we take a deep dive into the life of a young Maverick Carter. The demonized element of his life is remarkable: He is a gang member and drug dealer who managed to impregnate two different girls before his senior year of high school.Thomas didn’t whitewash this: She showed us all the grit and dirt.
But Thomas does not allow readers to stand on the pedestal of uncensored moral ideals (as in “illegal rate”) And look down on the characters in this book – and who they represent in the real world – from some completely Superior position.
One of Thomas’ greatest skills is character building, giving adult readers insight into their younger self.
She made us remember what it feels like to be like you can’t speak up without dire consequences; what it’s like to have a dream much bigger than yourself; what it’s like to be stuck between rocks and hard places Don’t know what to do, but also have no choice but to figure it out.
No, gang membership, drug use, and teen parenting are not light or easy topics. But in “Concrete Roses,” Thomas treats them with great care, empathy, and nuance. It’s a novel that, like Thomas’s other books, plucks the strings of our complex human nature.
It’s as if Thomas went straight to the reader and said, “No. I’m not going to let you dehumanize them just because you “disagree” with the way they live or the decisions they make. Let’s put you in their place Come on and see what you’ll do.”
It is for this reason that we all owe Angie Thomas is grateful. Because in showing us the heart and soul of a boy who did everything our society denigrated but really did his best with what he had, she gave us the greatest gift: allowing our guards to come down, do a more legitimate one.