Oscar Grant Could Have Just As Easily Been You or Me
Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis city. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His project The Hero Killer was released on January 21 and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For the Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
This week myself and the forever lovely Lex Poe went to see the movie Fruitvale Station. I haven't been emotionally touched by a movie on this level since I was ten years old and witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ via an ABC Easter movie entitled Jesus of Nazareth. I cried and ran into my parents bedroom, screaming at the top of my lungs "They killed Jesus!!"
I didn't cry during Fruitvale Station, but that doesn't mean I didn't want to. However, Lex was sitting directly next to me and she cried as if she was there in the flesh.
The energy in the movie theater was surreal. I appreciate this film because it humanizes Oscar Grant. Racism survives because the victims of racism are often not humanized. This movie gave us the chance to view Oscar Grant as a real person. We felt his joys and heartaches and we viewed the world he lived in from his perspective. He was by no means a young man without conflict and turmoil, but he was also a simplistic soul with a warm heart.
All Americans live our lives in the pursuit of life, liberty and family. These are the values we spend our entire lifetime either pursuing or harvesting in many different forms and fashions. For some reason, people tend to think young black males don't value these things. But we do, and we may value them even more than the next person, because we aren't always able to blindly indulge in these things due to the nature of our history in this country. We were born with a 300 year setback. This isn't a cheap cop-out; it's an unfortunate reality. Being born poor in America sets you up for a setback, naturally.
Stockpiling other hashtags to poverty such as race, gender and sexual preference strengthens the chains of these setbacks. A gay woman born poor has obstacles in her life that very few people can understand. When we add dynamics such as race to her equation, things can become even more complicated. If this woman is a black lesbian woman in the heart of the ghetto, she now has to deal with judgement from her own community because of sexual preference while maintaining second class citizenship as a woman in certain instances. She is also dealing with the judgement of society as a whole, because she's not only a woman but a gay African American woman. Her story is unique and her worldview and psyche are affected by this.
In the wake of such fiery topics as the death of Trayvon Martin, I feel obligated to actually once again care about my place in society when it comes to issues such as the death of Oscar Grant. This weekend I was on the phone with one of the head honcho's from Bungalo Records (the label that distributes for my parent label Overdose Entertainment). These calls are usually pretty stiff and cut and dry. I enjoy them, because I enjoy taking care of business, but we typically stick to the script because this relationship is new and we all pretty much barely know each other at this point in the game. The head honcho, who shall remain nameless, usually tells me about a few things I need to do to ensure that my name receives proper circulation during the Universal Records marketing meetings, which he attends weekly. My life is in the palm of these guys' hands, so naturally I take heed and listen.
The tone of the conversation is usually all about fan engagement and showing people who I really am as a person. I've always felt like I do a decent job at that, but prior to this I wasn't concerned about setting myself up to sell an album. I talked to him briefly about the fact that I don't want to be pigeonholed as some sort of hip-hop political activist. His reply was basically "be who you are, and if the shoe fits wear it."
I didn't want to write about this particular topic, but after my conversation with him I feel strongly committed to the task of being a voice for the voiceless. So I press rewind and take you back to Fruitvale Station, the movie that focuses on the life and death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was gunned down in Oakland for absolutely nothing by the BART police. Since the day I originally learned about this story via Facebook and Twitter, I felt immediately offended by what happened to Oscar. He was on the train, heading home on New Years Eve, and the police shot him in the back while he was handcuffed and laying face down on the ground. He was only 22 years old and he had a daughter. The movie is eerily accurate about the events of his life prior to his untimely murder. I think language is important when discussing incidents such as this, because we must call these things what they are. Oscar Grant was murdered by the police for absolutely nothing, and the officers received a petty slap on the wrist. We have to start calling these situations exactly what they are. Oscar Grant was murdered.
I want this to stick with you the way it stuck with me. I remember watching a documentary about a young kid named Alex Supertramp. He hitch-hiked across the country and became a bit of an urban legend before his horrific death in a remote location in the depths of an Alaskan forest. Alex's story will forever stay with me until I leave this life. I actually want to visit the camping site which is now notoriously known by Supertramp enthusiasts as the place where he died.