Opinion: How Tupac Lives Within The Black Lives Matter Movement
When I look at the latest trailer of the new Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez On Me, where it showed the scene of Pac’s violent arrest for “jay-walking” in 1991, it instantly reminds me of the traumatic videos of police brutality we see almost every week of black, brown, and even white bodies being punched, kicked, assaulted by tasers, maced, wrestled to the ground, and pumped full of bullets in the streets by police. Clearly, things haven’t changed much since then.
How easily could have any of these racial murders been Tupac? The music legend was — and is — prime target for police brutality. He was loud, black, opinionated and was willing to fight for his rights — at any cost. It is that reason alone why the living ghost of Tupac Amaru Shakur lies within Black Lives Matter — a movement that epitomizes everything that he stood for and valiantly fought against until his untimely demise in 1996.
Throughout much of Shakur’s life, he was just as much either a victim or witness to police violence as many other people of color, even going back as far as his early childhood when his parents, the late activist and gatekeeper of Tupac’s estate, Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland were members of the Black Panthers in New York. In fact, many of his family members were all persecuted by either the federal and/or local government — including his godfather Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, his stepfather Mutulu Shakur, and his aunt Assata Shakur. It is no wonder why not too long after he began speaking out against corrupt police officers on his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, the law began to come after him as they did his family. “I had no record all my life, no police record until I made a record. As my video was debuting on MTV, I was behind bars getting beat up by the police department,” he told journalist Ed Gordon in 1994.
And this is the reality of many folks, especially those who are black and brown (like myself) minus the money and fame. I look at Chicago, my hometown where amid the rampant gun violence you have a long, long history of the CPD committing acts of unnecessary violence towards unarmed citizens, such as the incidents resulting in the deaths of Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd among many, many others. In fact, if you ask yourself if Tupac were alive today, how outspoken would he be about these ongoing murders. Then you’d automatically know the answer. I’m more than confident that he would speak on the late McDonald and Boyd while fighting for Oscar Grant III from the Bay Area. If he were alive today, pac would be right here with us fighting with fervor and speaking unapologetically about these ongoing injustices, just as BLM is doing now, while telling us to “strap up” for better or worse. Word to Korryn Gaines, R.I.P.
If one were to dissect the essence of Pac and the Black Lives Matter movement, you would most likely find that the similar (but not exactly the same) elements that made Tupac such a magnetizing, yet polarizing being. This is what makes BLM so necessary. And one of those things, besides its blunt and unapologetic approach along with its tendency for being dangerously misunderstood is surprisingly, feminism. 2Pac, for all intents and purposes, was a feminist believe it or not. A deeply flawed one who wrestled with his own toxic masculinity at times, but a true feminist in principal none the less. As BLM does, he strongly believed in fighting for the equity, protection, and uplifting of women, especially black women who grew up in the same environment as he did. It was his feminist spirit as a teenager that allowed him to say, “There should be a class on drugs. There should be a class on sex education, a real sex education class. Not just pictures and diaphragms and illogical terms and things like that. There should be a drug class, there should be sex education, there should be a class on scams, there should be a class on religious cult, there should be a class on police brutality, there should be a class on apartheid, there should be on racism in America, there should be a class on why people are hungry, but there’s not, there’s class on gym, you know, physical education, let’s learn volleyball.” Sound familiar?
Through his music and his activism, he fought to uplift those oppressed girls and women that would often be overlooked and swept away in the name of respectability politics. Many of them being pregnant at a young age and left as single mothers, victims of incest, rape, domestic abuse, and molestation, addicted to drugs, living on welfare while struggling to support their home, and a multitude of issues that black women still experience today. The feminist messages in songs like “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Me Against The World”, “Brenda’s Got A Baby”, and “Can U Get Away” among many others are embedded within BLM as those women and girls who they not only fight for, but are a visible force within the movement.
If nothing else, Shakur’s brash and unapologetic nature of getting all of his messages across is a key figure that BLM draws striking comparisons towards. One could argue that it comes from the nature of Hip-Hop in general, but there is no other realistic Hip-Hop comparison than Makaveli himself. One thing that all radicalized revolutionaries know is that in order to get an important message across, you have to do it by any means. Even if that means stepping on toes and making a lot of people uncomfortable because the message is just that urgent. A prime example of this is when the BLM Seattle chapter famously bum rushed the podium at a Bernie Sanders rally. The young women involved were either immediately demonized or praised depending on what side of the fence you were on — as Pac was — when he often spoke at conferences, expos, and radio interviews. Both of them spoke with that aggressive urgency that forced you to listen whether you loved it or hated. Frankly, neither Pac or Marissa Johnson cared how you felt as long as the message was heard.
Tupac famously said that although he might not change the world, he guaranteed that he would spark the young revolutionaries that would. And what if the thousands of members of BLM were those brains who were inspired by Pac himself? It’s certainly more than likely because without Pac and the burning mark he left on the world, it is hard to say whether or not activism in hip-hop within the last four years would have been as prominent. And although his body is no longer with us on Earth, his soul remains present within all of us entertainers, athletes, writers, and revolutionaries alike. The reality of it is simple… Pac is alive. And he walks among us within the Black Lives Matter Movement.