CVS, Fruitvale Ave, Oakland, CA.
I passed these two men near the China Gourmet restaurant, on that stretch of Fruitvale Avenue that’s just below MacArthur. I felt a little self-conscious because I was carrying a clear plastic bag containing five pounds of raw goat meat. Maybe that’s why the guy on the right (your right) looked a little uneasy. The guy on the left didn’t really seem to be paying attention.
Fruitvale BART Station, Oakland, California.
I don’t think anyone can overlook the irony that this and a few other recent drawings on this website depict Black men I recently encountered at Fruitvale Station. This, of course, is the very same location where, 4.5 years ago, Oscar Grant lost his life. At first, I thought I’d be troubled by this irony; but, in fact, the contrast between the living Black men I’ve portrayed in the same setting in which an unarmed Black man was shot by BART police gives me a peculiar kind of hope.
The tragic shooting of Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009 could have had a terrorizing effect on Bay Area Black men. It would have been completely understandable if, in the wake of this killing, Bay Area men of African descent had decided to avoid the BART system entirely; and yet they did not. Whether the assailant, Johannes Mehserle, intended to kill Grant or not, this and other so-called accidental shootings of Black men, when taken together, convey the troubling message that it is not the shooters, but Black men themselves who are mistaken — in believing that they have the right to equal protection under (and by) the law; in hoping that, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, they will be presumed innocent; and in behaving as though they have the right to freedom of movement (whether strolling through a gated community in Florida or riding on a Bay Area commuter train on New Year’s Day).
And yet, despite the dehumanizing messages conveyed through the actions and words of those who fear or distrust them, Black men persist in seeing the humanity in themselves and each other, they persist in living their lives as free and equal citizens, and they persist in traveling to the places they need to go, by bus, by ferry, even by train, and even through Fruitvale Station.
PS: The background image is the evening schedule of trains traveling to and from Fruitvale BART.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (or BART) brings me in contact with a broader cross-section of the Bay Area population than just about any other place or public service. In some regions, the public bus system and the public schools serve as that great aggregator of all humanity; but, due to the dramatic class segregation in Oakland and San Francisco, public buses and public schools tend–in both cases–to bring together those who cannot afford a private alternative. BART is one of the few entities that brings together not only a wide range of races, but a wide range of classes, as well. The appeal of quick and convenient travel between the East Bay and San Francisco attracts travelers of all stripes, and the range of ages, classes, subcultures and genders I encounter on the trains between Oakland and San Francisco feels like a truly representative sampling of the region’s much-touted diversity.
The next several drawings reflect the range of men I encountered on a recent trip from Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland to 24th and Mission St. in San Francisco.
On Thursday evening, I took the bus to the Fruitvale BART station, and then I took BART to the Mission district in San Francisco. The man in this drawing got on at the West Oakland stop. I was fascinated by his puffy little pom-pom of a beard. That and his sideburns seemed to be the only hair he could grow on his face, and yet he had a quiet confidence that transcended the particulars of his grooming. You know a brother is cool if he makes a pom-pom beard look fly.