As a child growing up in Indonesia, a globally connected country, I was fascinated by hip-hop culture. I was introduced to rap music through a Christian rapper named William “Duce” Branch, also known as ‘The Ambassador’. It sparked an interest in me to see how words can be assembled together like lego blocks to make a solid form. From Christian rap, I branched out into Black Eyed Peas and from there, I was introduced to Eminem. His music was the outlet for my teenage angst.
After my teenage phase, I moved to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, to pursue my education. There, I was friendless, with no clue where I was in the city, and very little help at hand. Equipped with a motorbike from my dad, a very limited amount of money to spend, and knowledge that my parents paid an ungodly amount of money for me to be there, I felt undue pressure on my back. In those moments, when I got lost, it was difficult for me to find myself again.
From the stress of academics, and overwhelming loneliness of having no one to count on, I was introduced to the king of west coast hip-hop: Kendrick Lamar. His album, ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. City’ was a gateway to understanding that I was not alone on my journey. As an African-American child growing up, Lamar, the titular good kid grew up in Compton, California, which had the 8th highest crime rate in the country. The ‘mad city’, coupled with peer pressure from gangs led Lamar towards violence.
His next album, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ talked more about the rampant discrimination towards African-Americans, an ethnic minority in America. It painted a picture of his journey from a good kid lost to peer pressure and the hostile environment of the ‘hood he lived in, to the realization that he had a voice to speak out against a discriminatory system.
I could relate to this disconnect. Raised in a somewhat sheltered environment, having everything served on a silver platter, and where there was always a place to run to, I was plunged into a state of helplessness. With helplessness, hopelessness inevitably follows. But with the album, Lamar showed me that there would be hope in the end.
A victim of racism, discrimination, and violence, some African-Americans choose to voice their aspirations through rap music. The violent, often overtly macho behavior is fueled by the their perceived sense of injustice. I know this ain't the US, and I am no African Indonesian. I am an Indonesian-Chinese struggling to find an idol that shares my common problems as a nationalist who constantly feel threatened by the majority. There's not much Chinese-Indonesian today that can stand out on the national stage as 'a fighter', except probably the stereotypical badminton athletes or pragmatist businessmen. Blame me for my ignorance, but in my life span, I experience the thrill of idolizing this one particular Chinese-Indonesian: Ahok.
Like these minority figures, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as ‘Ahok’), the convicted former governor of Indonesia, seems to also swim against the current. As a Chinese Christian, he went against the odds to become an unlikely icon. He showed that it was possible to have a clean government, away from the temptations of money and the lust for power.
He is the first non-Muslim and the first ethnic Chinese to be Jakarta’s governor after taking over from Joko Widodo who won the presidential race in 2014. He has shown to be a bright light in the midst of money politics and corruption. Bright lights penetrate the darkness and reveal hidden things. Those who have grown accustomed to the shadows fear the exposition of their dark deeds.
On May 9, 2017, a bright light was dimmed as Ahok was led to his cell. Another ‘good kid’ condemned for having the temerity to reject a broken system, and attempt to correct it.
Tupac Shakur, one of the legends of hip-hop once stated:
“I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”
To me, the story of the former governor has begun a spark in the country and in myself. Sparks make it possible for things to catch fire. A small fire, perhaps, but like Kenrick Lamar once said:
“Tell me your purpose is petty again, but even a small lighter can burn a bridge.”
Whatever it is that you do, no matter how small or big, let the story of the governor be one to spark a movement towards a better system, one of more tolerance, acceptance, and peace. To be free from those who seek sanctuary in darkness. To relieve ourselves from the pain caused by those living casting shade from the shadows. It is through the display of our integrity and honesty - no matter the cost - that we all can move towards a more equitable society.