I really like Think Pieces. I like seeing how people interpret media that has layers and secrets. It’s like solving a puzzle. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino did a number on us with ‘This Is America.’
I was first introduced to this video, which released on 5/5/18, by seeing snippets of it on Instagram. People were posting about it like it was the coming of Black Jesus in song. Naturally, I was intrigued. I took to YouTube and was met with the shock and awe of an ingenious juxtaposition of popular culture, both in music and dance, with careless death. In the first few seconds of the video, we went from jamming to an Afro-Carribean beat to seeing a man with a burlap sack over his head shot in the back of the head and dragged away on the ground.
What in Childish Gambino’s name is going on?
Moving on, your body can’t help but move to the trap bass, but you aren’t sure if you should let it. After all, you don’t know what is going to happen next. After the school kids bust out some classic and familiar moves, while riots take place in the background, the church choir is shot by an automatic rifle.
Okay, Childish Donald Gambino Glover. My emotions can’t hang with you!
My brain is fighting to decide if I love this or hate it. Classic visuals from present day and yesteryear permeate this video. He goes from “feeling himself” (I’m so pretty), to being “hard” (grabbing his crotch and pretending to point a gun). Then he, seemingly being caught by his own internal turmoil, turns to self-medication with marijuana and hits us with some very well executed Michael Jackson, James Brown, and we-didn’t-know-you-could-move-like-that-Donald, moves.
What I Love About This Is AmericaWhat I love is the interlaced messages about masking the turmoil of the real world with the fakeness of popular culture. “We just want to party,” says to me that partying is all that matters even as people are dying daily on American and foreign soil.
I don’t think that he is saying that we SHOULDN’T have fun and enjoy ourselves.
Rather, I think that he is bringing light to the fact that fun shouldn’t negate or mask reality. We still need to acknowledge, deal with, and act on injustices. The everyday song and dance NEEDS to stop sometimes when things matter and lives are at stake.
I think he is ALSO reminding us that we can enjoy music and culture without glorifying killing, drugs and things that are self-deprecating. We can “get that money” without normalizing death, destruction and low self-esteem.What I Hate About ‘This Is America’I hate seeing people killed. I hate feeling that moment when those people died in a callous and cavalier way. I hate that there is more care taken to take away the guns, carefully and with caution, than that which is shown to those who just lost their lives. But I know that that was all intentional. I don’t hate these things in the way that I wish Mr. Glover hadn’t shown them. I hate the imagery. I think that I should dislike that imagery. We all should.
At the end of the day, I don’t think Childish Gambino wants us to LIKE this video.
He wants us to respect it for the artistry. He wants to convey these important messages and get airtime. But, I think if he saw a little kid in the backyard dancing to the rhythm and then pretending to shoot someone, then dancing again, he would be upset. I have watched this video countless times, but not to snap my fingers. Each time, I unpack more concepts and messages through the visuals and lyrics. It is purposeful entertainment. If we treat it as anything less than that, we’ve missed the point.