(Editor’s Note: This is a repost from Woke Brown Feminist.)
“This is America” from Atlanta’s creator Donald Glover and Doomsday Entertainment’s Hiro Murai, has amassed over 43 million YouTube views since its premiere on SNL last Saturday. Since then, countless articles have been written, offering their take on the beautifully-shot and poignant video. We are no different. So, of course we have to offer ours as well. Before we do, watch the video first if you have not seen it. Even if you have, watch it again:
The music video is jam packed with meaning, and we are probably missing a few, but here are ten off the top of my head:
1. Hold up, is that Trayvon Martin’s father? Possibly? If not, I do not think that it is by coincidence that the guitarist looks like Trayvon Martin’s father, the father of the young boy whose murder was the catalyst to the Black Lives Matter movement. The guitarist is playing a traditional West African melody on his guitar, when Childish Gambino abruptly shoots him. It shows how abrupt gun violence can be, when you are just minding your own business, living your life. And since he is playing an African melody, it also symbolizes how Africans were minding their own business before slavery occurred, only to have the brutalization and violence happen to them and their future generations. Obviously, slavery was not a choice, and the beginning alludes to this, the timing of this video in light of Kanye’s recent comments could not have come at a better moment.
2. Next, Childish Gambino busts into some dance moves. In fact, throughout the entire video he is dancing. Who knew he could dance? What is so significant about his dance moves is that they are choreographed by a Rwandan woman. The video had a bunch of African dances including Gwara-Gwara from South Africa, three other dance styles from West Africa, as well as current dance trends in hip hop. A nod to his upcoming role in the Lion King and Black Panther, African culture is now becoming even more infused in popular American culture and entertainment. Also, notice what he is wearing… or rather not wearing? Beige pants, topless, with a necklace. Fela Kuti used to perform in a similar outfit.
3. Guns are handled with care. They aren’t tossed aside or randomly cast off, they are gently placed on velvet. It symbolizes how much America values gun ownership over the lives that are affected by the guns.
4. The juxtaposition between the violence of the shootings, while dancing with enthusiasm, is jarring…and that’s the point. He is so enthusiastic at times in the video, that one can liken it to “shucking and jiving”, while ignoring the harsh reality that many Black people face every day. It’s a shot at the entertainers who are so wrapped up with their money and lavish lifestyles that they ignore the plight of the people who made them rich.
5. The choir – The choir sings joyously. Childish Gambino sneaks in and joins in, until he shoots them all. This is in reference to the Charleston church shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. How we are not even safe in our own places of worship that are supposed to safe spaces?
6. The kids in uniform — The kids imitate all of Childish Gambino’s dance moves, not missing a step. It symbolizes how children follow the culture, the latest trends, and entertainment, how it is a distraction from what is really happening all around. On the flip side, up above, there are kids filming everything on their phones. It also shows how we are so used to violence that we film it for the likes, just like we film the latest crazes.
7. White horse—In the book of Revelations, the story of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride white pale horses, ushering pestilence and death to the world. We are so distracted by the material bullshit and the distractions that we are missing our own destruction….or we are using these distractions to continue with our daily existences, because it is the only way to continue to survive in a world that does not value Black bodies.
8. All the cars in the background are reminiscent of the same car used in Beyoncé’s Formation video.SZA sits on top of one of the cars, a nod to Black women and Black female entertainers who are also experiencing the violence and trauma. Whether they tune out or tune in, depends on the performer.
9. The irony that he premiered this video on a sketch comedy show. The whole night he was entertaining us, dancing, singing, acting, only to remind us to “not be caught slipping.” Don’t be taken in.
10. At the end of the video, white people are chasing Childish Gambino. They are after him, because not only is it enough to destroy Black bodies, culturally appropriate and strip Black culture, and view Black people as only worthy of entertaining, while not valuing our lives, they want to also want to consume him, whether that means mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually… and if the white people catch up… what happens next? The sunken place.
It will be interesting to see what other songs and videos Childish Gambino releases next on this particular album. Stylistically, it is already extremely different from his most recent effort, “Awaken, My Love!” Considering that this is his last album, although I suspect it may only be his last album under the moniker of Childish Gambino and he will have others… just ask Jay-Z four albums ago, it seems like he is determined to go out with a bang, literally. Insert cringeworthy eye roll for bad, but true joke.
About the Author
Michelle Sam is a writer, filmmaker, and actress. She is the founder of the Women of Color in Comedy (Chicago) group and a cast member of Women of Color Anonymous (WOCA), a feminist women of color sketch comedy group, at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles. She enjoys late nights, witty jokes, conversations going off on tangents, and randomness. Keep a look out for her next project “African Black Sheep.” Follow her on Twitter @themichellesam and on Instagram @africanblacksheep