Usually celebrities embarrass themselves when discussing politics, but actor/rapper/singer/writer/producer/what can’t he do? Donald Glover shows that the discussion can be more enlightening than cringe-inducing.
During his Saturday Night Live appearance on May 5 Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, debuted the song This Is America. Simultaneously, Gambino released the video for the song, which earned an estimated 12.9 million views in just 24 hours. The jarring video also sparked mountains of conversations on its true meaning and message.
After viewing the video and listening to the song an uncountable amount of times, I can say that the video chalked subtle statements on America’s current issues.
With my first viewing of the video, I was so distracted by Gambino’s dancing that I even missed some of the lyrics. It wasn’t until the third or fourth that I saw all the chaos and destruction going on in the background. As I was so focused on Gambino doing the Gwara Gwara–a native South African dance or the Shoot–the U.S.’s new favorite hip-hop dance–, I missed people fighting and the burning cars.
In my opinion, this was purposely done to show how distracted Americans can be from actual problems. When the world around Gambino was crumbling, I just couldn’t help but notice those distracting dance moves that were put front and center. It’s possible that Gambino decided to go with kids instead of adults as kids dancing is seen to be cooler and goes more viral than adults dancing.This reflects our current society as just a few months ago, gun reform was all over the news, but now it’s as if the events at Parkland never happen, and we’re too distracted by the next crazy thing Kanye will say.
Another issue I interpreted from this video was the issue of guns in America. In the beginning of the video, we see a man happily playing his guitar in one shot. Then in the next, the man has a bag over his head and is shot in the head by Gambino. It wasn’t until Gambino said the lines “This is America, don’t catch you slippin’ now” that I understood what that scene meant.
It means that currently in America you can be happy and “feel” safe one minute, but the next minute you’ll be shot. He’s essentially saying that currently in America, you have to always be on alert as gun violence is so out of control that nobody is truly safe.
The video also expresses the thought that guns are cared for and treated better than people.
Gambino only uses a gun twice but each time after using it, the gun is carefully placed in a cloth and cared for like a delicate glass sculpture. This shows that even when these very destructive tools kill groups of people, they’re still treated like fragile objects that are treated better than the people they harm. The video even references the 2015 Charleston Church shooting, where nine churchgoers lost their lives when a gunman opened fire on them at Bible Study, as the second time Gambino uses a gun to kill a church choir.
Gambino’s shocks and messages keep up throughout the entire video, all the way to the end Gambino goes through the whole video oblivious to the destruction and chaos going on in the background ,but then he snaps out of his disillusioned trance. Once his eyes are opened to the world around him, he runs in fear as he chased by a crowd of people.
As Gambino ran for his life, you can hear rapper Young Thug saying “You just a black man in this world” and “You just a barcode”. Those lyrics hold the meaning that while we can be distracted by the latest dance move or social media trend, we forget the real problems facing our country. Once we snap out of our own personal trance truth on how society terrifies us and we try to run away from it instead of facing it.
However the hardships currently faced by black Americans is just mentioned in one lyric, it’s the message of the entire video. Gambino’s message, specifically regarding black men, is that black people in America are told to stick to their “trendy” dance moves, flash their expense possesions and ignore all the real problems that are negatively affecting the African American community. Personally I took from this that black people need to stop pretending that the world begins and ends with the most popular shoe, song, dance, etc. Instead the real problems like violence in black communities and police brutality, which affects them dispaportionally, are given little to no attention or pushed so far into the background that it’s basically forgotten.
There are so many hints and easter eggs in this video, I’m sure I missed a handful. Some lesser known additions to the song and video are samplings of rappers, like 21 Savage and Slim Jxmmi, that really give it a real Trap music sound and vibe. Also, the pants worn by Gambino are similar in style to pants worn by Confederate soldiers.
Gambino himself has refused to reveal the meaning of his song, so the world is left to continue to interpret and decififer any subtle or blatant messages.