Childish Gambino just went and shook up the globe with his new video for ‘This Is America’. A social commentary, scattered with connotations throughout, you blink an eye and you miss them amongst the chaotic scenes of this satirical masterpiece. The song itself features Young Thug, Blocboy JB, Slim Jxmmi, 21 Savage, and Quavo, so the trap vibe with the presence of the challenging lyrics, already provide this video with a concept that is the key part of this piece of art.
This video is Donald Glover’s representation of America, but we cannot just pass it off as irrelevant to us here in the UK, we need to take on board its underlying significance and themes. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
If you haven’t already seen it, then I suggest you watch it now, because this reaction post will have many SPOILERS…
This video is not only a piece of art, its representative of a generation and an incredible video, best of 2018? To fully digest it and see every aspect of what is portrayed, i’d recommend watching it a number of times. Here are some of the key discussions from my perspective: If you’re not bothered about reading the full breakdown, go ahead and read the final paragraph. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
The transitions between African sounds, Gospel rhythms and Trap music match the shocking and sudden executions that occur. ‘We just wanna party’ and dance our way through life ignoring reality, and bang. This is America!
‘This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ up (ayy)
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry ‘em’
The Charleston Shooting of 2015 is the clear connotation for the shooting down of the gospel choir. I think Glover chose this event specifically, because it is no longer at the forefront of peoples minds, but the visual depiction of this scene and seeing just how quickly Dylan Booth (the first teen to get the death penalty) murdered 9 black people inside a church, raises the shocking severity of what has happened and is still happening. We can’t just forget this one.
Side note: It is interesting to note how the guns are treated better than the people in this video
andddd… breathe…. Glover lights his spliff after holding what seems to be the pose of aiming a gun, perhaps the only method to stay calm among the chaos? Sound familiar?
Dancing or Distraction?
With all of the school kids around him, the latest trap and dance moves provide a distraction to all of the madness happening behind them. There are so many things to focus on, but we become so fixated by the dancing and the music, that the rest becomes background noise.
These visuals depict just how quick ‘American’s’ are to mask reality with partying and distractions. The transition between death and dancing exhibits the message: ‘Don’t be slippin’ up’, we have to keep our eyes open to what is happening around us. Stay Woke.
Alongside blackface and segregation laws, the character of Jim Crow is derogatory to say the least. It seems to be that Glover is impersonating this character with his wild facial expressions and poses, but why? I’ll let twitter talk for me on this one…
The smile is such a simple yet loaded cultural/political/social/historic image. Within the context of #ThisIsAmerica it summons the historical stereotype of a smiling dancing carefree Jim Crow… pic.twitter.com/qYw7a1qvZO
— mister fantastic (@beardoweird0) May 6, 2018
#ChildishGambino #ThisIsAmerica He plays a Jim Crow caricature that shows plenty of symbolism through subtle nuances & direct distractions by entertaining through Trendy dances and trap lyricism while chaos, violence and death takes place in our direct viewing pic.twitter.com/eBSSlq7v9z — 🎮✌❤️➕ (@_The1JBust4Life) May 7, 2018
Last scene where he runs for his life – I saw a runaway slave which ties in the lady liberty symbolism. I saw a lynch mob which ties in all the lynching imagery throughout the video. We are still in the pursuit of freedom. Still trapped in Jim Crow Era. #HipHopEd #thisisamerica — Tiffany Williams (@TiffanyTeaches) May 9, 2018
Suicide, Mental Health and Social Media
This moment was so easy to miss in this video, but again highlights another major issue among African-American youth, but also young people here in the UK: Mental Health.
The school kids using their phones to film or ‘snap’ the scene, raises the issue that Social Media is desensitising us to the pandemonium we see around the globe. Social Media is a phenomenon but also a curse. If its not on social media, it’s as if it didn’t even happen anymore.
Police Brutality or Apocalypse?
‘I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him’ – Revelation 6:8 (The Bible)
This symbol of death is well-placed, entering the scene next to a police car. Police Brutality due to racism is still one of the most public race issues that is picked up by the media. Yet again, this is disguised by the dancing in the forefront, we are so easily distracted. We go in and out of paying attention that when death crosses someones path, we notice but with our short attention spans, we allow ourselves to look elsewhere.
‘Grandma told me, Get your money, Black Man’
Glover is the last person dancing on set, with the old cars, SZA in the scene, and the masked guitarist, he is singing about MONEY. It is as if the dancing is representing the desire for money and the distraction of it. My argument is that money is the primary focus and therefore, the largest contributor to the ignorance of the world around us.
Just get your money, and everything will be alright.
I’m sure there are a myriad of other aspects to this video that experts or Glover himself will point out, but the main thing to realise from this video is that this is not just America. We allow ourselves to become desensitised to what is happening in the world and in the UK. We can’t just sit by and accept the consequences. They had the Charleston massacre, we had the fire at Grenfell. They have gun violence, we have knife crime. We have to keep working on staying aware of what is happening around us.
Stay Woke. Because This Is Our Reality too.