Last week Donald Glover A.K.A Childish Gambino, released his song and video for “This is America”. The imagery used throughout was powerful, and to anybody that has somehow been living under a rock the past week, and hasn’t watched it yet, I recommend you click the link here to watch it or else the rest of this article may not make much sense…. I spoke to a couple of Americans to hear their opinion on this work, and asked them to explain some of the imagery in the video, for us here at G-YOU. First up we have Amber Bland, a biomedical engineering student, from California Polytechnic State University.
-Owain Campton, Editor-in-Chief
Recently there has been a surge in rappers, such as Kanye, that preach about fighting the black community but then also come out in support of Trump; which can really be confusing. However, rappers like Childish Gambino, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar release music that opens people’s eyes to the issues and changes what we see, so I think the ‘This is America’ video is important because it shows how despite all the horrific chaos going on in the background, we as a society, choose to pay attention to Childish Gambino’s dancing. It represents how society works, we hear about all these shootings and gang violence, all these issues that black people are facing, but what do we pay attention to? The superficial.
If you listen to the lyrics he is talking about “I got new clothes, I got a new car, I got Gucci”, at the end of the day none of this s*** is important when such appalling things are happening in the background.
In the video Donald Glover makes clear reference to the old Jim Crow caricatures, something many black people are fully aware of. They used to be posters depicting black people as looking foolish in goofy poses, and when Childish Gambino shoots that other black guy at the start, he pulls a pose very similar to a Jim Crow caricature. I feel he is saying, although we have fewer strict restrictions as we did during the Jim Crow period, some of us are still acting like we are, specifically when it comes to black on black crime.
With the immediate movement from the shooting straight back to the dancing, we see just how quick society moves on, and becomes distracted by what else is going on. It moves from this happy upbeat melody, then he shoots the person as the beat drops, and he essentially says “Nope, remember, this is America”, and moving straight back onto the upbeat melody. When he arrives at the gospel choir scene he comes in dancing and happy but the mood changes at the drop of a hat, as the beat drops and he turns and shoots them down with stark imagery reminding us of the Charleston shooting. With this he’s saying to the viewer, “Nuh-uh, you can’t just go on having a good time and forgetting all that’s gone on around you.”
It represents how we act in our everyday life, like I could be all happy walking through my college campus on this glorious day and then at any moment somebody could come in and shoot up the campus, and that’s not a stretch for me anymore, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. My mom works at the San Bernardino building that was shot at, and I am not going to lie, from a week after it I didn’t think twice about it, “oh yeah that happened…” and you just sort of forget about it till another shooting happens.
Just after the gospel choir shooting there is the imagery where the gun is handed away so carefully, and wrapped in a red cloth, whereas the black man’s body is just dragged away, and with the church shooting the camera just pans away from it and see the rioters run towards it in the background. The cloth carefully wrapping up the gun could be imagery of how we seem to care more about gun laws than we do the victims. The billionaires who run the NRA only give a f*** about revenue that comes from the gun industry not innocent people’s lives.
You see children in the background recording the violence, and I think Donald Glover is saying that we have loads of evidence and information on these incidents, but this information is being lost, as once it goes up online and goes viral, within a week or two nothing comes from it.
Often, the music people listen to has a good beat and it makes you want to dance but has a crap message. I listen to this trash music too, but this song has a beat that makes you want to dance and has a meaning to it! With music talking about peace and opening your eyes to the world around you, it will hopefully influence the next generation to be more aware, especially from young people who often only have these rappers and pop culture to influence them.
Often when I chat to Europeans, they are confused about why we care about race so much, in the EU you seem to have this idea that the only thing that defines you is where you are from, like if you are from Germany you are German, regardless of if your parents were born somewhere else. It is very easy to critique from afar, that we should move on from the race issue, especially from a country that doesn’t really have the same issues, whereas here, I mean just look at me, my skin is lighter than most black peoples, my hair is straighter, but when I am at work at the hospital I was told by a patient that they didn’t want me to work with them because I was black. I am in California, and people see it as such a liberal place, but try living here, how you see it isn’t how it is for us. I have been called a n***** by somebody driving in a truck with a confederate flag hanging from the back, I have been called a “cotton picker”, like it is 2018 why the f*** are you calling me that for.
So when we get defensive about race there is a reason, when people say “oh you’re mixed” I respond with, “no I am black”. I am black because when I walk down the street that’s the only thing people can identify me as.
When you’re a black student that is doing well for themselves you want everyone to know that you’re black, showing that you are one of many that don’t fulfil that stereotypical ghetto black person. So, when people just say “let it go” it would be easy to if I wasn’t constantly reminded that I am the one black girl in class, if people stopped calling me a n***** or a “cotton picker”, I would gladly let go of identifying myself as black if everybody else stopped identifying me as black.
Until then you have to represent being black in a positive manor, or else they are just going to think black people are how they are portrayed in pop culture.
Just keep in mind, that not all Americans are the same. Okay I get it, people joke around, but when you generalise a whole nation as “hicks” or “gun-lovers”, it kinda sucks. There are regular people like me who just want to go to college, that have the similar liberal views that you may have, that just want to get on with their lives, and I wish people could just see us as the normal people we are.
-Amber Bland, Biomedical Engineering, California Polytechnic State University