Is This America???

Is This America???

Now, first and foremost, if you haven’t seen the video for Childish Gambino’s newest internet breaking single and video, This Is America, you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about…so start by watching the video.  If you’ve seen it before, you already know that 4, 5, or 6 viewings isn’t enough to take it all in, so go ahead and watch it again:

Amazing right?

So let me start by noting how amazing artistic this video is.  I’m not a huge video watcher.  I also spent Saturday evening at an awesome Jiu Jitsu competition, and then worked all day Sunday, so this video initially slipped by me.  Monday morning, I was greeted to an email from a fellow activist in the city, making sure I’d seen it.

One thing that is amazing about art is that it’s open to interpretation. What it means to each person is based on a lot of extenuating circumstances.  One thing that makes this video so amazing and unique is that there are so many possible interpretations.  You’re left wondering, “Is that intentional, is this what he meant for this moment to mean, or am I just reading too much into it?”

Tons of analyses of this song and video have been done by now.  As a Chicago educator (social sciences), this video made me feel bad that I am not working in a classroom full time, because we would have certainly discussed the messages and symbolism discussed in this video.  This is social studies.

This video covers so much ground, but I think what stuck with me the most was obviously the broad messages that you can easily digest on the first or second watch of the film.  By the 4th watch, I was watching only the background, and trying hard to ignore the foreground performers.

The song starts off so pleasantly, with the choir in the background, acoustic guitar, and then Donald Glover starts dancing, and then at 0:52, everything changes.

I immediately recognized the pose that Glover strikes…I’m a history teacher, I know Jim Crow when I see him!

220px-jimcrowWhile not the exact pose…there’s something about the shape and symmetry of the body, the position of the legs.  In the various portrayals of the “Original Jim Crow” character that you will see, he always has that same stance.  Over time, it kind of burns into the psyche, like an old familiar smell.  The juxtaposition of the pose, with Glover brandishing a gun to the back of the hooded man’s head made me audibly say “Aww hell naw!”


You don’t expect, well you don’t know, that the music will change.  The aural sensation of the music at this point is dark….grimy! Following the gun shot, Glover proclaims “This is America!” I’m pretty sure at this point I was slack jawed.  The shift of everything you came to expect from the onset of the video assaults the senses.

In all honesty, he could’ve stopped the production right there, and I would have stood up and clapped and proclaimed, “you goddamn right!”  But no, there was more.

It took me a second watch to notice something that so many have talked about; the fact that once Glover shoots all of the victims of the video, he hands the gun to a well dressed person, who wraps the gun in a crimson cloth, giving the feeling that the gun has inherent value, that it is an important item.  Meanwhile, the shooting victim is simply dragged off.

As you watch from this point forward, upon my initial watch, my eyes were glued to Glover.  It took me a while to willfully recognize the chaos going on behind him.

Many have interpreted the juxtaposition of entertainment and dare I say “minstrelsy” in the foreground with chaos in the background is a hallmark of 2018 America, and I couldn’t agree more.

We so easily allow our attention to be drawn to the clowns and entertainers right in front of our eyes, because we become fatigued at looking at the ugliness behind them…or the ugliness that is running rampant in our society.

One of those issues Glover addresses head on in this video: Gun violence.

It’s on everyone’s mind, and on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  How could it not be.  I love the way Glover addresses it here.  We put more value on guns that human life; everyday.  In addition to the visuals (the allusion to the Charleston shooting, and terrorism as we know it in 2018, left me breathless), Glover offers telling lyrical commentary on guns, and police, in 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
As someone who works with youth in some of the communities most impacted by gun violence, I have often heard youth, children, express these sentiments in one form or another.

I find it interesting that the second half of this verse however, swings 180 degress from talking about real issues, to talking about frivolous shit:

Yeah, yeah, I’ma go into this (ugh)
Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo)
Yeah, yeah, I’ma go get the bag
Yeah, yeah, or I’ma get the pad
Yeah, yeah, I’m so cold like yeah (yeah)
I’m so dope like yeah (woo)
We gon’ blow like yeah (straight up, uh)
Now, all the words in parenthsis, those are ad libs by a list of other rappers…rappers that some argue are the face of ignorance in America.  These rappers include Blocboy JB, Slim Jxmmi, Young Thug, 21 Savage and Migos…none of which I’m a fan of, although I do have two 21 Savage songs on my Spotify.  I found it interesting that he included some of these rappers in this song, while simultaneously seeming to take shots at them (pardon the pun), at least visually if not lyrically.  If you’re interested in lyrics, I encourage you to check out the lyrical analysis of the song at Genius Lyrics.
So, let’s talk about the kids.  The kids are front and center in all of this.  Isn’t that how it is today though?  The kids are the victims of so much that is going on.  They are often the witnesses, sometimes the perpetrators, and as we’ve seen in this most recent surge of youth activism, the willing participants in righting the ship.
So, as I mentioned before, when Glover guns down the choir, I was breathless.  Such a daring statement, and again, he hands the gun off to be well taken care of, while giving little care to the lives lost.  Isn’t that so America?
At 2:53 in the video, once Glover finds a moment of respite, he lights up a joint.  So many people who deal with the traumas broached in this video self medicate.  As an educator and activist, I see it so often.  Drink, drugs…these are all methods of self-medication that people use to escape and forget all the bad shit.
From there, he goes back to enjoying himself…dancing.  It didn’t occur to me upon initial viewings that all the cars in the closing scene are old.  Following everything earlier in the video, the issue of police/motorist killings we’ve seen so readily over the past few years did come to mind.
This video felt like a 4 minute nod to everything that is wrong with America as viewed from the black experience.  Many of these ills being dumped upon us, some of theme self-imposed.
The final scene obviously brought back thoughts of the film “Get Out”.  I didn’t think about the concept of the “Sunken Place” though.  I thought more of a quote from an old film, Higher Learningwhen an older student is talking to an incoming freshman about his getting a full-ride scholarship to school, but needing to “perform” on the school’s track team for it:
“Run Nigga Run.”
I couldn’t initially make out the lyrics being sung in the final scene, but upon looking them up,
You just a Black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a Black man in this world
Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No probably ain’t life to a dog
For a big dog
I simply nodded my head.  To make a long story short; Yes, This is America!

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