Childish Gambino Paints The American History And Culture In ‘This Is America’ (Meaning)
One picture worth a thousand words
One visual worth a thousand songs
One simple message with several layers
One piece of art worth the whole History of a country.
Donald Glover gave a few days ago something for the world to reflect on and think about.
Without giving any further notice, his recent music videos speaks for itself. A huge media coverage has been done already to depict the layers in the video.
With « This Is America », Childish Gambino conveys a powerful message that hit racism and gun violence in America. Plus it addresses the Entertainment industry which keeps distracting the world from the chaos that is occurring nowadays. Many other things are yet to be considered in this video.
This body of work is historical. This might be one of the most impactful pieces since the Kendrick Lamar’s Alright video.
Relevant for the culture, actor, writer, singer, rapper and now dancer Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino is an artist worth studying and his latest work deserves a special consideration.
1. Code of Colors
A guitar in the middle of a white background standing for entertainment as the way to exist, get money and recognition for a Black man in a White world.
We just wanna party
Party just for you
We just want the money
Money just for you (yeah)
These lyrics resonate with J. Cole‘s song off of his recent KOD album. In this album Cole is dressing a commentary on the current hip hop culture in his song 1985, Intro To The Fall Off
« But I love to see a Black man gettin’ paid
And plus you’re havin’ fun and I respect that
But have you ever thought your impact
These white kids love that you don’t give a fuck
Cause that’s exactly what’s expected when your skin black
They wanna see you dab, they wanna see you pop a pill
[…] They wanna be black and think your song is how it feels
So when you turn up, you see them turnin’ up too »
Red, announce for death
Everytime we see the color red in this music video, it announces a Black man in danger.
Red, symbol for blood and death, threatens innoncent Black people, either on the streets under police violence (« and we hate popo when they kill us in the streetss fo’ sho’ – Kendrick Lamar’s Alright) either under racial murder (Charleston shooting).
All these murders and shooting cases lead to rethink the political debate for gun control and precious it is to Americns to freely own a gun espite the consequences.
Having Glover dancing on a red car reflects an entertainer who’s getting his money although he should feel responsible for the bleeding in this country, promoting drug and gun violence.
2. Two Chains
The two chains stand for the consumerism valorised in hip hop culture and mental slavery, Institutionalized as Kendrick Lamar would say.
« You lookin’ at artists like the harvests
So many Rollies around you and you want all of them
Somebody told me you thinkin’ ’bout snatchin’ jewelry »
The Gwara-Gwara danced has been noticed as a reference to South African segregation compared to the US racism.
However, this is not the only meaningful dance. Childish Gambino, surrounded by innocent and playful children, is executing the Shoot Dance Challenge.
This dance move has gone viral in 2018, seen as funny. The only thing is these moves come from a gangsta rap video – « BlocBoy JB and his hit song “Shoot” which has taken over locker rooms, school hallways, and dance battles everywhere« .
The dance that’s taken off is shown at 2min35sec in the clip.
Entertainers can either play the role to keep you woke and Save The Children, or they can influence you, enslave your mind and kill the culture.
Hip Hop hypnotizes, as Lamar would say:
Fire burning inside my eyes, this the music that saved my life
Y’all be calling it hip hop, I be calling it hypnotize
Yeah, hypnotize, trapped my body but freed my mind.
This Is America is a good song, an actual blend of African rhythms peacefully played on the guitar along cheerful back vocals. The trap beat is slowly shadowing the glow of this Black joy, while Black singers keep singing lyrics written with irony.
The bass is painting dark shades along the verses, reflects of chaotic times and lethal environment.
These bass lines and the choir’s back vocals always play separately until the last part of the song, which gives the large picture for Black people in a White America.
5. Direction, 1970’s Feel
Glover’s style, moving bare-chested, in the middle of old cars, with long black hair and beard, all of this added to the James Brown’s adlib « Get down! » from The Boss.
James Brown was also known for politically charged songs such as Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud and America Is My Home. These associations give the feeling to go back to the 1970’s. This won’t be the first time that Gambino takes us back to this era through his music (ex: Redbone).
At times, he even recalls Isaac Hayes, an icon for Soul music, as angry and willing to prove hs worth in America as Donal Glover.
By the way, Isaac Hayes is one of the icons of the Blakspoitation movies that emerged in the early 1970’s, addressed to black urban audience. Despite stereotypes, these were the only films where Black people had the roles of the heroes, instead of being portrayed as sidekicks or as victims of brutality.
Can a nigga live in this country?
Jay Z used to sing
« Through that desperation, we ‘come addicted
Sorta like the fiends we accustomed to serving
But we feel we have nothing to lose
So we offer you, well, we offer our lives, »
« I don’t sleep, I’m tired, I feel wired like codeine, these days […]
My mind is infested, with sick thoughts that circle
Like a Lexus, if driven wrong it’s sure to hurt you
Dual level like duplexes, in unity, my crew and me
Commit atrocities like we got immunity
You guessed it, manifest it in tangible goods […]
Getting cream let’s do this, against T-D-S
So I keep one eye open like, C-B-S, ya see me stressed right? Can I live? »
6. Detroit and the riots in 1967
« The song [Soul Man, written by Isaac Hayes for Sam Moore and Dave Prater]was inspired television coverage of the 12 Street Detroit Riot [nowadays Rosa Parks Boulevard], which indicated that African-American owned and operated institutions were marked with the word « soul » so that rioters would not destroy them. »
This riot happened to be one of the most murderous one in the history of the United States of America, since 1863 for the Draft Riots. In the same year, more than 150 riots occurred from Atlanta, to Boston, Chicago, New York,…
Pillaging, fire, shooting, confrontation with police force… it was all just like in the background of the video. These riots were the consequences of bad social conditions and growing Black poverty in Detroit and strong discrimination still existing despite quiet racial relations.
7. Automobile Economy – Detroit, aka Motor City, aka MoTown
Cars economy have historically been a main source of revenue for America. This industry was thriving in Detroit, The city was not only the city of hits in Soul music (MoTown) but also the Motor City.
Detroit, the Motor City, became one of the most important destinations for black migrants from the south because of its reputation as a major center of car production.
« In 1940, only three percent of the auto industry workforce was black. […] By 1970, about one in five Detroit auto workers was black, a sizeable increase from 1960. […] Over the last one hundred years, the automobile industry has played a crucial role in African American history, for blacks were both producers and consumers of the car.
The car brought mobility–geographic and economic–to blacks. It freed them from the shackles of Jim Crow public transportation, became a symbol of black economic aspirations, and served as one of black America’s major employers. Yet automobile-related discrimination and inequalities were frustratingly persistent ». (Source: Driving While Black: The Car and Race Relations in Modern America by Thomas J. Sugrue).
Watching Gambino stepping and dancing on the top of one these old cars, while the vocals keep singing « Black man, get your money » looks like he’s about to take over and be the boss.
Whay is more, having SZA posing like a queen, emphasize the idea that Donald Glover is addressing White privilege.
8. The place for Black people in America and the entertainment industry
« You’re just a Black man, you’re just a dog »
From the era of the legends of jazz (like Charlie Parker, or Billie Holiday) to nowadays, Black people are still in a White world (White Privilege), and are still victims of racism, despite their glow and their contribution to the country and the culture.
Again, as Jay Z raps, you’re still nigga.
This is something also known in the French entertainment.
Comedian Thomas N’Gijol recently released a meaningful skit that points out the lack of recognition for Black artists in cinema and music, artists being desperately endorsed with racial stereotypes and victims of discrimation and boycott at awards.