As you must know, in the United States there is still racism and gun violence, especially towards African Americans. In Childish Gambino’s This Is America music video, it shocked millions of people because of all of the symbolism and references. It is definitely a video you should watch more than once because it exposes you to a deeper side of hatred towards African Americans. Throughout this thoughtful piece, Gambino plays the complex role of America itself. He includes old and new references about racial problems and gun violence.
In the beginning of the video, there’s a man who sits on a chair and plays the guitar, when suddenly the camera moves over to Gambino. He is only wearing pants, shoes and two gold chains. Many users from social media believe his pants and shoes link to old confederate clothes. Gambino then walks over to the man but this time he has a bag over his head and Gambino takes out a gun and shoots him in the head. As he’s standing, many people came to the conclusion that his stance looked similar to the Jim Crow persona. The start of this music video lures people into focusing on Gambino and showing that the subject is serious.
Childish Gambino’s real name is Donald Glover and he is also an actor, producer, NYU graduate, writer, and comedian which makes him a multitasker. He’s been around the music industry for many years and he is an intellectual man. He’s using his musical platform to open America’s eyes and the music video itself raises awareness through visual aid. The video was uploaded on Youtube which will forsure get millions of views as it did. The This Is America video got over 610 million views. According to The New York Times, ““This Is America” is dense with allusions to American history and pop culture. The video has already been rapturously described as a powerful rally cry against gun violence, a powerful portrait of black-American existentialism, a powerful indictment of a culture.” In the middle of the video, there’s a scene where there’s an African American choir singing gracefully when suddenly a gun is handed to Gambino and he shoots them. The massacre refers back to the 2015 Charleston shooting which was committed by white supremacist Dylann Roof. According to an expert’s take on the symbolism of the music video, “You can’t escape the violence. But you’re forced to separate how you feel about it in our digitized world. The virtual violence, the real violence, it’s all confused.” (Ramsey 2019). In the book Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America by James D. Wright, Peter Henry Rossi and Kathleen, it mentions how there are currently 100 million firearms in private hands in the United States and in recent years, the annual domestic death toll from firearms has been on the order of 30,000 (combining gun homicides, gun suicides, and fatal gun accidents). Directly or indirectly, firearms violence threatens the quality of life in the society as a whole.
This video is deep and powerful due to the sensitive visuals. Throughout the video, Gambino is dancing and making faces which distracts you from the background. The chaos behind Gambino and in some scenes, the children dancing with him, there is chaos as you could tell from the people running, the vehicle being on fire and the person throwing themselves from what seems to look like a floor from a prison. Even though we think of popular culture as a space where we escape, Childish Gambino is forcing us to understand that there’s nowhere to run. We have to deal with the cultural violence that we have created and continue to sustain. That is why the video is filmed inside what looks like to be a large empty warehouse for the most part. The feeling of running and trying to get away from something or someone but end up nowhere further than you imagined must be exhausting and a bit frightening. Although some of the dancing looked weird or silly, it definitely had a meaning behind it. One of the many popular dance moves Gambino demonstrates is the South African Gwara Gwara dance. The use of so many famous dance moves show how ultra-popular pieces of culture lose their specificity over time as they become more ubiquitous. In the last scenes of the music video, it shows Gambino running terrified down a long dark hallway. Then suddenly there’s people behind him running as well. He stops singing and Young Thug comes in with the lines “You just a black man in this world, you just a barcode.” As he’s running, many people referred that part back to slavery. His sprint goes back to African Americans running for their life away from slavery. According to TIME USA, one song dating back to the 19th century was called “Run N—- Run!” and when a black person is running, it shows it’s part of American culture dating back to slavery.
In the lines “Contraband (x3), I got the plug in Oaxaca, They gonna find you like “blocka!””, he mentions the state of Oaxaca which is infamous for its several drug cartels and saying he has a drug supplier in the region. In many states of Mexico, the drug cartels do not play around and will find you and “blocka!” According to The Real War in Mexico: How Democracy can Defeat the Drug Cartels, written by Shannon O’Neil, the author mentions “Drug cartels have begun using guerilla-style tactics: sending heavily armed battalions to attack police stations and assassinating police officers, government officials, and journalists.” The writer Frank Guan, from a blog called “Vulture” admits that Gambino bragging about his plug and threatening to gun you down is on purpose. “It’s a tribute to the cultural dominance of trap music and a reflection on the ludicrous social logic that made the environment from which trap emerges, the logic where money makes the man, and every black man is a criminal.”
In conclusion, This Is America is one of the most influential songs of the century. Its hidden messages, exaggeration, language, and expressive details make this video memorable which Gambino was aiming for. Not only does Gambino not tell you what is happening in the background but he wants the viewer to walk away with their own interpretation of the video. However, from the video it is obvious that gun violence is America.
O’Neil, Shannon. “The Real War in Mexico-How Democracy Can Defeat the Drug Cartels.” Foreign Aff. 88 (2009): 63.
Wright, James D., Peter Henry Rossi, and Kathleen Daly. Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime, and violence in America. Transaction Publishers, 1983.