by Kareem James
The most cleverly employed weapon of the Civil Rights Movement was media coverage. Objectivity aside, the media’s visual evidence of the atrocities experienced by Black citizens in America gave credence to people who didn’t know (and consequently didn’t care) about what was happening. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that media coverage was absolutely necessary in order to bring not only national but global awareness to de facto Jim Crow laws. The mother of Emmett Till (the 14 year old boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman) insisted on an open casket at his funeral—his grisly appearance bearing witness to the horror of racism in America. And at the bottom of the casket cap panel, just above Emmett Till’s disfigured face, his mother affixed a picture of the beautiful boy he was, so people could see the contrast. A before and after. It was an image that she hoped screamed “This is America.”
Over the weekend, Donald Glover, under his musical/performing arts moniker “Childish Gambino”, broke the internet with a new song and video called “This Is America.” My hope is that he has broken more than the internet.
“This Is America” is not entertaining. At least, it’s not entertaining in a conventional sense. Cerebrally, it is outstandingly entertaining, but it’s not the summer jam. It’s not the song you’re going to request, at da club, 3 shots and a beer in. “This Is America” is 100% introspective viewing and listening. It takes the brilliant message of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and doubles down on the irony with vicious visual and lyrical contradictory juxtapositions. It also addresses the gun violence epidemic in America. My hope is that these images don’t just lead to a conversation, because we’re tired of talking. My hope (which I assume mirrors the hope of the American citizens who have mourned, fought, and died to eradicate systemic racism and oppression) is that Glover’s fearless and poignant work flat-out changes the way that some people’s kids understand the world.
Here is a short (read: by no means comprehensive) list of the video’s components that I think are absolutely praiseworthy:
1. It takes place in a warehouse. The American endeavor of assembly is noted.
2. Traditional African music is juxtaposed to a rattlesnake-like drumming program.
There is this menace underneath joyous, ethereal choral singing.
3. The gun shot: First of two. A black man sitting in a chair happily playing guitar.
In the next scene, his guitar is gone and there is a bag over his head.
He is executed. The triggerman, Glover, poses like the Sambo caricature.
Bang. Song completely changes.
4. The gun is peacefully taken away. The deceased man is dragged across the floor.
5. Glover, grinning, dances with uniformed black school children. He raps: “This is
America. Don’t catch you slippin’ up.”
6. Glover enters a room where a choir is dancing and singing. He guns them down.
7. Several images indicative of death, police brutality, and general chaos can be
found behind Glover and the dancing school children.
8. Glover, terrified, running away from the madness inside the warehouse.
It takes an open mind to determine the meaning behind these images. The lesson is behind the interpretation, and interpretation is a private enterprise. Watch the video, and examine the thoughts it provokes. My hope is that the thoughts will lead to a better understanding (or, at least, even a acknowledgement) that blissful ignorance and general apathy are luxuries we can no longer afford.
Kareem James is a husband, father of two, dog owner, teacher, writer, and will cook you his famous bbq chicken if it's found out you haven't tried it.