Donald Glover, who is also known by his stage name Childish Gambino, has recently released a single accompanied by a video titled ‘This is America’, which addresses a number of political issues in an American context, in anticipation for his upcoming album. The video was directed by Hiro Murai, who works with Donald Glover, on the show ‘Atlanta’ which also deals with everyday issues in African American lives. The political satire that Childish Gambino has been working on has, brought up issues that may seem subliminal to people and I’m here to bring those ideas to attention in what might seem like a huge conspiracy theory.
In ‘This is America’ the focal point is Donald Glover dancing on screen showing off trendy dance moves that successfully distract the audience from what is going on in the background. Behind him there is rioting, violence; and general chaos whilst no attention is placed on this while we focus on Childish Gambino dancing on screen. The point being made here is; according to Guthrie Ramsey, a professor of music history at the University of Pennsylvania, is that “It’s really a commentary on how much violence and contradictions there are in the consuming of pop culture, particularly in the violent elements of it,” he says. “With all the conspicuous consumption that global capitalism inspires, part of what we are consuming is this appetite for violence”. Gambino is suggesting that, just as the dancing in the video distracts us from the violence surrounding it, the pursuit of money, and even to some degree the pursuit of success and entertainment themselves, distract from the suffering and systemic inequality that persists. At the same time, he recognises that the suffering and systemic inequality are part of what make the money (and the dancing) so enticing.
  
This, combined with the fact that in the same video, Gambino is seen dancing in a way that mimics Jim Crow (a clumsy dim witted black slave, who was played by a white man in black face), on top of a car in a warehouse full of cars, while the lyrics go:
“Grandma told me, “Get your money”
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Black man”
This seems to address black existential philosophy in which emphasises double consciousness of being black and (separately) American/Colonised. This highlights the experience of being black within white supremacy, and thus being seen as inferior, while being expected to perform equally, knowing that limits have been placed on ones social identity, which place people of colour at a disadvantage.
This philosophy plays out in situations for black people when they are expected to survive in a white society only by acquiring wealth and being a “slave”, while maintaining ones own respectable self image of a black person. By Childish Gambino mimicking Jim Crowe he is stating that black artists have acquired wealth by being the stereotypical black man in the face of white supremacy, which is a huge jab at hip-hop.

It is also important to note that Childish Gambino’s song Redbone, seems also to reference a similar theme when he says:

“Daylight
I wake up feeling like you won’t play right
I used to know, but now that shit don’t feel right
It made me put away my pride
So long”

This is indicative of how being black in whiteness made him put away his pride. It does seem however now that Gambino seems to warn those who play the Jim Crowe character to reap its benefits, by saying:

“If you want it, oh
You can have it (you can have it)
If you need it (you better believe in something)
We can make it, oh
If you want it
You can have it, ah!
But stay woke
Niggas creepin’
They gon’ find you
Gon’ catch you sleepin’ (oh)
Now stay woke
Niggas creepin’
Now don’t you close your eyes”

This warning works both ways and serves to warn members on opposing sides of a society who might not be aware of the dangers of “sleeping”. This is a concept of power/equality, in that this warning can apply to any groups that might be in conflict with clear, dominant and subordinate groups, such as the relationship between men and women. This warning then translates to, if you want [power/equality], you can have [power/equality] but stay woke to the consequences of that [power/equality], however sleeping on the issue will only get you in danger, hence he says “you better believe in something”.

Childish Gambino is also seen running away from people with a look of intense fear, while Young Thug sings softly:
“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 kennelled him in the backyard”

This is a reference to how black people have been running throughout history, specifically during slavery. This imagery is to show that black people have been running to stay alive, whether it be from poverty or oppression, or from “the sunken place” which was popularised by Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

This train of thinking is also reminiscent of Malcolm X’s speech contrasting the house slave and the field slave. The slaves who worked indoors and received better treatment from the masters, versus the slaves who worked in the fields and faced the harshest effects of slavery. As the house slave would always have decent clothes and food, he considered himself better than the other slaves, while still being a slave. This goes to show that even black people in “comfortable” positions are not truly comfortable but because of this perceived comfort, Black people might not know it, or have refused to accept it.

In conclusion, I don’t know what Donald Glover is up to, but I have a good feeling about it.

More of Donald Glover’s racial commentary can be seen all over his award winning show ‘Atlanta’ specifically, his episode about Teddy Perkins, in which he wears a white face mask.

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NOTES:

  • Redbone even played at the beginning of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”, a movie about a black guy with a white girlfriend.
  • In ‘This is America’ did you notice the White Horse; do you know about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Well the rider of the white horse represents; Conquest/Pestilence, while the other riders represent equally malicious situations of War, Famine and Death.
  • Childish Gambino has been criticized for his affinity towards white women.

Author: Yolo Jozi

What is Donald Glover up to?
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