After being out for just a few days, This Is America has garnered over 50 million views and still going strong. Actor, performer, artist, and creative Donald Glover has done this not by playing into the mainstream hip hop or rap culture, but instead using political and social commentary of the times to illustrate what is happening to youth and society due to policies, double standards, and hypocrisy.
The video opens with this is America written in cursive. I love that he opened with cursive. Cursive has been phased out of grammar schools in the U.S. due to the popularity of computers in the early 2000s. The need to write with beautiful calligraphy has been cast aside for more efficient and faster means of communication. The title is a reminder of how we could value quality over quantity. Sure we could favor individuality over the norms, but instead we as a society are choosing the dull and meaningless content. Skerrrrrrt.
In the video, a man walks up to a chair with a guitar on it and starts to play it. Music has been a huge part of the African American diaspora for hundreds of years. It was a way to pass the time, share history, and bring the community together. The camera pans over to Glover, who is wearing pants and has his hair uncut. While seeing this, the first thing that comes to mind is the similarity to the first slaves who were brought to the U.S, placed in an unfamiliar area, and separated from their friends and family. When Glover turns around he is wearing two gold chains around his neck. Besides taking a jab at the artist Two Chainz, the necklaces seem to have a deeper meaning. They are not gaudy, but they represent the need to be successful and acquire luxury despite being in a disadvantaged situation. How many times have you heard ignorant people wondering why minorities stay poor and uneducated? The need to make it or be financially stable is constantly nagging for every family who face hardship.
Recently videos have been circulating about African Americans being arrested in a Starbucks for no apparent reason, Native Americans who were questioned for joining a college tour group as prospective students, and people unjustly being shot and killed for being brown or black. Being disadvantaged is not only due to ethnicity. It can relate to the school to prison pipeline, the underfunded schools, or lack of overall resources for a functioning public system. Is it hard to believe that this is happening? Think about the low key racism from the unfair housing and zoning policies of red lining where in the mid-20th century, banks were 98% more likely to give loans to white families in order to encourage home owners to keep their homes and grow. African Americans and other minorities were left to only renting, with little hope of owning businesses or homes. Since taxes are based off of neighborhoods, the poorer neighborhoods meant unsatisfactory school systems. Of course the list of disadvantages is endless. There was and continues to be little to no upward mobility, yet you still have big names in the industry like Kanye West going off about how slavery is mindset, thus slapping his own community in the face. If you get to know your history, your face will be sore from all the face palming that needs to be done.
As for being separated and alone, lots of laws and policies are being passed from the Trump administration that are preventing refugees from entering and even dismantling previous laws and efforts to allow current undocumented individuals from gaining their citizenship. Hondurans are being turned away. Laws and policies in place to protect DACA students and their families, are being dismantled and changed. America is choosing to turn its back on the same diversity that made it great and in some regards build the country, fight in its wars, and create its vast culture. Today it’s common for someone to tell you they are American without giving any indication about their race, ethnicity, language they speak, job, or origin. Unfortunately, it’s not just the black communities that are affected by these practices.
In the following scenes, the same music that Glover was dancing to from the man with the guitar is snuffed out. Glover takes a gun and shoots him in the head. The guitarist never saw it coming. Glover then proceeds to dance with more school children imitating him. For me these clips illustrated the move away from the samples and origins music, and the shift towards making music that sells. Cue up any kind of current rap music or low grade rapper these days who rap at the same speed as Easy-E without any word play or creativity. If you have watched Donald Glover’s recent appearance on Saturday night live, he starred in some awesome skits that depict just this. Glover’s lyrics reflect that problems are evident and it’s a powder keg waiting to explode. Glover continues to acknowledge that this is the current situation, but some artists would rather profit from it then try to help the situation. To Kendrick Lamar, J-Cole, Joyner Lucas, and other woke rappers; please save us.
In a dance sequence transition, Glover does a 360 spin and the scene flips to a black choir singing “Get your money, Black man get your money.” Abruptly, he takes an AK47 and mows down the choir. This has a double meaning. One it’s a reference to Dylann Roof who shot up a black congregation in Charleston and two; although Roof did not use an AK47, the gun is stereotyped with terrorism, which is the undertone of the double meaning. Many were quick to defend Roof by bringing up mental health and thus sweeping terrorism under the rug. What makes Roof different from other shooters? Is it the fact he was young? Is it the fact that he was a psychopath? Was it because he killed nine people? Come on. Really? Do I have to say it? He was white. For the media this translates into a troubled youth who needed help. If he was brown what Google, trashy, or poor quality translation would that generate? Terrorist. Thug. Gangsta.
At this point Glover continues to dance while chaos starts forming around him. There are fires and some children are covering their faces with white masks while recording with their cell phones. References are made to using a cell phone as a tool for protection when saying “This a celly, that’s a tool.” Slowly, but surely body cam videos are being released by police departments and at times one can see how ridiculous situations are. Sometimes one’s best defense is their own evidence of what occurred from audio and video captured from smartphones.
He is miming using a gun, when he decides to take a break from the music and aggressive behavior by lighting up a joint. The music stops for a moment, but then he gets back into it. He approaches cars that seem to be from the 1980s and 1990s with their hazard lights turned on. He climbs up on a car and he realizes he is at the top, but he isn’t surrounded by many people. It turns out he never actually shot the man with the guitar. The man is still there, but his face is still covered with a hood. This seems to indicate that the true roots of music and creativity are cast aside for stardom, Instagram likes, and money. However, even so, there is only one girl looking at him. The audience is left to wonder if all of what took place actually happened. Was he just coping with societies issues by regressing into the thoughts of his mind? The significance of the old cheap cars seems to contrast what we see on tv and the media versus how life really is for disadvantaged communities. The hazard lights on the cards seem to allude to the immediate, but quiet danger that is ever present in the U.S. as well as the music industry. What are we doing to fix this? Are we even having dialogue to acknowledge that the problems are real?
The end has Glover frantically running. While it isn’t clear if he is being chased or if he is trying to stay ahead of others who are also running, it’s not a cheerful scene. This could mean that minorities are struggling to stay ahead of the rest or even just keep up, but could fall behind at any moment. Minorities have so much to lose, but is the American dream what it used to be? Was the dream ever really real?
Glover’s song and video is a great example of a conscientious rapper, actor, and entertainer. Could he just make hits and be famous? Sure. Does he? Yes, but he also uses his platform to bring up powerful issues that need to be discussed. There are still some people that deny these problems. There are some people that complain that these issues or facts are old history and need to pushed aside in favor of more positive thinking. While positive thinking is important, it is equally as important to understand perspective. In the words of Martin Luther King, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” What kind of boots are you wearing? This is America. Woop. Woop.