I’m a white man who’s never been a black man. I will never know what it’s like to be Donald Glover, putting this all together. But I will say that I just watched this video again, and I suddenly take away two things:
1. The song itself, which, importantly, is very very good and whose lyrics juxtapose perfectly everything that happens within the video itself.
2. The end, when the thing that sets off the final scene is the lighting of a joint; presumably a marijuana cigarette. A drug that, for many, calms the senses or which can be a catalyst for deep conversation, laughter, eating food, and a good night’s sleep. All of which are nothing but fun or relaxing.
And yet, in this country, the guns sell most everywhere. Legally and wildly. And the thing that if ingested, will almost certainly make the user look at a gun and be repulsed, is widely illegal…the illegality of which sends people of color to prison in this country for longer periods of time than white people.
Interestingly, I see every violent move made by Childish Gambino in this video as those made by people who look like me. Not him.
Perhaps the end of the video is to show both that mobs of angry white people continue to chase after black men and women, and also, perhaps, the way drugs have been forcibly evolved to the point that they don’t always do what they’re supposed to anymore, instead driving their users out of their minds, which is a thing that happens to many who the correct version of that drug would substantially help. Making a once-medication into something else entirely. And if marijuana-as-medication (or any plant-derived drug for that matter) could be what it is and should be – that does what many pharmaceuticals try and fail to do in many cases – it needs to be available as such. Including the correct application and relative dosage.
I might be taking this all in the wrong direction. But I feel like a hell of a lot of the problems in america – be it whichever skin color – come down to guns and drugs: The glorification of gun culture and the reasons certain people decide which kinds of guns belong where, and for what reasons; the condemnation of natural drugs with very real medicinal properties, because it benefits western drug companies to come up with convoluted chemical diversions of synthetic properties to push onto doctors who then must essentially experiment on literal patients who actually need help, both quickly and sustainably.
Musically, the shifts within the song and video are beautifully self explanatory:
The older man with a guitar at the beginning playing simple riffs, who is soon shot dead; The semi-recreation of the beginning of the Thriller music video; The gospel choir singing with joy, who are then shot dead.
The guitar player and the gospel choir represent the musics of african-americans which didn’t make any money for african-americans, but is music to boldly express feelings. Historically, white people took this music and with it made their money instead.
“This is what’s sellin” is the hook I’m drawn to. And yet, what is the responsibility of Pop artists in dark times, at least in crafting and understanding the message brought forth? Even as there is no inherent problem with cartoonish depictions of unnatural issues very real in communities where fast money needs to be made independently because of the racism and classism within the system.
I also notice the cars, their colors, and how they’re all from the 80s, when Pop music was in the hands of black men and women- thanks in large part to Michael Jackson, but also the rise of Hip-Hop and its often incredible wordplay and alternative poetic cadences.
But also, the 80s, when new drugs made their way to black communities; The 80s, when Reaganomics destroyed the economy; The 80s, when absurd decadence and anti-intellectualism took hold of America…
From elements as easy to define as the overly sexual way pubescent and post-pubescent girls and boys are presented in pop culture, all the way to textbooks being redrawn to whitewash American history to the point that even the reasons for the Civil War are misremembered. Real history lets us know quite well that the United States thrived economically because of slavery, and wouldn’t even exist as we know it without half the country believing that skin color dictates worth- to the point where the Confederate Constitution spelled out that fictional dominance as their wanted law. And real morality should tell us that underage women and men should not be looked upon as stewards of image, especially when it comes to sex.
Some of this comes through for me in how I see the hypocrisy of supposed Christian white men and women, making and enforcing laws that go against the teachings of their teacher. But more importantly, also against the separation of Church and State. And also against the US Constitution in general.
And also against basic human dignity.
…But also I appreciate “This Is America” musicologically, because I really want good music in all its forms to be at the forefront, and for garbage music to be left to the jingles on commercials. And not the other way around.
‘Cause in conclusion, again, this is a very good song.