Commentary by William Samir Simpson | Cover by Armadilly Comics
In the past decade, the Black Lives Matter movement came to life as a resistance to the system of police brutality in America. Moreover, many notable musicians, actors, and athletes and other public figures alike, have been coming out with statements condemning the racial injustice and police brutality that still goes on today. One prominent depiction of this concept was in Childish Gambino’s 2018 song “This Is America.”
Shown in the music video, the song begins with a live gospel choir and an uplifting vibe, and Childish Gambino dances alone while the gospel sings, “We just wanna party/Party just for you/We just want the money/Money just for you,” overall setting a naively cheerful tone. This is abruptly cut short as he approaches a figure seated in a chair, pulls out a gun and shoots the figure through the head, where therafter assuming a stance similar to Jim Crow. Coinciding with a sudden change in musical composition, Gambino repeatedly raps, “This is America/Don’t catch you slippin’ now,” over a backdrop of heavy bass and trap beats, marking the hook of the song.
The song alternates between these two types of segments; the contrast highlights the representation of African Americans in films, sports, and music, being used to entertain the larger audience of white America, versus the reality of racial inequality that many face on a daily basis. A later scene in the video shows the choir exuberantly singing before being gunned down by suddenly Gambino with a semi-automatic weapon, alluding to the 2015 Charleston church shooting. Later in the outro of the song, Gambino is shown frantically running down a dimly lit area, being chased by a group of white people, showing similarities to the movie Get Out.
All in all, “This is America” depicts the issue of racial inequality in America in a harsh, yet comprehensive manner. With the many allusions the song makes, Gambino demonstrates that the issue has always existed in America, even becoming more prominent in recent years. Overall, evidenced by the title of the song, Gambino shows to us how entrenched racial inequality is, and how it has formed the fabric of America as we know it today.