Childish Gambino’s “This is America” is a nation’s self-portrait highlighting its flaws while seeking celebration for its ability to do so in a stylistic performance by Donald Glover. Like, “Hey! I’m pointing out how I’m fucked up, but don’t I get points for doing it with panache?” The answer to that would be yes.
I am not here to ridicule the art or discredit the artist. The imagery, juxtaposition, symbolism, and other creative-techniques-I-don’t-even-know-the-name-of
Where I struggle with “This is America” is that I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to do with it. When it comes to analyzing art, I’m formally unqualified yet civically vetted to form and share opinions. I think it’s safe to say that Glover wasn’t intending to simply make art that could be admired. This isn’t the Mona Lisa. He had an agenda, and while admiration may or may not be a part of his agenda, the song and video are positioned as a social commentary.
As with all good black art, I think of the students I’ve taught/my platform as an educator that curates curricular resources. The youth in the video provide an excellent lens for classroom analysis and discussion. Is the dancing veneer a symbol for being complicit in shallow apathy or a coping mechanism steeped in perseverance and resistance? As thoughts of how this art can be used with my students came to me, I finally realized what made this an effective social commentary. Beyond the art having multiple entry points for analysis, it compelled me to make sense of it and respond in ways that I felt were meaningful. I was expecting for the song/video to tell me what to do or teach me something new, when really, that responsibility lies on me. I am so American…wanting Childish Gambino to do all the work for me. This is America.