This is America, Isn’t It?

‘Stay Woke…’, the lyrics to the Childish Gambino’s opening song still haunts as we are introduced into the dark world of racial politics in America, inducted by arguably one of the most intelligent horror movies of our time, Get Out. It is here where we face the harsh truth; about the intricate, symbolic and epistemological violence on black lives in the most implicit and sophisticated manners that defeat our reasoning and sentiments. Donald Glover, whose alter ego and stage name is Childish Gambino, reigns in this time of inflammable racial politics, with his sadistic portrayal of a segregated and tortured society that still stand sordid in pursuit of marginalization. 'This is America' is straight on the road to becoming one of the world’s most vital cultural moments of the year, and indeed a lot needs to be said. 'This is America' is currently the number one trending music video on Youtube at the moment, peaking at 117 million views. Throughout the scenery, we are taken on the ruthlessly envisioned journey of the gun culture in contemporary American society and the detachment of civil society on this humanitarian pandemic. 


Hiro Murai, renowned music director and past collaborator with Glover on his hit Comedy-Drama series Atlanta, quoted that this song essentially was a representation of the fear a ‘black man has living in America in these times’. Childish Gambino performs the sadness of police brutality in a barbarous manner, much to what has been alluded to being the veil of indifference the American government has curtained away themselves from. America has seen a rise of police brutality on black lives in recent times, brewing more controversy than sympathy. Hence, this brilliant but brutal video is a revision of the cruelty Black Lives have suffered, time immemorial. Here are a few things that are significant in the video, as well as its importance.


Jim Crow References

Black Empowerment has been artistically a vivid platform of racial expression, but historically, Jim Crow denoted the African-American culture in times of slavery, caricatured by White Americans. The systematic indignation took form in white performers, acting out in ‘blackface’ to symbolize the presence of African Americans. Childish Gambino first appears hysterically dancing to synchronized beats, wearing striped patterned pants that seem to be modelled to be part of the Confederate culture during the civil rights era in America. What he does next, shocks us in extreme plight, only to continuously grab us throughout the video. He takes out a gun, stands in a posture that is referred to the ‘Jim Crow Caricature’, and kills the accompanying musician on the chair, who was smothered in a white cloth already. This is a powerful beginning to what Glover proceeds to convey. This chronicles the inhumane struggle that Black Lives suffer, with history being a constant reminder of how systematic racism has shaped in the form of rigorous oppression.


Gun Violence in America

Glover’s smart stance on the realization of the ‘American Dream’ through black lives is evidently resting on gun violence. Sadly, severe gun violence is no longer a hidden myth in America, it is the pungent part of society that has an unaccountable effect on lives, young and old. The shootout of the choir group in the hideout reminds us of the Charleston Church Shooting in 2015, one of the more gruelling exhibitions on the ferocity grasping black lives in America. What is more important to notice in the video, is the subtle manner in which Gambino discards his gun after shooting, placing it carefully in a red handkerchief that is brought by another counterpart. This is the irony; a gun probably has more value than the victim.


African-American Culture

The perseverance of the African-American culture thrives on the musical genre of Hip Hop and particularly, the personification of the ‘ghetto’ regime in the music video is the indifference Glover wants us to identify. The symbolism behind his synchronized yet upbeat and lively dancing is the manifestation of how American society has engulfed the Black American culture and commercialized their embodiment, but the distinct white supremacy still prevails to suffocate and marginalize the African-American community. He even proceeds to dance the South African ‘Gwara Gwara’, to nuance his expression on the African heritage, not only confined to the American landscape. Their pleas of victimization and unarmed brutality go unnoticed on a daily basis, however, their vibrant culture is represented as the pathway to their empowerment controlled by the white monopolistic hierarchy. In a way, Childish Gambino compels us to question whether the culture he invigorates only thrives on a fallacy that ‘White America’ markets but internally throttles.


White Horse

The biblical reference to the arrival of an apocalypse, the white horse riding at the back, behind everyone’s eyes is clear enough to indicate that the ear of eternal wrong is upon us. The pale horse goes unnoticed in times of turmoil, not to forego the hidden warehouse where Gambino sways to the deadly concerns grappling society. The horse symbolizes the biblical apocalypse mentioned in scriptures, however, the horse rides in the background, amidst indifference and chaos Gambino and his fellow dancers continue to sway to their tunes.

The Sunken Place

This was by far the most terrifying revelation at the end of the video. After a blackout, we see Glover sprinting with a petrified look on his tired face, one that captures the audience of his fate as prey to those who are chasing him, the same white society the plunges Black Lives into the ‘Sunken Place’. If we have reverted back to Get Out, we come to terms with the protagonist Chris Washington’s harrowing journey in the Sunken Place, where his helpless, immobile state is hypnotized by bludgeoning white privilege. Remembering Jordan Peele say that the ‘Sunken Place’ is the dark inhibitions Black people contain within them, characterizing their mental space,  it is sunken because it is deep within their consciousness, to identify they are oppressed but have no agency to contravene that power. White privilege flourishes; throttling the ambitions of black people while re-affirming their material prowess and slaughters the pre-requisitely marginalized.



So, the next time you happen to catch this tune online, remember, it is more than a social commentary or a cinematic adaptation of Gambino’s self-aware awakening, it is what violence looks like and feels like, moreover, it controls us. So stay woke!