The Highlander

This is America’s harsh reality

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This past week rapper Childish Gambino performed a chilling new single, “This is America”on Saturday Night Live. On a stage adorned with dancers in school uniform outfits and dim lighting, he sang relatively simple lyrics, but the words held more weight than one might think.

Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now
Yeah, this is America 
Guns in my area 
I got the strap
I gotta carry ’em

The performance received rave reviews, but nothing could compare to the reaction that stemmed from his release of the song’s music video. Already receiving praise from lauded entertainment publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, “This is America” uniquely captures gun violence, police brutality, and the media’s exploitation of black Americans in one video through eerie imagery and symbolic lyrics.

The video begins with Glover in a warehouse with his back to the camera. As the lively music begins, he heads over to a man with a bag over his head and shoots him, abruptly changing the tone of the song to something much more ominous. As children dance with him to popular dance moves like the South African Gwara Gwara, violence and chaos ensue behind them. One popular interpretation of this stark contrast is that white Americans choose to ignore the destruction around them while focusing on petty distractions and profiting off the latest black dance moves (think recent fads like the whip and all the way back to when Elvis Presley was heralded for his dance moves that were heavily inspired by black musicians). This idea that we are willfully ignorant of the plight around us while we focus on money and frivolity can be supported by the repeated refrain, “Get your money, black man.”

It is also worth noting how carefully the guns are treated in this video. Whenever Glover shoots someone, the gun is taken off in a cloth while the victim is left to die. This could be interpreted as an American preoccupation with gun rights and carelessness towards the people they hurt. One particularly disconcerting scene is when Glover guns down an all-black church choir. To some, the scene evokes the Charleston church massacre carried out by white supremacist Dylann Roof in 2015 of 9 African-American churchgoers and how very little changes in gun regulations have been made in Congress since that shooting and the countless others since.

Overall, regardless of the myriad interpretations that can be gathered from the video, it is no secret that “This is America” makes a powerful statement about race and violence in our country. To know that a wildly successful actor turned rapper like Donald Glover (he writes and stars in his own show “Atlanta” and will be portraying Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo film Solo: A Star Wars Story) has announced that he is retiring Childish Gambino as his alter ego and musical act is a shame given the rampant success of his 2016 album “Awaken, My Love!” and “This is America”, but it only makes us wonder where he’ll go next.

Final Verdict: A

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