Childish Gambino, or Donald Glover, recently released a new single that politically and socially transcends other works of this generation. It has a message, it has made an impact, and it matters. While hundreds of publications have deciphered the song lyrics and the almost hypnotic video that accompanies them, Glover himself refuses to provide any explanation to his latest work. “I feel like it’s not really my place to do that. I think it’s just something that should just be out there…it’s for the people,” Glover said, in an interview with Chris Van Vliet, a Canadian television host.
‘This is America’ opens up the wounds and targets the scars that were shaped hundreds of years ago, delving into America’s haunting history of slavery and severe racial injustice. The music video is by far one of of Gambino’s best performances yet. The combination of Afrobeat, popular culture choreography, and shocking violence culminate into a mesmerizing nightmare. The New Yorker reports that the video “seemed like a portal into a successful black man’s psyche, consumed as it is by guilt and by vanity.” As Gambino moves magnetically through the set, we see references to everything from the Jim Crow Laws in the 1800s to the 2015 church shooting in South Carolina.
Despite all these interpretations, we haven’t heard from Glover whether or not they are accurate. The world has skillfully analyzed Glover’s intentions, yet, the true nature of his work has not been confirmed by the artist himself. “I don’t want to give it any context,” Glover humbly said, “That’s not my place. It doesn’t feel good to me. Whatever I make is for the people.”
If it’s not Glover’s place, then whose is it? The most powerful move an artist can make is to put something out there in the most selfless manner possible. In an interview with E!, Glover said, “I just wanted to make, you know, a good song. Something that people could play on the Fourth of July.” While I don’t think his intentions were as simplistic as he claims, I do believe that Glover didn’t create this for himself. He created it for the people, so it is our duty to take something away from it. ‘This is America’ has sparked the circulation of conversation around race and the sociopolitical climate in the United States – this would be the case whether or not Glover chose to speak up.
That being said, because the video is open to interpretation, the ambiguity of it is amplified. It may inflict pain on those who don’t want to relive the foul history of black oppression in America. For others, it may generate hope for giving people a voice. Some have taken their interpretations, or lack thereof, too far by creating memes out of clips from the music video. It is impossible to say whether or not Glover’s lack of involvement would hurt or help the shifts in our global culture due to his work. The true message of the piece may be lost in translation, but maybe that’s the point. The selflessness in his silence may also be perceived as selfish. What we need to do, as fans of Childish Gambino and as participants in the changing social culture of our world, is to talk to about it.
As an artist, Glover is challenging us to watch and listen, closely, to what he has created. He is challenging us to face the powerful ideas he has brought forth. By doing so, Glover has managed to embolden, if not revive, certain aspects of the conversation around race in America. He has done so quietly, giving the people an opportunity to speak for themselves.