Childish Gambino — the Hip Hop alter ego of actor/comedian Donald Glover — has set the internet abuzz with the release of the video for “This is America,” in which he (depending on your point of view) either pulled a complete troll job or delivered a picture-perfect commentary on violence in America, tense race relations, and pop culture as we know it.
Here are some of the more important points you may — or may not — have missed.
Jump Jim Crow
In 1828, Thomas Dartmouth Rice (aka “Daddy”) performed a song in blackface called “Jump Jim Crow,” which is now shortened to “Jim Crow,” and was based on a disabled black man that Rice saw in Cincinnati, Ohio. The song became a huge hit (because #ThisisAmerica), and would eventually inspire the name of the “separate but equal” segregation laws that would be used against African-American men and women until 1965. Near the beginning of the video, Gambino strikes a pose reminiscent of the dances and poses associated with the character.
Guns Are Valued More Than People
With the latest spate of officer-led shootings against unarmed black men in America — including the recent shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California — the increasingly high-profile outcries against the NRA and gun violence in America (led by the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day), and the subsequent pushback against the survivors of gun violence, the message in America 2018 is clear: guns are more valuable than people, especially black people.
Using the same absurdist humor that turned ATL into a pop culture phenomenon, Gambino shoots a man in the head, and the man’s body is dragged away while the gun Gambino used to kill him is wrapped up and handled with care. (It’s further supported by Gambino’s “police be trippin’ now” lyric too.)
The Root Of All Evil
The most common refrain of American rappers is “fuck bitches, get money.” It’s become such a common refrain, in fact, that it’s almost a parody of itself. There’s just one problem with pursuing money above all else: the love of money is the root of all evil. (The gospel singers in the “This is America” video are singing about money.)
As one Twitter user noted, women — and men — are being hunted while everyone around them is doing a dance and looking for money. (There’s also a reference to the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre — where white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black churchgoers — in this scene.)
We’re In The End Times
Presented without further comment is Revelation 6:8: “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
The Sunken Place
Get Out, which took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, is a 2017 horror film featuring Black Panther star Daniel Kaluuya and Girls star Allison Williams. From the day it was released, the film — which expertly encompassed racial micro-aggressions and black rage — has made reference to “The Sunken Place,” a brainwashing technique used by the white family of the protagonist’s girlfriend in an attempt to lure him in, lobotomize him, and sell him into slavery.
While the term has entered into the pop culture lexicon (and has, as of late, been used by and about Kanye West), the bigger meaning, according to writer/director Jordan Peele is that, in the age of Trump, the screams of African-Americans are silenced no matter how loud they get. “We’re all in the Sunken Place,” Peele said, and Childish Gambino seems to agree.
Special Guest Stars, Features & Ad Libs
“Get your money, black man” plays over Gambino dancing on a car (remember Michael Jackson in the unedited “Black Or White” video?) and SZA sits to the side as a callback to Lady Liberty (which itself has racial implications in America).
But she isn’t the only special guest star on “This is America”: the song features confirmed contributions from Young Thug, 21 Savage, Quavo, Slim Jxmmi, and BlocBoy JB.
One fan even speculated on some other contributors, breaking the supposed ad-libs down to the second.
#ThisIsAmerica Ad-libs I heard
0:36/2:01/3:01/3:42 – Young Thug
1:08 – Kendrick
1:20/1:36/2:42 – BlocBoy
1:21 – Big Sean
1:26 – Rick Ross
1:39/2:20/2:32 – 21 Savage
1:40 – Lil pump
2:06 – Slim Jxmmi
2:14 – Offset
2:25/2:30/2:44 – Quavo
3:08 – Aminé
— Chocolate Metaphor (@_mikepearson) May 7, 2018
We’re Immune To Violence
Admit it: the first time you saw this video, you were so busy looking for all the other references on this list — and bopping your head to the sick beat — that you missed a man jumping to his death at the 2:13 mark. It’s okay — we missed it too. Because “This is America.” Sigh.
BONUS: What About That Rumored Tracy Martin Cameo?
Actor and artist Calvin The Second, who plays guitar before being shot at the beginning of the video, was mistaken by many as Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy.
Even though it was the slow arrest — and subsequent acquittal — of Martin’s killer George Zimmerman that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Revolt confirmed that the similarity between Calvin The Second and Tracy Martin is entirely coincidental. Calvin even said that he hopes Tracy Martin doesn’t see the “This is America” video, because “he doesn’t need that kind of trauma.”
Let us know some of your interpretations of “This is America” below.