Childish Gambino’s racially charged “This is America” draws criticism, praise
Donald Glover, the actor and musician who performs under the moniker “Childish Gambino,” released a noteworthy and controversial music video this past weekend named “This is America.”
Gambino has been lauded as an exceptional producer and actor for his hip-hop comedy show, Atlanta, as the artist behind the hit “Redbone,” and for his work on the show Community.
Throughout the video for “This is America,” Gambino uses Jim Crow imagery, a singing Black gospel choir that is shot, drawing comparison to the Charleston shooting, dancing Black children, and appearances from notable Black artists such as SZA as Gambino alternates between viral hip-hop and tribal dances.
NPR Music hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael states that the music utilized is a mixture between “South African melodies and South American Trap Music.” He continues, “I think in a lot of ways what Glover is trying to do is really bring our focus and our attention to black violence, black entertainment [and] the way they’re juxtaposed in society. They seem to cancel each other out in the greater public consciousness.” Indeed, some cultural critics have lauded Gambino for his artistic performance to “display and focus” on Black violence and trauma to “spark conversations”.
Keith Boykin, a political commentator and former White House aide, states, “
#ThisIsAmerica Childish Gambino Mesmerizing. Disturbing. Violent. Beautiful. Tragic. Materialistic. Melodic. Chaotic.”
Mesmerizing. Disturbing. Violent. Beautiful. Tragic. Materialistic. Melodic. Chaotic.pic.twitter.com/jET1KfgRvx
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) May 6, 2018
However, many disagreed with Gambino’s particular use of Black pain for mainstream cultural shock value. Many Black critics deemed the display of Black trauma was unnecessary and part of a growing trend of Black artists using Black pain as an access to mainstream success. Notable writer Huda Hassan states, “When you are murdering black people in your music video, with no warning, to prove a political point, I really can’t help but wonder who your art is for. surely it isn’t black folks.”
when you are murdering black people in your music video, with no warning, to prove a political point, i really can't help but wonder who your art is for. surely it isn't black folks.
— huda hassan (@_hudahassan) May 6, 2018
Afrofuturist community organizer, Melanie McCoy, shared that it “has become extremely normalized to depict Black trauma or death. In an effort, to turn some heads and be controversial, the video wasn’t controversial at all.”
In reference to the Childish Gambino video, yes I understood it; however, I found it sensationalistic. It is has become extremely normalized to depict Black trauma or death. In an effort, to turn some heads and be controversial, the video wasn’t controversial at all.
— Africana WomaNINJA (@ZalUIbaorimi) May 6, 2018
Gambino debuted “This is America” on Saturday Night Live (SNL) on May 5th.