Donald Glover’s alter ego Childish Gambino summoned a complex dialogue this week with his SNL performance and video drop of his compelling song “This is America”. Watching the video once, twice, three times plus, only uncovers a single layer as the multiple analytic references in this masterfully, yet simple direction is grossly rich with African culture, American history, black presence in Hollywood, police violence and masculinity.
The opening of the video brought to mind nineteenth century Jim Crow laws where blacks lacking literacy, distraught in poverty and segregation, learned to survive white America within the limitations of acting as ‘good negroes, or Sambos , who are “just here to party, party just for you”. In that aspect, no overhaul change has been made in modern America. Booker T. Washington promoted the belief that blacks must seek self-reliance over political equality and unfortunately, Washington has soaked the culture in toxic complacency as Glover sings “This is America, don’t catch you slipping’ up”.
It’s imperative you act differentially toward whites or get caught up in trouble: “You just a big dawg, yeah. I kenneled him in the backyard. No, probably ain’t life to a dog. For a big dog”. Well doesn’t that cue Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” unveiling the disgusting mass incarceration of African descended Americans. In the video there are scenes where guns are handled with more care than the dead bodies of blacks and we spot a mute group, masks over their mouths, holding their cellphones which have morphed into tools where one can capture police brutality. All the while we are captivated by the ethnically eccentric dance moves of Glover accompanied by children as they entertain and distract against the backdrop of everyday socio-economic disparities on African Americans.
Black Feminist author Bell Hooks in her book, “We Real Cool- Black Men and Masculinity”, urgently provoked the issue that “Black men may be hated, feared, admired, or made the object of sexual fantasy, but…rarely loved-either by others or themselves” as she writes “…though popular culture has made the black male body and presence stand for the apex of ‘cool’, it is a death-dealing coolness, not one that is life-enhancing…” and that is exactly what is seen and heard in the “This is America” showcase.
Get your money, Black man- but count on a bounced check from White America.