Small Details You Missed In "This is America" Video

By Lawrence Lease on May 14, 2018

By now you’ve probably caught wind of Donald Glover/Childish Gambino’s new video for “This is America.” It’s effectively broken the internet with 16 million views a few hours after it was released. Just as quickly as it hit YouTube, many viewers immediately point out all of the cultural allusions and political symbolism heavily embedded in the video.

By: YouTube/Donald Glover

Every aspect was carefully planned out by Glover and “Atlanta” director Hiro Murai who is known for making you really experience the art. In case you missed it, here’s the full breakdown of “This is America.”

Setting the Scene

The video opens up with a man playing guitar. Originally this was thought to be Trayvon Martin’s father but was later debunked as actor-musician Calvin the Second. Whether intentional or not, the resemblance was so striking that many Twitter users called attention to the poetic justice to starting the video in such a politically charged way.

The lyrics in the background call our attention to how we treat individuals as a means to an end. “We just want the money, money just for you” refers to the struggle to make a living in America but also nods to materialism. The grind to make enough is rarely ever for wealth itself but often to gain status or for someone other than yourself. Later, we hear “Girl you got me dancin’, dance and shake the frame.”

This may refer to Glover actually dancing in the video (each one being significant which we see later) or that Black people are only relevant to entertain the masses. It helps distract us from the issues at hand and the “girl” is America. This is reflected also in the role of the Guitar Man who enters in an entertainment role, instantly being valuable to viewers.

The “frame” is indicative of society and calls us to literally shake what we know and to investigate our beliefs. Implicit bias lurks in even the most liberal of individuals but growing up in a nation built on prejudice makes us ignorant of the stability.

Wearing history

Glover’s wardrobe choice has deep ties to history as well. Not only are his pants Confederate uniform slacks, but the double gold chains are symbolic as well. The two chains represent bondage and the enslavement of Blacks during the birth of our nation.

Even though technical, explicit slavery no longer exists, many are still in bondage through systemic racism and the infrastructure of modern institutions that were built on racial prejudice. The gold chains also symbolize consumerism in America and our obsession with material objects.

The First Shot

Now we see the Guitar Man with a bag over his head. Along with the exaggerated expressions and movements, Glover’s pose is clearly that of the original Jim Crow caricature. Many pointed this out as soon as it appeared while others felt a sense of familiarity was invoked while watching his movements.

The Jim Crow era is known for the exploitation of Black stereotypes as white actors would adorn black face and inflate those stereotypes. This is the first of many scenes to emphasize how Blacks were used as a form of entertainment rather than humans with dignity.

Guns and Bodies

As soon as Glover fired the gun, the tone shifts and the lyrics “This is America. Don’t catch you slippin’ up” follow. These words echo how America prides itself on being an open and free nation, but when the curtain shifts and the hold on media slips up, we see the true state of what happens on the streets. The facade falters long enough to bring attention to the injustices against minorities.

Secondly, it calls attention to those who think of themselves as “woke” or aware of the situation that they may not be as informed as they think. Their grasp on the issue of racism may not be as tight as they exude. Glover wants us to weigh our values and select our words so that we don’t slip up and contribute to the problem at large.

Gwara Gwara

Among the many recognizable dances is the Gwara Gwara. The viral dance craze originates from South Africa and was brought to the Grammy stage by Rihanna.

Incorporating the South African move has two very different meanings. Lightheartedly it can be just another way to throw in a viral dance since gwara gwara inspired the stanky leg. However, it also draws attention to apartheid in South Africa comparing it to how we view and treat minorities in America. This connection shows how the two systems are not that different.

Born and raised in Wasilla, Alaska. I am citizen journalist and looking to find a official paying journalism job somewhere in the country. I enjoy watching TV, reading books and traveling.

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