Opinion: Childish Gambino’s “This is America” sparks cultural conversation

Donald Glover, otherwise known as Childish Gambino, looks into the crowd while on stage. Childish Gambino’s “This is America” became the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart Monday.

Alex Jones, Columnist

Donald Glover’s latest music video is a creative reminder of the society we live in.

Rapper Childish Gambino has recently come out of retirement from his music career to remind Americans of the chaos and corruption that many have grown ignorant towards.

The music video for his new single, “This is America,” has accumulated over 120 million views in the last week and on Monday, became the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The upbeat rap song concerns issues of racism, police brutality, gun violence and world chaos, which is exhibited indirectly in Gambino’s music video by keeping most of the turmoil in the background, as well as through satire and symbolism.

“I was immediately impressed by the way [Childish Gambino] was able to bring in a lot of social issues to music,” Jason Dorsette, Diversity and Cultural Engagement co-director and associate director at Oregon State University, said.

The music video begins with Gambino shooting an unarmed, masked man in the head. Later, he is joined in song by an all-black church choir, who he then proceeds to gun down in an instant, which many believe to be a reference to the Charleston church shooting of 2015.

“In the African American community, the church has always been revered as a sacred place, a safe space to be amongst other folk who look like you, who share the same faith and even now, the Black church isn’t even safe,” Dorsette said. “So where do you go? Where can you turn to if the safest place you know as a black person… isn’t safe anymore, where else can we go?”

This was just one of the many symbolic scenes. At any given time in the music video, while Gambino is rapping and perfectly executing almost every trending dance on the internet in the foreground, there is complete and utter chaos unfolding in the background.

“The dancing was cool. I appreciate the dancing… If you’re not sort of woke, as they say, or conscious, it can distract you from really looking at what’s really going on,” Dorsette said.

This appears to have been done purposefully, in order to mock American ignorance to serious issues such as gun violence, and the stronger focus on less important issues such as pop-culture trends.

Many have taken to Twitter with their own theories about the plethora of symbolism embedded within Gambino’s music video.

Aside from the actual events that are occuring, one aspect of the video that has stood out to many is Gambino’s appearance.

“To me [his appearance] symbolized the significance and the strength of African American men and their endurance through slavery,” Dorsette said.

Dorsette also said the pants Gambino is wearing in the music video are the same pants that were worn by Confederate soldiers.

The massive amount of symbolism in the music video has given not only America, but the entire world, plenty to talk about and pick apart. It has also given many the opportunity to reflect on the world in which we reside and the oppression of African Americans that clearly still exists today.

Childish Gambino is one of the first big-name rappers, to musically discuss these socially, politically and culturally charged events, that are regularly happening within African American communities all across the country and even the world.

“Did it show a lot of hurt and pain? It did,” Dorsette said. “But it showed the truth. Some of that stuff was back in the day but a lot of that stuff is still happening today. So it was somewhat brutal in the fact that it forced us to remember somethings that had happened.”

Childish Gambino, also known by his real name, Donald Glover, clearly had a message for us. That message is a call to action.

The question is, who will answer the call? Will things change thanks to the millions of people talking about this video? Or will it just be another trend that slowly fades with time as we have all seen so often?

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