I know, I know. You’re thinking to yourselves, Wait a second –– Trig’s writing about something other than crowdfunding, nostalgia, vintage toys and 8- to 16-bit video games?!
It does happen on occasion. I, too, like the rest of you, enjoy a good escape from all the daily hamster-wheelings and evening #hustle lifestyles by immersing myself in some retrogaming, toy collecting, and other forms of immersion into worlds that exist far beyond my wildest memories. But sometimes, we gotta get serious.
Today is one such occasion.
Y’see, I’m responsible for at least twenty of the nearly 50 million views (at the time I wrote this) that Donald Glover, A.K.A. Childish Gambino, got on the new music video he dropped last Saturday called “This Is America.” If you haven’t watched it, watch it right now. Here, I’ll make it easy for you:
Now the funny thing is, this is the first time I’ve really heard of this guy. (Yeah, I live under a rock when it comes to most contemporary stuff.) I’ve heard the name, but I never cared enough to Google him. Shortly after I watched this video for the first time, I discovered that (1) he’s an actor and a musician, (2) he created the show Atlanta, (3) he’s playing Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story, and (4) I’ve actually been listening to his music for a while by osmosis. My fiancée has a playlist she listens to which starts off with the song “Redbone,” which I could’ve swore to all the Powers that Be that a female musician sings this tune. (Just being real here, Donald –– those are some beautifully high-pitched notes you’re hitting in that one.)
Anyhow, I’m not gonna bore you with my personal analysis of the video and all its myriad symbolism tucked away behind Gambino’s dance moves or those in plain sight –– from gun violence to social media distraction; from inspirations taken from Fela Kuti’s signature sound and style to dark allusions to the African diaspora and Jim Crow. Believe me, there are a lot of folks out there more qualified than your humble narrator who can speak to this with more conviction and a more deeply rooted connection to those images. For starters, give a listen to this interview with Ibra Ake, Childish Gambino’s creative director and producer on “This Is America.”
So what am I writing this blog for? I’m writing this to put out to anyone who reads this the ineradicable impression this particular video has left scarred into my very spirit. And yes, this is the perpective of a white man, but more importantly, it’s the perspective of a fellow human being. Because although much of, if not all of the imagery portrayed in “This Is America” revolves around the struggle of black folks, the truth is we’re are all in this shit together, and I think we’re forgetting this. Gambino has sent us a gift in the form of a mirror. And while we’ll try to see ourselves in the reflection, all we can see are the cracks. And those cracks need fixing, not ignoring. But instead, we just leave it as it is, like an iPhone 8 with a cracked screen you don’t get fixed ’cause it’s too expensive. Well, newsflash, people: the cost of not fixing the cracks in our America add up every day we allow those shards to splinter and fall out altogether.
I don’t mean to be preachy here –– I gave that up long ago. I gave up being a political, anti-corporate poet long ago; little did I know, America wasn’t ready for that fight. Now they are, because a good chunk of us truly see what is going on here; how our country –– hell, the world –– has taken giant steps forward in technology, but just as ginormous leaps backwards in humanity. Let’s face it, we’re all guilty of suppressing progress in one form of another through escapism, distraction, and an egocentrism on a scale we’ve never experienced before. And even though we know from watching the 10 o’clock news right before Seinfeld and Friends that all these atrocities are happening in our world every day, “This Is America” made me actually feel it, too. It made me feel the struggles I have never experienced before because of the color of my skin.
I’ll be the first to admit that my struggles aren’t very real struggles. My Dad raised me up in a good town, though right across from a tough town. He worked hard slinging burgers at a diner in Jersey City all throughout my childhood so I wouldn’t have to, until I had to. And even after that, I had the love of my family and their support in everything I wanted to do with my life. They made sure I went to college, got the education they never did so I could one day work smarter, not harder.
The first time I got pulled over by a cop was for doing 27 in a 25 MPH zone. (Because: Bayonne.) The most recent time (two weeks ago) was for making a left turn at a time when left turns were prohibited by two signs that read “No Left Turn 4 – 7PM.” All I got for both were tickets and a couple points on my license for speeding.
And sure, my Greek ancestors? Yeah, they certainly struggled, but 400 years under the harsh rule of the Ottoman Empire seems little more than piss in the wind when compared to 5,000+ years of slavery.
Other things have made me feel fractions of what “This Is America” made me feel. The first few episodes of the WB Network’s hot new show Black Lightning, based on DC Comics’s answer to Marvel’s Luke Cage back in the 1970s, doesn’t shy away from any of the issues plaguing black Americans today. And then there’s Michael Kiwanuka‘s song “Black Man In A White World,” which examines in a more subdued fashion just how segregated the world really is. (For more on that, give a read to this interview with Michael in The Irish Examiner from back in 2016.)
And watch the music video for “Black Man In A White World” while you’re at it:
You’re welcome, once more.
But the video for “This Is America” proves much more provocative and thought-inducing. It makes me wish I’d taken more classes in African American history during my years at New Jersey City University instead of just one “Black Experience” course. (Though I did take quite a bit out of that class beyond just Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party.)
It makes me wish that heroes like Black Lightning, Black Panther (though I never read this comic, or saw the movie yet), and Luke Cage were real.
It makes me feel like being white means being an unwitting accomplice to a crime.
And I’m okay with that feeling because this concept. Along with the lyrics and visual imagery of “This Is America,” it helps me to empathize more completely with the struggles of others who have to deal with things that I never had to, but could one day in the future. If we all could empathize a little more –– think a little less and feel a lot more –– we one day might be able to solve some of these problems. I know I may sound like Kanye right now (although, I’ve been talking about “The Universe” long before his “breakthrough”), but I also know that it’ll take more than love to remove the ills and evils that plague the collective us; that is, the “us” that subscribes to no specific race, color, gender, or anything else that falsely identifies each individual as anything else but 100% human. But to change this story, to fix the mirror Gambino held up to our faces with this music video, we have to change ourselves first. From the inside out.
And just like an Instagram story that’s run it’s 24 hour course, we’re onto the next thing.
I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns on the Heroes & Icons channel. Perhaps it’s yet another distraction, but one with a message and a purpose, I like to think. Sure, Captain Picard has to travel the galaxy engaging in diplomatic liaisons and oftentimes conflicts with alien races, but you always hear him talk about how on earth, there’s peace. Humanity is one. Racism, sexism, and all the wickedisms of Earth life during our time have been done away with. The question is do we really need to wait until the 24th Century for this to happen? If we keep making strides like we have been in the opposite direction of progress, then yes. Yes we will.
It makes me think about how the two guns in “This Is America” are handled carefully with blood read cloths, and oh so delicately, too. More so than the lives those guns have helped to take.
That’s all I have to say about “This Is America.” Again, if you want to get some in-depth analyses of the imagery portrayed in Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” do yourselves a favor and give this episode of The Takeaway podcast a listen (it’s the one I mentioned above, where they interview Ibra Ake), as well as this video by Tony Davis. for an in-depth analysis of the symbolism of the video. We can all learn a little something from both of these, and I’m sure the many other media out there addressing the issues that Gambino presents poignantly and provocatively in “This Is America,” but whose references might go above some of our heads.
As for me, I’m gonna go and give “This Is America” yet another watch.
Because in order to be truly woke, we gotta be worth the awakening.