Wednesday, December 8, 2021

EUR Insight/’This is America’: Donald Glover on Black Joy and Black Pain (VIDEO)

*Timed with his appearance on “SNL,” Donald Glover unleashed his Childish Gambino track “This is America” on the world and in turn, set the Internet and people‘s mind ablaze. Taking no time to pause, the Internet began its break-downs, memes and hot takes on the track. “This is America” succeeded in touching everyone’s nerve. Lady Gaga shared it and so did the currently divisive Kanye. Given that song and its creator are having a cultural moment, let’s take a closer look.

The mere existence of the song itself is a miracle. Donald Glover had wrapped up his Childish Gambino project and removed his musical alter-ego’s social media posts. He had closed the chapter on his musical career after releasing 2016’s “Awaken My Love”. After the massive popularity of his track “Redbone”, fans wanted more and no one was more painfully aware of this than Glover himself. Alluding to it after his double Emmy victory, Glover said “If I don’t make a mixtape with Chance the Rapper, a bunch of 14 year olds are gonna kick my ass.”

It is of interest that the track he released to mark his return is a song that for most people lays bare the dichotomy of the Black Experience – Black Pain and Black Joy being hand-in-hand. For Black folks, none of this is news. Glover, for his part, is choosing to play coy about the song’s meaning. He has called it “a good song…something that people can play on 4th of July”. When asked about the song’s meaning, he has refused to answer. All this may seem revolutionary but this is something notable black artists have done in the past.

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childish gambino - this is america

Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit is considered a political statement because of the timing of its release. Stripped of that context, it is simply a description of a lynched black body. It doesn’t decry lynching itself and that is by design. Similarly, “This is America” lets the person experiencing it connect the dots and do the mental heavy lifting. It shows the violence on Black bodies but doesn’t condemn it. It shows the amplification of Black joy during Black pain but doesn’t explain how the two are related.

The collective urge of the Internet to decode the song has led to more engagement. According to annotation database Genius, the track’s annotated lyrics generated 1 Million views in 45 hours making it the fastest lyrics page to do so. The Easter egg nature of the song and its music video invites repeated viewings and now everyone has a favorite bit. Glover doing the Roy Purdy dance. The kids sitting in the risers hooked to their smart phones. Death riding a white horse in the background while Glover dances to distract. Each frame is deliberate and rich in iconic imagery.

What can we infer from the song and its video? It seems that Glover wants to reconcile the dream of America with its nightmarish reality. Guns and the Second Amendment being given more importance than actual Black lives. Black lives being valuable only when they are marketable. Jim Crow-era tactics living on in these modern times. All this is America. Any expression of the truth that is this brutal can’t be ignored. But like most attempts made before, it faces the very real danger of being co-opted and be stripped of its intended message. The conversation needs to be continued.

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