This is America: A Look Behind the Music
Yesterday, I logged onto my laptop expecting to begin a research paper. As per usual, I opened Spotify as I do every day and clicked on a link to listen to a new Childish Gambino song. I was away from home and had been ancy since I was unable to watch his SNL special.
My 10th grade self was internally screeching.
When he began to rap, 10th grade Justine practically pissed herself.
I credit Childish Gambino as being formative of my current music taste. High school propels your discovery of music that you love, taking pieces from your childhood and combining it with modernity. Aside from the artists featured on the Twilight albums (lol), Childish Gambino formed a lot of what I love.
From Chance the Rapper to Kendrick Lamar, I began to appreciate facets of music outside of the indie/hipster music scene.
“This is America” propelled Childish Gambino back into the Hip Hop scene...and SZA was in the video too (which was a nice little touch and a potential hint for a future collaboration). My biggest fear after hearing Redbone was that I would never go back to the days of rapping every single word of Sweatpants and calling that my not-so-impressive “party trick”. But, I guess I was wrong.
Although, the idea that he is just merely rapping was only the scratching of the surface. After listening to it a couple of times, I began to tear apart the meaning behind the song and the very real undertones that it possesses. The music video digresses into very dark realms, with shootings embedded into seemingly happy dance scenes.
His first gunshot is geared towards an unidentifiable man and is done out of the blue with little respect, yet he shows more respect towards the weapon as he carefully stows the gun into a cloth.
The second shooting involves a very jubilant choir as Childish Gambino steps into the scene, shoots, then walks away nonchalantly. Upon doing my own research, I began to realize that this was reminiscent of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. This nonchalant attitude continues to grow throughout the music video.
At first, I found myself chuckling at his seemingly silly dancing. Yet, you begin to feel almost nauseous when you realize that you’re laughing in the midst of horror. Towards the end, it is difficult to form a reaction as the viewer begins to see the video as a whole.
As you glance further into the scene itself, the background to foreground relationship creates another layer to the political commentary that the video provides. We are so deeply entertained by trivial music and dancing that it becomes difficult to realize what is actually going on. There are cars on fire and riots happening, yet we are so entranced by what is entertaining to us. We may see something happen directly in front of us. We could literally watch children get shot. Yet, it is not enough for many to do anything about it before going back to entertaining ourselves with some meaningless dance craze.
Additionally, rather than stepping in, many onlookers have their phones out throughout the duration of the video.
We talk about the bystander effect as if it is something so distant. It is as if we see it as a supernatural phenomenon where only the weak are susceptible. But, we would never be the weak! Would we?
We as a nation create the largest example of bystander effect in current existence.
As a society, it is significantly more convenient to read what is happening in the news and simply react. Our initial reaction is to post something about it and express our own disgust. We are loud and proud about what we like and what we dislike, yet we fail the people of our nation who need both our voices and our actions. We count so heavily on the diffusion of responsibility to save us from when something unfortunate in the country happens as a result of our lack of action. There are so many of us that do not make an effort yet speak on topics with so much passion and argue over Facebook with no clear end result, only creating a lot of freedom of speech without liberating others from their own burdens.
Then there’s the scene at the very end where Childish Gambino is very frantically running. I took this as being a rude awakening into what reality is like for many in this country. It is frantically running from something within a dark abyss. In spite of this, we as a society have single-handedly...or multi-handedly, cultivated a culture that would rather put an emphasis on the frivolous and insignificant aspects of our lifestyle instead of the realities. We have become shallow and blind, choosing to dismiss the disenfranchised in exchange for learning how to do the “shoot” dance challenge.
Childish Gambino transitions from a catchy, upbeat chorus to a dark reality within the verses. The song is embedded with the fabric of racial tensions and the reality that a divided nation creates for minority groups.
We can watch innocent lives as they are stolen from us at the hands of a gunman, then turn away from it while the reality still lurks beneath the shadow of ignorance.
This is America.
About the Author
Justine Bautista is a student at Chapman University. She is a double major in Psychology and Integrated Educational Studies and plans to pursue a career in Developmental Research. Justine is a writer for Free to Dream Magazine and also serves as manager/editor for their blog. Outside of Free to Dream, she works as an SBA for Kaplan Test Prep and helps students in planning their pursuit of a graduate degree. She also works with social media brands and small businesses (ex. Pacific Swimwear and Impact Juice Bar). Justine is an avid neuroscience and coffee enthusiast. She loves books, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and dancing around while singing her favorite song, “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” by Iron and Wine :)