Since the release of Donald Glover’s “This Is America” music video on May 6, the video has received vigorous analysis, praise, and criticism, and has garnered over 100 million views.
It seems as if not a single moment of the four minutes and four seconds has slipped through the diligent fingers of its viewers. If you had asked me my thoughts on the video after my first time watching it, I would have likely rambled on about Glover’s eye-catching facial expressions and vibrant dance moves. Now ask me a good 30 watches and 15 analytical articles later, and I would be eager to explain every metaphor, every symbol, every message that Glover has cleverly intertwined in this video. From his Confederate army pants, to his 17 seconds of silence in ode to Parkland students, to his pose that resembles Jim Crow, it is clear that every component of the video is packed with symbolic meaning.
And it seems like the danger of distraction is precisely Glover’s point. It has become increasingly easy for us to get distracted from the excessive gun violence and police brutality taking over our country, particularly towards the black community. Most people find it more comfortable to focus on the art of hip hop -- and in turn, use their culture for convenience -- than face the bitter violence that infiltrates their community. And while I actively praise Glover’s video and his ability to pack those four minutes with so many important messages about what is happening in our country, I am concerned about the origins and implications of some of the praise of his viewers.
While reading article after article about the power of Glover’s video to create conversation about the multitude of pressing issues that face our nation’s black community, a thought popped into my head that I couldn’t seem to quiet: despite the facts that guns have killed 5,064 people in America thus far in 2018, that unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer than unarmed whites, that the rate at which black people are incarcerated is five times the rate of whites, and that there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide since 2012 -- THIS is what it takes to create conversation.
I do not want to take away the mastery of Glover’s video and the message which he so thoughtfully exhibited. Furthermore, I celebrate music and visual art for being a medium that can elicit difficult, but necessary conversations. I just found it worrisome that I was scrolling through tweet after tweet of people, primarily white, essentially claiming that it took a music video such as Glover’s to understand the injustices around them. What they could easily see in headlines and on T.V, was somehow only communicated through an artistic representation of reality.
Do we really need a music video for us to realize the gravity of our nation’s problems? Did we need to watch Glover gun down a singing choir to come face-to-face with this tragedy, when the real event that we heard about on the news should have been enough? Conversations regarding gun violence and police brutality are incredibly necessary, but we should have had them a long time ago.
I asked a close friend of mine named Lalee, a student at UC Berkeley and avid activist for racial equality, to weigh in with her thoughts. “Now people want to act all woke because they watched a video?” she quipped. “It’s slacktivism at its finest. People will watch the video, talk about it for a couple weeks, then move on,” she said, expressing frustration towards the overwhelming white praise of this video. While some of us possess the unearned luxury of letting these concerns go, the millions of Americans directly affected by gun and police violence do not.
Now, I am not here to make you feel guilty about enjoying Glover’s video, tweeting your praise, or letting yourself think about issues of gun violence after watching it. I praise you for doing the all of the former, but challenge you to cross the frightening line between slacktivism and activism. Educate yourself. Listen to others opinions -- agree, disagree, and form your own. Contact your representatives about enforcing stricter gun control laws and measures to combat police brutality. Register to vote. Protest and march alongside people who look like you and people who don’t. Recognize the privilege of having a voice, and use it to propel change.
So here we are. You’ve read my article; maybe it enacted thoughtful conversation, and at the least, hopefully it made you think. You can move on with your life, carry on with your day, and live in complacency. Or, of course, you can do something about it.
The choice is yours.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE TAKING AWAY FROM CHILDISH GAMBINO’S THIS IS AMERICA?
By Lauren Cameron