Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” – What It Means and Why

Released on Saturday, May 5th, Childish Gambino’s new single “This Is America” has become an online sensation. Packed with messages and commentary regarding mass shootings, police brutality, white supremacy, gun violence, and pop culture, Gambino sends a message to audiences to “not be caught slippin” and remain undistracted from America’s unreconciled issues with gun violence and willful ignorance.

The video starts with a Black man sitting down to play the guitar in a warehouse before it cuts to the same man being shot by Gambino, his body quickly discarded as Gambino begins to dance. Although the person is dragged away, the gun is cradled immediately and carefully removed from the scene. Gambino continues to dance, ignoring the bloodshed behind him. As the camera focuses on him, he freezes at times and looks at the audience with “crazy eyes”, exaggerating his movements as he positions his body in peculiar angles and widens his eyes. This is an imitation of a Jim Crow caricature, implying that black people are still only recognized in pop culture as dancers and entertainers rather than multifaceted individuals. It’s important to notice that none of the dancers get killed, and as they continue to act on popular dances (from BlocBoy JB to the Gwara Gwara), various youth pull out their phones to record their dancing rather than acknowledging the various acts of violence going on around them.

The video continues as more and more chaos unfolds, with references to the Charleston shooting and Black Lives Matter protests; Gambino pulls out a semi-automatic rifle and guns down an all-Black church choir without blinking an eye, and ignores the burning and explosion of a police car.

Every single time someone is killed, the same thing happens – a gun is carefully discarded (by unseen individuals) as the bodies are left behind. By now, multiple cars have been set on fire and policemen have arrived on the scene. Men and women continue to flee the warehouse as the violent acts increase, however the black dancers remain unbothered and continue to distract themselves (and the audience) from the reality around them.

One theme that remains absent is that of expensive foreign cars and mixed-race models like most hip-hop music videos – instead, the parking lot is filled with old, used cars, representing the reality in which most Americans actually live in and how “wealth” is subjective. The only woman we see on the hood of the car is SZA, who watches Gambino dance towards the very end of the video.

The lyrics: “You just a Black man in this world, You just a barcode, ayy” repeat as the video cuts to Gambino fleeing the scene with a frantic look on his face.






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