The Socially Conscious Artistry of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”

by Channon Oyeniran

Video-Of-The-Day-By-Childish-Gambino-This-Is-America-Featured-On-Diabolical-Rabbit.jpgNot your ordinary feel good, music pumping, fun and colourful music video, Childish Gambino released “This is America” to the world on May 6th, and it has been a hot topic on all social media platforms since. Both the video and the song itself provide powerful social commentary, highlighting a variety of issues that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago for the black diaspora, not only in America but around the world. After seeing some buzz about the video on Facebook, I decided to watch it. I was struck by all that was going on in the video, the flashy dance moves, the beat of the song, all while trying to pick up what was going on in the background while Gambino was dancing, striking poses and showing off an impressive array of facial expressions. After my first viewing, I saw a few more articles on Facebook about the deeper meaning of the video. I was blown away that I had missed so much! I went back and watched the video at least four times and picked up on so many different symbols in the video. I would like to share three of the motifs within the video that you can easily miss if you let the catchy beat and entertaining dance moves distract you.

Guns vs. the worth of a black body:

There’s a pretty staggering image at the start of the video that struck me the first time through. (If you’ve seen it, you probably know exactly the one I mean.) It’s when Gambino pulls out a gun and shoots a black man in the back of the head. In doing so, he strikes a pose that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow character. After he shoots the man, Gambino carefully places the gun on a red cloth, while the black man’s dead body is dragged away. 980x(This motif is repeated when he places another gun neatly away a second time after he shoots church parishioners, a clear reference to the 2015 Charleston shooting of nine churchgoers.) It struck me how carefully Gambino places the gun back, almost as if he was being careful and giving reverence to the gun; meanwhile, the body of the black man was given no respect at all, not even a thought or look as he is dragged away out of the scene. This is an obvious nod to what is going on in America (and frankly around the world now) concerning gun violence. Guns have more rights, are more protected and are taken more seriously than the lives of black people.

The cell phone as a powerful (yet ineffective) tool for justice: 

“This a celly…That’s a tool…”

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In one scene, you see the camera pan up and focus on about four people with cell phones in their hands, taking video of the chaos taking place below. At this point, Gambino raps, “This a celly…That’s a tool…”. This lyrical line signals the power that a cell phone has to capture the injustice that happens daily against black people in America. The cell phone has been used to capture concrete proof of injustices against black people time and time again (e.g. Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Demetrius Hollins, Rolesville High student, Jacqueline Craig, Keith Scott,  teenager at a pool party, Charlie Kinsey, etc.). However, it still proves to be ineffective in actually bringing justice and righting the wrongs of injustice committed against black people.

Some have speculated that the cell phone can also appear to be a weapon in the eyes of some, just like the case with Stephon Clark, who was murdered on March 18th, 2018 because the cell phone he was holding was “mistaken” for a gun. So although a powerful tool to capture injustice, holding a cellphone while black can also prove deadly. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown, particularly because of the short period of time between Stephon Clark’s death and the release of the video.

Black culture used as entertainment, while black lives are disposable:

Something else that struck me when watching this video, especially for the first time, was how much I got caught up in watching the dancing and enjoying the beat of the song. My eyes did not automatically go to what was happening behind Gambino and the dancers and the depth of what was occurring in each scene. 

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I think for a lot of other people, including myself, who watched the video, we got sidetracked with the dancing and upbeat flow of Childish Gambino’s lyrics. I think that was part of the point. Black culture is so popular and influences every part of society; people from all cultures and backgrounds enjoy different aspects of it, music especially. However, when it comes to black lives, police brutality, racism and injustice against the black community are commonplace, and the world seems to turn a blind eye to these injustices that are literally killing us. 

Socially conscious art, like this music video, helps engage all who watch it, thus stimulating large-scale discussion on the subject matter covered in the video and raising awareness about things like racism, police brutality, suicide, gun violence, etc.  There are so many other meanings and symbols in this video that make it a masterpiece. The depth and thought that was put into this video is genius, and I really hope invokes thought and change for all who watch it. This video is important not only because it uses music to garner people’s attention, but also because it speaks on a very significant issue which continues to plague the black community but is often a tricky and sensitive topic – racially biased police brutality. I believe this video achieved what it set out to do, and that is to talk about a real problem facing America and how easy it is and has been for people to look the other way to the plight of the black person.

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The Purpose of Protest

Protesting isn’t super convenient, and it’s not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, but it’s important and awesome and worth it.

by Michelle Palmer

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On Saturday, March 24th, I joined hundreds of others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and hundreds of thousands across the country (and the world) in protesting gun violence. It was my first “real” protest march (and Lord willing, not my last). As I drove down, feeling a little anxious, I thought a lot about whether or not it’d be worth all the effort. “Why am I doing this? Will it matter that I’m there? I hope the letters don’t fall off my signs. Where am I going to park?”

Now, I would loooooove to have the time and energy to dig really deeply into the gun control debate and lay out a clear summary of the arguments. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In the time that I actually have, I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the complexities of the issue. Instead, I’m just going to tell you why protesting is a good idea based on the experience I had at March for Our Lives and give you some resources if you want to learn more about the gun control debate. Channon has already discussed The Power of Peaceful Protest, but here, I want to share my first-hand experience and give you some ideas about why protesting is a pretty darn good idea.

  1. It pushes the conversation forward. In the wake of many school shootings, the script is the same. It’s a tragedy, we lament, people call for stronger gun control, others tell them it’s not the right time to politicize the tragedy, and nothing changes. In the wake of Parkland, there has been a momentum shift – more people talking about the issues, more people joining organizations like Everytown and Students Demand Action. Protests make a splash, they make headlines, and they get people talking.IMG_1455
  2. It’s a visible statement to politicians. Calling your politicians is great, showing up at the voting booth is ESSENTIAL, but I think showing up, in public, makes an impactful statement that the constituents have a passionate and vested interest in change. (Also, at our event, there were at least a dozen volunteers getting people registered to vote.)
  3. It gives people a platform to speak. In Baton Rouge, we had speakers (students, parents, politicians) who were able to share their hearts for change and their plans for action. The speeches given at the DC march were heard by thousands on the day and millions more after the fact. Here are a couple of the most moving: Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, D’Angelo McDade.
  4. It’s a visible statement to the public. When I told people I was going to march in Baton Rouge, a lot of folks gave me the “are you sure you wanna do that?” look. Like, “It’s Louisiana….how many people do you think will be there? Is it gonna be just you or what?” But there were nearly 1000! I think it was even bigger than the organizers anticipated. It shows the skeptics that there are people who care. And for every protester, there are others who want change but aren’t able to march. IMG_1479
  5. It’s good for the protesters. How? 

So no, protesting isn’t super convenient, and it’s not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, but it’s important and awesome and worth it.

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And if you go to a protest, here are my (super practical, mostly obvious) tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen.
  • Bring water, sunglasses, and a poncho. (In other words, be prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at you.)
  • If you have trouble standing for long periods of time, bring one of those nifty portable stools. (I seriously could’ve used one.) 
  • If you can’t make a sign, go anyway. There will be extras. And even if there aren’t, your presence without a sign is a billion times better than nothing! 
  • Speaking of signs, white poster boards aren’t the same color on both sides. You think they are, but they’re not. IMG_1457Finally, I wrote very briefly about gun control last year. You can read the full post here, but the gun control bit is re-posted below:

The issue of gun control has come up (again) in light of the Las Vegas tragedy, as it so often does.

[SIDENOTE: If this seems like a particularly controversial issue for us to be tackling without much context, consider this: The majority of Americans are in favor of sensible gun control measures (reports here and here). And according to the CDC, there are an average of 33,880 gun deaths per year from 2011-2015, and those numbers are on the rise for 2016 and 2017.]

When I looked for organizations working for gun control, I found several lists, but there were four organizations that appeared on every list I saw. (This article from Bustle is particularly helpful.) These organizations are linked below, and each website has an action section.

I also came across an article that I found particularly interesting, “What If We Made Gun Culture Uncool Like We Did Cigarettes?” Here’s an excerpt:

“On the legislative front it seems America has made its choice and there is little chance for legal reform in the near future except at the margins deemed acceptable by the gun industry and a current generation of gun owners who believe that ‘things happen’ is an appropriate reaction to gun deaths. When lawmakers can’t lead, a social solution is certainly worth a shot.”

 


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Find the Helpers: From Outrage to Action

 by Michelle Palmer

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” 

Some weeks it’s really easy to know what to write about. There’s one thing dominating the headlines that deserves some thoughtful unpacking. Other weeks, increasingly it seems, there are so many it’s hard to even think about them all without losing hope.

So, today, I just want to remind us, like I did in the post on Syria, of what Mr. Rogers said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

In the midst of so much tragedy, so many events that outrage and infuriate us, I want us to look for the helpers. My purpose in this is twofold.

  • First, I want to give us some hope. (There are helpers. There are people doing something to make things better.)
  • Second, I want our outrage to lead us to action. (We can be helpers too.)

Gun Control:

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The issue of gun control has come up (again) in light of the Las Vegas tragedy, as it so often does.

[SIDENOTE: If this seems like a particularly controversial issue for us to be tackling without much context, consider this: The majority of Americans are in favor of sensible gun control measures (reports here and here). And according to the CDC, there are an average of 33,880 gun deaths per year from 2011-2015, and those numbers are on the rise for 2016 and 2017.]

When I looked for organizations working for gun control, I found several lists, but there were four organizations that appeared on every list I saw. (This article from Bustle is particularly helpful.) These organizations are linked below, and each website has an action section.

I also came across an article that I found particularly interesting, “What If We Made Gun Culture Uncool Like We Did Cigarettes?” Here’s an excerpt:

“On the legislative front it seems America has made its choice and there is little chance for legal reform in the near future except at the margins deemed acceptable by the gun industry and a current generation of gun owners who believe that ‘things happen’ is an appropriate reaction to gun deaths. When lawmakers can’t lead, a social solution is certainly worth a shot.”

Puerto Rico:

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Full disclosure: My love for Lin-Manuel Miranda knows no bounds. However, I can honestly say his Twitter account is an amazing resource for finding ways to help Puerto Rico. His feed is chock-full of ways to help, donation drop-off locations, and links for donating money. Click here: https://twitter.com/lin_manuel

Lin’s twitter feed can get a little overwhelming, so here’s a more concise list from NBC:  How To Help Puerto Rico Right Now

Also, go listen to “Almost Like Praying” on your iTunes or Spotify or Amazon or wherever you listen to your music. It’s catchy, it’s beautiful, it has Gloria Estefan, and all the proceeds go to hispanicfederation.org.

And if you need a smile on your face, check out THIS VIDEO of Stephen Colbert’s #PuberMe challenge to see how much he and Nick Kroll raised for Puerto Rico.

NFL Protests:

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Despite all the arguments regarding secondary issues (respecting the flag, the right to protest), the purpose of the protests from the start has been to bring attention to “systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system.” (Source.) If you’re still unsure about the protests, this is the best thing I’ve read on the issue, “What You Might Be Missing in the Kneeling Debate” by Ed Uszynski. And if you’re unsure about the issues being protested, we have lots of information on our Resource List page, and Channon and I would be more than happy to answer your questions.

The organizations below tackle the very issues that led to the protests, and again, each one has ways to support and get involved.

 


There is so much heartbreak in our world, so much to be outraged about today. If the thing pulling at your heartstrings right now hasn’t been addressed here, and you have little hope or don’t know how to help, let us know, and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. You can email us at tuesdayjusticeblog@gmail.com or message us on Facebook.

Whatever you do, don’t give up hope. Let your outrage move you to action.