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Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ Video Brings on Much-Needed Speculation

By Angelina Addams

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Donald Glover, better known by his stage  name Childish Gambino, has shocked the world with the music video for his new song “This is America.” The video’s ambiguity has what seems like the entire world scrambling  to figure out its deeper meaning on levels both conceptual and literal. With more than 200 million views and counting on YouTube, several different interpretations have surfaced throughout the internet, analyzing each aspect of the video.

I have watched the video several times and come up with some interpretations that are my own, and have bits and pieces of theories that I discovered online.


The Video as a Whole

From watching the video for the very first time, it becomes very obvious that  the video trying to allude to some of the key issues that are currently taking place in America–and have been for quite some time, including racism, police brutality, and gun violence.

Throughout the video, Glover, backed by a group of school children, sings and dances with exaggerated movements–a key point that I will touch on later–and for majority of the video is the main focal point, dancing front and center. The background, however, is more chaotic and cluttered than the center stage.

Some of the main things that caught my attention the first time I watched the video was the police brutality, shootings, and the strong presence of violence. But Glover ignores it all, continuing to dance and smile as if nothing is happening around him. He ignores the problems, singing “This is America,” allowing viewers to infer that Glover is playing the part of America herself.

Glover’s obvious and hyperbolized disregard for the chaotic background seems to be symbolic to the way that Americans react to the main issues in society. Rather than focusing on the key issues that we should be talking about, Americans are shrugging it off, choosing to focus on things that are more positive and give us a happier facade.

Many have also come to the conclusion that Glover could also stand as a representation of our popular culture and the role it plays in American society. Often times, as these tragedies are occurring, celebrities act as relief for the violence that should be faced head on. Mainstream creators who contribute to popular culture often times take advantage of the fact that we use media  as a distraction to avoid the real issues in the world, benefitting from it by receiving both exposure and profits.


Gun violence

Something important to note about the violence in the video is the manner in which it occurs. All of the violence that Glover allows to surface to the center of the screen catches you off guard. You don’t see any of it coming because of the way the rest of it is carefully contained in the background.

The people that are being shot in the video are doing nothing wrong. When each one surfaces, they are embracing a sound that is different from the main trap sound that is held throughout the rest of the song, possibly symbolizing them embracing a different culture; they’re not conforming and are being punished for it. This might be alluding to much of the violence that happens in America; in a lot of instances the people being injured and killed are not doing anything wrong yet still receive the harshest of America’s abuse.

For example, Stephon Clark, a black man living in Sacramento, California, was in his grandparents backyard holding an object. The police saw something in his hands, assumed it was a gun, and shot at Clark 20 times, killing him. However, the object in his hands was not a gun; it was a cell phone. Clark had not done anything to provoke this violence except hold up his cell phone, and yet, he was killed.

While the dancing maintains center stage for majority of the video, there are a few instances in which the violence in the background surfaces to the front, signifying that no matter how much we want to ignore our problems, it will always find a way to surface somehow. However, us as Americans clean them up quickly and direct  our focus somewhere else, allowing these calamities to fade into the back of our minds.

In the video, there is a scene in which a church choir is singing and dancing and then Glover shoots them all. This scene alludes to the Charleston Church Shooting that occurred in 2015, where a white supremacist murdered nine black people at a church. The shooter of this tragedy was prompted by racism and a clear racial bias, so Glover could possibly be referencing the apparent racial tensions that are still ongoing in this country, despite the fact that the Civil Rights Movement occurred decades ago.

When paying close attention to the scenes like this in the music video, viewers are able to notice the way in which the guns are handled after each act of violence. After Glover uses the guns to kill, they are handled with care. Glover hands them off gently to the side to someone who wraps them in red cloth.

This is significant, as it is a symbol of  the intense attentiveness that Americans pay to guns. While the people in the video are murdered, the gun is cared for in a nurturing manner, showing the value Americans hold for human life versus the value Americans hold for their weapons.

Viewers are able to infer that Glover is trying to stress that many Americans believe their guns matter more than human life. For example, the Parkland shooting sparked the gun debate once more. Seventeen lives had been lost, and students across the nation were demanding for gun reforms. However, many people chose to stick by their argument of the Second Amendment. Gun violence in America is increasing at alarming rates, yet many argue that it would be unconstitutional to put gun laws in place, disregarding the countless lives that are being lost.

Several people have also made the connection that the cloth that the gun is being placed on is red, the color that represents the Republican Party. Many are saying that the red cloth is alluding  to the Republican Party’s disregard for human life; however, I would like to note that this ignorance is not limited to or entirely contained in the Republican Party.


Glover Himself

Throughout the video, Glover dances with highly exaggerated dance movements. Many have inferred that his dance movements resemble the Jim Crow caricature from America’s Reconstruction era after the Civil War. But rather than using direct Jim Crow caricature in his video, Glover modernizes it. The caricature that Glover is playing as in his video deals with modern issues such as the vast amount of violence that is ongoing in our country and the outbursts that result from it.

Several other connections to the Civil War era have also been made regarding the clothes that Glover wears throughout the video. People have pointed out that the pants and shoes that Glover is wearing in the video highly resemble the uniform worn by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.

These similarities have left viewers with one question: why? I personally have not seen very many theories online explaining it, so instead, I came up with one of my own. If Glover in the video is meant to represent America herself, and the people that make up the country, maybe he’s wearing Confederate clothes to say that America still upholds some Confederate undertones, symbolizing a lack of progression in the country.

Because Glover is not wearing the complete Confederate uniform, only his pants and shoes, it’s not as easily recognizable. You don’t realize it at first glance, or someone else has to point out the connection for you, much like majority of the racism woven into modern day American society.

Glover is also wearing gold chains in the video, which people have hypothesized symbol one of two things: the restraints placed on blacks in America or rappers and the emphasis they place on materialism.

In the final scene of the video, Glover is shown running away from something, fear apparent in his eyes. Several other people are shown in the background running from something as well. Though it is never shown what exactly they are running from, many–including myself–have made inferences on what it could be and/or signify.

To me personally, it seems as if Glover is trying to escape from American culture itself. It is the only instance in the video where he is not singing and dancing, almost as if he has snapped out of the trance that American sensationalism has put over him. However, there appears to be no end in sight, the lighting is almost total darkness, making it appear like Glover and the others running are trapped.


The Students in the Video

Much speculation has been placed on the group of students that follow Glover around and dance alongside him. Students appear to be playing a key role in American culture at the moment, with campaigns such as the March for our Lives Movement, a movement led by students who are tired of a lack of change.

However, the students in this video don’t appear to be leading a movement against the status quo; instead, they are dancing and singing along with Glover, who is conforming to the American ‘norm’ of ignoring our problems. They aren’t taking a stand, but rather doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, becoming the perfect zombies that give off the illusion that everything is fine.

It’s important to point out that the dancers are never injured, setting them apart from everyone except Glover in the video. It is thought that because they are conforming, dancing through the issues surrounding them, they aren’t being harmed. This hints at a seemingly unspoken rule that you are safe once you conform to the “American way.”

Students seem to play another role in the video in another scene. They can be seen in the background, phones in their hands, recording the ongoing violence similarly to how many Americans seem to be reacting to the ongoing violence in America. Rather than dealing with the problems, they are on their phones, watching it through their screens instead of taking a stand and doing something. This suggests another, new way that Americans are avoiding their issues rather than facing them head-on.

Much attention has been given to the line that Glover sings during and after this scene: “This is a celly, that’s a tool.” This line has been debated about because much like most of the lyrics in the song, it is ambiguous. The term “celly” could be seen either one of two ways: it could be seen as a tool that is controlling our youth, a cellphone, or it could be referring to a cell block because the location the video is in resembles an empty cell block in several ways. It could be a “tool” for keeping black Americans restrained and keeping them trapped in prison systems.


Though we may never know Glover’s true intentions behind this video and all of the symbolism he has included, it does something very important: it starts a conversation. By starting a conversation, we aren’t avoiding our problems, we are one step closer to solving them.

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Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ Video Brings on Much-Needed Speculation