By Liz Brazile
Rapper and actor Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, has created a significant buzz following the release of the music video to his new single “This Is America” over the weekend. Music critics, academics, and fans alike have praised Glover’s new video, analyzing its themes of racialized police brutality, lynching, and gun violence. The eagerness of fans to embrace “This Is America” is not surprising, considering it comes amid hip-hop fans’ widespread outrage over Kanye West’s recent comments on Donald Trump and American chattel slavery.
In the video, Glover engages in a series of hip-hop and South African “Gwara Gwara” dance breaks with a group of school children as rioting and chaos erupts in the background. Glover periodically pauses his dancing to shoot other black people throughout the video–something many have considered to be symbolic of how black Americans are plagued by trauma and violence at every turn, yet are expected to carry on shucking and jiving for the white gaze. “This Is America” has been hailed as an impressive testament to Glover’s social consciousness, and a sign of his creative genius. But some folks–mostly black women–have not forgotten Glover’s recent antics that arguably contradict the pro-black messages being taken away from his new song.
In season two, episode seven of Glover’s television series “Atlanta”, there is a scene in which a dark skinned black woman berates a white woman because she is dating a black man. The episode, “Champagne Papi”, aired in April and did not sit well with some viewers, who felt that the scene was a deeply problematic depiction of black women; particularly dark skinned black women, who are often stereotyped as being loud, aggressive, and all around unfeminine. Furthermore, the narrative of black women being bitter about seeing black men and white women together is overblown and tired–black women generally aren’t checking for men who aren’t mutually checking for us.
The scene left many watchers wondering if it was meant to be reflective of Glover’s own sentiments about black women, considering he has a non-black wife. Black women, who have collectively experienced negative, real-world consequences thanks to decades of misrepresentation in television and film, did not take the scene in question lightly. Glover’s critics have also taken issue with the content found in his other comedic performances, ranging from satirical skits about men being raped to statements about liking to date the “black girls of every culture”–e.g., Filipina and Armenian women:
Aside from the unsavory nature of some of Glover’s past work, folks have called the imagery of “This Is America” into question. At one point, Glover shoots and kills members of a black church choir. The scene is reminiscent of the 2015 Charleston church massacre–aside from the fact that a black man is pulling the trigger. The video has been touted as a jab at white supremacy, yet it curiously erases white people from the violence it’s supposedly alluding to.
Many black women–myself included–find Glover’s growing praise for his “wokeness” to be a travesty. While I do believe in allowing space for people to grow and understand that making missteps is a part of the human experience, Glover has yet to take accountability for his actions. And until he does so, anything he does in the spirit of black consciousness is a sham.