11 symbolic depiction of black lives in the U.S. captured in ‘This is America’ [Video]

Farida Dawkins May 07, 2018
Instagram: @denny_ow

Donald Glover – also known as Childish Gambino – has just released a poignant video for his track ‘This is America.’ It is a blunt reality of African-American affairs in the United States juxtaposed on a catchy beat and dance moves the young and old can relate to. 

The beat is enrapturing, however, the message and imagery are no light matter.  Keep reading for the profound symbolism present in the visuals for Glover’s masterpiece.

Negro spirituals

The track begins with chanting and mid-level screams. Spirituals were Christian songs developed solely to convey the hardships of slavery.  They were originally recited in plainsong or plainchant fashion.

Shooting pose 

Glover’s pose before he shoots the pistol is apparently reminiscent of Little Black Sambo, a children’s book which is widely known for its derogatory depictions of blacks.

Gun/rifle carried away

Each time shots are fired, the weapons are briskly carried away in a red cloth. The first occurrence of a gunshot could be a reference to gang activity or violence within the black community.  The second shooting is a reference to the Charleston Church Shooting.

Man with guitar

The black man playing the guitar against the spirituals is clad in white and cream clothing. His shirt and pants are soiled and he is eventually shot in the head while hooded and dragged away. Lynching victims were often hooded, sometimes shot and brutalized before being hung on trees.


Gambino is seen performing many dances that were popular and those that are just emerging. The teenagers dancing in uniform signify that no matter how “clean cut” or “mainstream” blacks attempt to be, our culture – which includes dancing, attire, etc. – permeates many societies whether credit is given or not. And no matter how some of us don’t immerse ourselves in violent activity, we are still killed in a violent way.

Dollar, dollar bills ya’ll

In a little over a minute into the video the background imagery shows money being sprayed into the air – maybe a reminder of overzealous spending?

Hooded horseman

As a good time is being had, monitoring and danger aren’t too far away…


The following lyrics: “I’m so fitted,” “I’m so Gucci,” “I’m so pretty,” “This a celly,” “That’s a tool” explains how for some opt to drown ourselves in debt and materialistic objects in order to feel validated. “Black man, Black man… get your money… Black man, Black man… get your money… Black man, Black man.. get your money… Black man, Black man… GET DOWN” – a stark reality of being black in America.


In the list of musical ingenuity, Michael Jackson and James Brown are credited. Jackson popularized the moonwalk while Brown originated the iconic move.

Drug trance 

Use of drugs such as codeine and other hardcore drugs are a huge coping mechanism and challenge in the black community.


As the song fades to the end, we here Savage 21 rapping using auto-tune. There are appearances made by SZA and Young Thug. Background vocals are also provided by BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage, Quavo, and Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi – all heavy hitters in the music game.

No matter how we may feel about the aforementioned style of music, it is undeniable that their music is in heavy demand.

Here are some Twitter reactions to the video:

Last Edited by:Farida Dawkins Updated: May 8, 2018


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