looking at America through "This is America"


What is the meaning behind the song "This is America" by Childish Gambino?

What is America? If you try to look for a definition, you will find this: The Americas, also known as America, are lands in the western hemisphere, composed of numerous entities and regions variably defined by geography, politics, and culture. The Americas are recognized in the English-speaking world to comprise two separate continents: North America and South America. America is a just country. This was what I thought until I saw the music video of "This Is America" by Childish Gambino. Looking at the lyrics gives a clear understanding of America, but the music video gives an even clearer understanding. This song's music video highlights the discrimination that prevails in America, which I thought was really accurate, because, even though I was a foreigner, I immediately understood the problems of America. Through this performance, I felt like I was taking American history and culture classes. It is speculated that the idea has been taken from discrimination cases caused by a number of old Caucasians. Every time I watch this video, I want to ask people whether the white people's passion and belief in whiteism at the time was what they were using to try to improve America.


My object of study is messages from "This Is America"s music video. In the music video, we can definitely find some hidden messages. At the beginning of the music video, actor and musician Calvin The Second appears as a musician. The opening begins with a cheerful chorus, but after about a minute, Gambino turns his gun on Calvin and develops a shocking scene where the head is shot through. And he appeals to "This Is America". After Gambino shoots the gun, it is handed over to a person, wrapped in a red cloth and treated with care. The stage of "This Is America" is a murderous warehouse. At 1:56 Gambino suddenly starts shooting a black chorus group singing happily. Around 2:28 seconds, there are scenes where black boys are masking and playing with mobile phones. A single look at “This Is America” may miss the white horse behind Gambino. Around 2:35 seconds, a white horse runs behind Gambino. Gambino and five young people are dancing happily, but behind them is always chaotic. It doesn't matter whether there is a fight, theft or suicide. At the end of the video, Gambino dances on a red car. In the surrounding area, there are several cars lined up with hazard lamps and doors open. At the end of the video, Gambino is in a scene with a lot of people running away from the warehouse.

In the music video, I see a full of discrimination scenes which were occurred in America. This music video represents the American stigma caused by racism, and it also claims that America is the country made up of many sacrifices and cruel discrimination. This is what the persecuted people of the discrimination accuse the United States of America. I want to state what America is, by picking three scenes that I noticed from the video.

The first scene I want to discuss is the first scene when Childish Gambino shoots Calvin the Second. If I look at the scene closer, I see something weird, and I figure out something from how he stands—it is Jim Crow—a collective term for state laws in the southern states of America, including racist content that existed from 1876 to 1964. Moreover, the trouser worn by Gambino is said to resemble the Confederate soldier uniform of the Civil War. The death toll in the Civil War is said to exceed 700,000, ranking the worst in American history. The number of American military deaths in World War II was 400,000. Jim Crow is a collective term for laws that mainly served to ban black people from using public facilities. The Civil War was fought between the Confederacy that sought to continue slavery and the northern Union that had abolished slavery. Suddenly, the rhythm of the music changes after Gambino shot the head, and he says, "This is America," as if to claim that America is the country where it is hard for blacks to live.

The second scene I want to analyze is a scene where Gambino and five young people are dancing happily, but the background always remains chaotic. At first glance, it seems that there is no meaning beyond just dancing, but in fact, it is said that there is also a hidden message here. The keyword for the scene is hiding. It doesn't matter whether there is a fight, theft, or suicide: no matter how awful, the chaotic entertainment tries to distract. What I can see here is that America has turned away from discussing issues regarding discrimination. It should never have been a problem to have left open. Furthermore, if you stop around 2:28 in the video, you can see that there are four children sitting with their smartphones. They are recording or reading the chaotic state below on their smartphones and not trying to take action, and since all four are wearing masks, they are not even trying to speak. This implies the lack of action, and this scene appears to represent a modern society in which the video has spread on the net, and police violence and racist behavior have been hidden, not exposed.

The last scene that I want to discuss is around 1:55 on the video, a shocking scene in which a black chorus is shot dead. This shocking scene criticizes the black church shooting, and this depiction can be interpreted as representing America's willingness to protect the right to possess guns despite the high gun crime rates. This is reminiscent of Charleston's black church shooting. In a church where African-Americans attend in Charleston, South Carolina, a white youth killed nine men and women who were worshiping. In this scene and the shooting scene at the beginning, Gambino carefully wraps the gun with a red cloth. On the other hand, the dead man is treated appropriately and dragged wildly. Obviously, this criticizes the American gun society. It shows how shooting is ordinary in America. The shooting happened in a place of worship, which implies that there is no safe place here because they cannot rely on the police. At the end of the video, Gambino dances on a red car. In the surrounding area, there are several cars lined up with hazard lights on and doors open. This scene is linked to the shooting of a black man by a police officer on 6 July 2016 in Minnesota. In the incident, a black man, Philando Castile, was ordered to stop by a police officer and was shot dead because the car's tail lamp was broken. His lover, who was in the car, recorded the events live using Facebook's live video feature. Some people have pointed out that the dilapidated cars represent the economic hardship experienced by blacks living in America.

This music video shows the problems and darkness of American society. This is America, as Gambino says. The examples given above are just a few. You can see how America is ruthless to blacks. It is a world where whites and non-whites are separated, a world where black discrimination is legal. Jim Crow existed 50 years ago. Although black discrimination is now illegal in this country, countless blacks continue to be killed. My thoughts about America changed because of this video. America is built on the sacrifice and persecution of many black people. This is America. Don't catch you slippin' up.

Photos from the music video


  • https://www.bing.com/search?q=this%20is%20america&pc=cosp&ptag=G6C999N3AEAF735706C&form=CONBNT&conlogo=CT3210127
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=41&v=VYOjWnS4cMY
  • https://popposblog.com/this-is-america/
  • A Multimodal Discourse Analysis of Childish Gambino’s ... http://centerprode.com/ojsl/ojsl0102/coas.ojsl.0102.04057a.pdf.
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_LIP7qguYw
Created By
Takamoto Takamiya