How Does the Video "This Is America" Reflect American Society? By MinjieWu


In the video " This Is America" is loaded with haunting images of black oppression and gun violence. It is a song written by American rapper Childish Gambino. The style of the song and the music video feature vocals by American rappers, Young thug and 21savage.

The song addresses the issue of gun violence and mass shootings that happened in the United States. It re-interprets the 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, the longstanding racism, and discrimination against African Americans.Many scenes in "This Is America" are set in a drab warehouse. The video seems to mirror the country's foundation, built on systemic white supremacy and oppression. I argue that Childish Gambino reflects American society through his music performance. The methods he uses to do this include scenes and set design as well as his gesture and dance style. Those performance forms reveal the rapper's dissatisfaction with the justice system. I gathered some examples and data that show that the race conflict can lead to violence and account for a large part of the total violent issues. In this analysis, I am trying to examine the racist problem objectively. Racial problems are internal pressures that the United States has been facing for a long time. Although the video directly and unrelentingly shows some violent images, the extremist whites in the film do not represent all American whites. Extreme violence is only a small percentage of the general issues.

The video for "This Is America" starts with an act of horror. It is a shooting, and Gambino shoots a person whose head is covered and wearing handcuffs in the frame. The scene looks brutal with the background music playing, "This is America..." The viewers are shocked by both visuals and sounds. Then, a group of black schoolchildren rushes into the screen to slip Gambino's body off-screen. More children join with Gambino to dance around the warehouse, and the video becomes more and more chaotic. Gambino's dance style imitates other black artists. Notably, one of the scenes makes viewers remember Michael Jackson's "Bad" video. The scene establishes the use of the same dance style to deal with internal conflicts about a black artist's placement in society. Next, Gambino shotguns down a group church choir. The children dance quickly into the screen again and each time they appear, they witness a different aspect to what's happening.

Normalization of racist violence has come at the cost of not only black lives, but black childhoods. It becomes influenced by generation. This video reveals a kind of provocative feeling that the rapper guns down a choir and dances slipping into the frame while violence breaks out all around. This video mass violence issues. Childish Gambino decides to wear just a pair of gray pants without a top in the music video. His dressing represents resistance. He tries to remove the label in order to get rid of the stereotype. He insists that people should not judge by their by skin color. He makes the audiences identify with "his humanness, his attitude." as he raps about the race, class contradictions that come with being black in America. However, this violent issue like is re-interpreted in the video, which just reflects the extreme problem.The issue criticized does not represent the core values of the entire American society. Indeed, as an audience, I am willing to see more black artists speck about racial issue . It could keep people have long focused attention on the racial issue.

One of the crucial scenes in the video is the insinuation of the 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina issue. The killer of this situation, Dylann Roof, seems to a self-proclaimed white supremacist. His opinion is radicalized by the shooting of Trayvon Martin and reports of so-called “black on white crime,” which lead him to kill nine black people during a prayer service at Church. In “This Is America,” ten members of the choir are gunned down, not nine. In fact, Roof hits ten and one survived. According to statistics of the mass shootings in the U.S., the number of mass shootings that happened in the U.S. in 2019 has outpaced the days in a year. The data is from a gun violence research group. This forces 2019 on pace to be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one mass shooting a day. Unfortunately, the trend of fatal police shootings in the U.S. is increasing, with 753 civilians having been shot, 150 of them whom were Black, as of October 29, 2019. In 2017, there were 987 police shootings, and in 2018 the number increased to 996. It means the race conflict lead to violent issues which account for a large part of the total. Racial issues exist in American society like a time bomb. It makes people of different races nervous and sensitive when faced with this problem. Also, the church scene is not only about the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, but also a general racial issue. Like the scene shown in the video, it is a complicated situation. There is juxtaposition of happy and positive aspects of African American culture with the violent conflict that surrounds and impacts the black community. Apart from white people there may be long-standing contradictions and racial divides that often accompany the situation. Thus the threat would become more pervasive. It is like a domino effect that spreads and develops this contradiction among extreme-minded white groups. Through the performance of Gambino in this scene, although the scene made the audience feel cruel and relentless, he seems to show these people who have extreme behavior that they are wrong.

On the other hand, to discuss the music video by another angle, I am going to focus on performance though Gambino's gesture and dance. The most controversial part of "This Is America" appears to openly talk about the entertainment industry's support of the "blackface" tradition damaging racist stereotypes. In this video, Gambino contorts his body into the caricatured figure of Jim Crow who is a slave archetype, and was a mainstay of performances. He imitates the sharp style of Jim Crow's apearance, and uses intense choreography as part of his performance. This creativity in the video is more like Beyoncé's Grammy-nominated Formation. Both ideas are in order to pull audiences focus on the background story of the Black Lives Matter campaign but, more than that, these are both examples of the music video being political. Formation is a criticism on events from Ferguson to Sandra Bland to Eric Garner. The video marked Beyonce's successful entrance into the political sphere and mass appeal. Back to " This Is America", throughout the video of various dance styles, Gambino puts together Blocboy JB's shoot dance with the South African "Gwara Gwara". The form of different elements looks very American. The critical point of the choreography seems to be saying that mainstream culture includes the black community. Also, the exaggerated facial gestures are expressed in the video, which further shows the caricatures of the black man, Jim Crow. Therefore, in this video, political criticism is not only a reflection of the scene but also is from Gambino's personal thought. Gambino uses his performance elements, such as gestures, dances, and the method of songs to satirize activity of American racial violence. He dominates a cultural conversation that is present in its complexity. His imitations seem to pay tribute to black artists, and support for black culture and black art as well as other thing in black culture. In this way, he continues the vitality of black culture in mainstream American culture. Through his performances, he tells people through the form of art, which is Black art culture, that black culture is also part of American popular culture.

Historically, research on American racial relations has often questioned "other" identities. That is non-white identities in the American racial hierarchy. The social construction and social significance of "race" and "whiteness" are closely related to the history of social organizations in American society. Gambino's "This Is America" like other artworks of black American culture, whether on-screen or in real life, shows that the black group gets exposed to so much terror and injustice. Like Gambino, in Beyoncé's Lemonade, she uses the body as a redemptive experience. Black Panther the movie also displays the theme of race inequality through the hero fighting against the violent energy thrown at him. Although, Childish Gambino's "This Is America", doesn't have superheroes here, Gambino's video calls back the viewers to the long history of African Americans'. Throughout the video, he acts out a familiar dance to show respect for many other hip-hop artists who got success through revisiting painful experiences. It is worth talking about the fact that blackness rarely gets the liberty from their circumstances of race inequality. Gambino tells us to look at exactly who Black people are. In general, Gambino's video reflects an extreme violence. It doesn't reflect the culture of the entire U.S. He uses the performance to express his exploration and his resistance to the present American society. Race inequality is a problem that the United States has been trying to change and reflect on for a long time. This video also reminds us to keep attention on race inequality.


Berman, Judy, This Is America 8 Things to Read About Childish Gambino’s New Music Video, The New York Times, May 8, 2018, accessed to Oct, 25, 2019

Turner, Rob, Childish Gambino’s This Is America: an analysis, Creative Review, Sep, 5, 2018, accessed to Oct, 25,2019