Yesterday’s pre-class discourse about ethnicity and heritage was the perfect precursor to our discussion of Childish Gambino’s music video for his new song, “This is America.” Those of us who had arrived to class early sat around eagerly waiting to learn the ethnicities of each other. We guessed first, based solely on appearance, like one might do to a mutt, before each person revealed his or her heritage. After we had all spoken, we turned the question to Professor Herzog. “Where are you from?” Quellie asked. Professor Herzog prefaced her answer by stating that this idea of being a true or legitimate American is something that comes up frequently, before replying that we are all American. After some cajoling, she revealed that her family had come to America through Ellis Island, where some members of her family had actually been quarantined for what I believe was a cognitive disability. She noted the irony in this because some of her family members are now supporters of Trump, someone who is fond of keeping certain types of foreigners out of the United States.
“This is America” is quite a jarring video. It is filled with gun violence, death, and lots of dancing. From the framing of the camera to every move each character makes, everything portrayed in the video seems to be intentional. It almost feels silly to refer to the people in the video as “characters” because of how real everything feels. Is it hyperbole or is it reality? The gun violence was particularly jolting because I lost a cousin to a random shooting and it feels like I’m not alone in that most people can name someone who was killed by gun. Childish Gambino appears to portray multiple personas throughout the video. It seems obvious that shooting almost everyone around him is an allusion to the rampant gun violence in the United States. I wonder if he is simultaneously portraying the gun violence plaguing colored communities in Chicago as well as the white male “lone wolf” shooters emboldened by lax gun laws. Someone in the background of the video commits suicide and I wonder if this portrayal was intended to shine a light on the fact that often times, we never recognize or clearly see the signs of depression in our loved ones. At the end of the video, Childish Gambino is pictured running away from, presumably, white people. The look on his face is one of pure fear, something many minorities know all too well. However, we all know this fear: fear of the unknown. For minorities, this might be fear of not knowing if one might see one’s loved ones again. For non-minorities, this might be fear of change. This is all happening now, all around us, right here in America. No matter where we or where our are ancestors came from, we all afraid of something.
As Professor Herzog has mentioned several times, we are all Americans. We are all living on borrowed – or rather stolen – land, thus, we are all, simply by virtue of being here, the embodiment of America.