There was a time when mass shootings were uncommon, only occurring every few decades like comets darting through the night sky. But these days, a simple search on Google can produce footage that unleashes the chilling shrills of emotional parents grieving the untimely deaths of their murdered children at the hands of frantic gunmen.
These incidents have wreaked havoc on schools, churches, music concerts, and they ensue at an alarming rate in communities of color throughout the United States – which continues to be overlooked by the mainstream media. Several months have passed and the country is still nursing its wounds from multiple tragedies, including the Florida school shooting, the Las Vegas massacre, which resulted in more than 50 casualties, and the carnage even found its way into a South Carolina church three years ago, where nine African American parishioners were executed by an alleged White supremacist barely of drinking age.
Gun violence engulfs the streets of urban neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, where the lives of young Black males hang in the balance, plagued by weekly spasms of senseless savagery. For minorities trapped beneath the tides of misfortune and desolation, the crackle of gunfire is a familiar sound, like doorbells on a Sunday afternoon.
But as these shootings spill into Middle America, it’s only a matter of time until they become synonymous with American culture.
We’re all becoming numb to the chaos because it’s happening so often, and that’s the overarching message of actor/rapper Donald Glover’s enthralling new single, “This is America.”
The song highlights various topics, including police misconduct, but it mainly focuses on our country’s intensifying obsession with gun violence, and the indifference we often show when it happens to African Americans.
Glover (aka “Childish Gambino”) pens lyrics that may sound disjointed initially, but underneath the peculiar way he delivers each verse, there’s a foundation of truth regarding the country’s slow decay into a gun-infested warzone. This reality is further depicted in a less-than-subtle music video featuring Glover’s theatrical and lyrical giftedness.
In the video, a police vehicle burns. Riots begin to rage. Kids, meanwhile, start dancing on cars. People—some of them police—start running in all directions. And Glover himself is either responsible for the madness or completely oblivious to it, calmly flexing his dance moves to the camera with a stank face and a Sambo-style grin.
“The South African melodies suddenly give way to this really dark Southern American trap music,” NPR Music hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael says. “The rest of the video is this barrage of symbolism and chaos.”
There is Jim Crow imagery, dancing schoolchildren toting firearms and a Black gospel choir. Glover opens fire on the choir, a seeming reference to the Charleston church mass shooting of 2015.
“I think in a lot of ways what Glover is trying to do is really bring our focus and our attention to Black violence, Black entertainment [and] the way they’re juxtaposed in society. They seem to cancel each other out in the greater public consciousness,” Carmichael explains.
Some viewers have objected to the violence on-screen as sensationalistic use of real traumas. The counterargument would be that the casualness with which Glover guns down a church choir, echoing the massacre in Charleston, is exactly the point. The viewers may well be triggered by the sight—or they may not lose a wink of sleep.
The closing scene of the four-minute video shows the artist running from a White mob as fear washes over his face.