Donald Glover's "This is America": An Exploration of Black Expression


Rainbows are supposed to follow raindrops. Silver linings are said to be found in every cloud. And there is supposedly beauty in every struggle. However, these all have the stench of coping mechanisms in the midst of conditions that are decidedly less than ideal. There is no inherent nobility that lies in the heart of dire situations, no gilded strands woven into the tattered tapestry of a life trodden upon. Instead, those born into a life stained by strife must find avenues to find and express a part of them that contains light. At the same instance, those who are outside of this community consume these expressions, without acknowledging the catalyst nor plight of the source. It is a tab they run up without any thought to paying down. To me this is one of the levels expressed in the recent “This is America” visual by Donald Glover. How black joy is expressed in the face of seemingly never-ending struggle, how it is creating a haven for us, and all the while it is being consumed by non-black faces.

The wages of their sin, is our death. But out of this Hades inexplicably comes expressions of joy and creativity. A debt they incur, through persecution and ironic consumption. A debt they shall never repay. This is the way of America. This is result of whiteness in action. The crack of whips sampled to form the snare of heart stirring Negro spirituals, slammed gavels the high hats of melancholy blues, and fired bullets the baseline of frenetic hip-hop. Still they devour. Killing what they eat as hunter-gatherers with modern amenities, belying a primitive and morally bankrupt conscious. THEY DON’T LOVE YOU LIKE THAT, but make sure you leave your art on the table as they forcibly make you exit this realm of existence. Bo Jangles didn’t bounce for this, he bopped across our collective conscious in spite of it. But that is the plight of black people in this “great” America.

To dance with the weight of hate on your shoulders is both wretched and wondrous. To stand in the path of a wave destined to sweep you away, and still build shelter with the discarded debris around you is gift that is God given. Black people are the primary shifters and catalysts of consumed “culture” in this nation. They are creators in spite of circumstance, and wizards of whipping up 5-star meals with 1-star ingredients. It is almost an expectation that you do so. An imperative passed down from ancestral caged birds that still you shall rise. Yet in spite of all this, you are not greeted with loving arms. There is no pomp and circumstance in a celebration of you the maker, there is instead dismissal and worse, violence. Still you get up, like an acolyte of Donnie McClurkin.

But this isn’t ideal. None of what we create is worth our humanity. If the cost for giving up being the primary maker of culture artifacts is entrance into an egalitarian society, then we would gladly pay the price.


Death surrounds Donald Glover throughout this visual for “This is America,” and still they dance. The pale horse rides by in the background, police cars blow their sirens, and innocents are slain while little care is given to their justice. A group of children, dressed in the trappings of order and education are surrounded by this. These are the things we are told should somehow remove you from the threat of extermination and should enable your rise from your beginnings. Your talent should make room for you, or at the least protect you. Yet they continue to watch, to consume. They ignore our plight and take proceeds from our delight. The evidence is overbearingly obvious, but to acknowledge it would be to admit the hand they had in the fashioning of these fetters and conditions. To come to grips with the evil that permeates the foundation of their whiteness. To look past the dancers and happy production to see our pain and suffering at their hand.

Still the youth dance. Still the choir sings. Still we are chased, footfalls beating on rhythm to melodic instruments of our design. Hoping to find a way out the yawning dark chasm that merely echoes our songs back to us. As they record our voices with the torture devices they created that lent to their fashioning. Maybe one day our lives will be considered to be of value. Perhaps one day we will not be viewed as sheep for slaughter. Till then they’ll never look to the background where they’ve pushed the perception of the importance our humanity.