This is America
I intended to write this last Sunday just 12 hours after Childish Gambino’s This is America entered the public consciousness as song and video. I’d watched the visuals several times by that point. I’d seen the SNL performance. I’d listened to the music alone on Spotify. I’d read the many Twitter reactions and overreactions.
But I didn’t have the words. A week later, I’m not sure I have them now either but if you feel the urge to write, there’s no reason to put it off.
This week, I’m grateful for art and artists that defy definition. This is America is dense and complex and complicated. It’s bold and obtuse. My brain hasn’t entirely been able to wrap around it and hold it with any certainty. Donald Glover has chosen not to explain it’s intentions or meaning. I appreciate that.
It is somewhat tricky, I imagine, to create art in 2018 that can survive the hot take unblemished. On David Letterman’s Netflix show, Tina Fey discusses the impact of the social media reaction to her SNL Weekend Update bit from last August. She’s not even on Twitter, and the hot takes bruised her bit—a segment that I still think is pretty good—and her perception of it.
This is America, though, remains a thing to be unpacked and considered and reconsidered. Even as the remixes and memes began yesterday, I found it undiminished. What I most appreciate about Glover’s recent works—with this song, with Atlanta, hell, even his acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies—is that he isn’t overly precious with Black American popular culture. For him, it is a thing that exists and to be treated the same as any other aspect of the American experience. He respects it on it’s face. He does not feel the need to explain or defend it. He recognizes that it is a thing to be played with, challenged, deconstructed and reconstructed.
Blackness can handle it. The people it represents can handle it. In fact, we’re better for it when we neither apologize nor overly celebrate what we make and who we are. He centers blackness. Full stop.
We use terms like unapologetically black or, in the past, unforgivable blackness. For my money, what feels different about Glover’s current output (and Beyonce’s Coachella performance and, perhaps, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer) is that they remove those signifiers. There are no demands of their presentations of blackness other than to be.
This is America, man.
This is us.
We are America.
And I’m grateful.