The meanings hidden in the Childish Gambino video

Like many people, I had seen the music video This is America by Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) that had gone viral because of the startling juxtapositioning of images and its searing take on the state of the country.

Since I am so out of touch with popular culture, I was aware that I was not getting the full message of the video. So I was grateful to reader Tadas for sending along this commentary that discusses some of the allusions and messages hidden in the video.


  1. jrkrideau says


    I am almost completely out of touch with popular culture[1] and I am not from the USA. I only missed about 99.999% of the symbolism.

    I never even noticed the cars were old. I still did not notice this when the commentator mentioned it. And I got the horse wrong.

    1. It was a proud moment when a friend noted that I was the most out of touch person he knew. Come to think of it, I did ask someone today if the Stanley Cup was over.

  2. Callinectes says

    Given the way most of the cars had a door open or their hazard lights on, I thought they might be the vehicles of people the cops have pulled over and killed. If so I would expect their make and colour to match those vehicles, but I don’t have the data to check.

    A lot of people have proposed that the depiction of Glover as the shooters in each case was a reference to so-called “black-on-black” crime, even when the shootings depicted suggest specific shootings that weren’t. While I think there is criticism of issues within various black American cultures in the video, my take on that was Glover’s own guilt as an entertainer. Much of the video is a harsh criticism of the use of media to distract the people from these issues, and as an actor and musician and artist Donald Glover is himself is a part of that process, a fact which is not lost on him.

  3. ridana says

    I think there is a third meaning behind “This is a celly. That’s a tool.” “Tool” is also slang for a gun, so given his emphasis on the words, he may be pointing out the difference. This is a cellphone. That’s a tool. I.e., don’t mistake a cellphone for a gun, fool.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 Pierce Butler
    The Stanley Cup, awarded every year to the champions in Canadian Football.

  5. Holms says

    I always mistrust deconstructions that do not come from the artist. Everything that might be a deliberate reference, but also might be an coincidence is assumed to be deliberate; intent is seen in everything. The two small chains represent obsession with wealth and physical bondage, because they just do; “girl” represents America, and “the frame” represents current injustices. Because they just do.

    I much prefer splitting such meanings into the concept of applicability as described by Tolkein, where elements of the work can be held up to and compared against real life things, and allegory is left to the artist to describe or leave unsaid as they wish.

    Perhaps more simply, and at the risk of being simplistic, it is very much like the difference between imply and infer, where what we take away from the work is not necessarily what its creator intentionally put in. Or perhaps I am being a curmudgeon.

  6. says

    I didn’t find the video particularly subtle or thought-provoking. America is stupid and nasty? Anyone who is shocked by that hasn’t been paying attention.

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 6 Holms
    You cannot leave the artist to reconstruct their work; what do they know about such things!

    See the first few chapters of Tristan Shandy for a discussion of this. Sterne had an interesting view of literary critics.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    jrkrideau @ # 5 -- Ah, sorry, such pop-culture in-references go right over my low-slung head.

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