Art by Nicholas Polando
Art by Nicholas Polando

I just saw some legit art.
And this art is blowin’ up and is having everyone talking. And unlike the now out of touch Kanye West, this is real music coupled with a real groundbreaking video.
I am talking about Childish Gambino’s This is America and you can watch it here:

Have you seen it? I suggest you do ‘cause i’m about to do my take here.
But before i begin, do you know what an art label or what a wall tag is? When it comes to art, it means the little bit of information next to the piece of art. Like when you’re next to a painting and it shows details like the artist’s name, their date of birth, and the piece’s name. Some give more information, some give less. There are some that give their interpretations of the art, sometimes called narrative wall tags. This can be a sentence to several paragraphs about the art, everything raging from the history of the artist, the process of creating the piece, as to how the museum acquired it, and so on. But most of these give the viewer the little card stock writer’s opinion of the piece and what it means.
I don’t like that.
Well, i’m lying, i do, but i make sure to read it after i’ve decided what i thought the work meant to me.
Next time you’re at an art gallery or museum, look at people looking at the art. Most people read the explainer first and then give the work a glance before moving on to the next piece. These people are not enjoying art, they are being told what to experience. Don’t waste your one shot of having that first what-does-this-mean moment that you can never have back.
So when i just saw this video today, i was blown away by it like most people. It first came on my radar with seeing memes and people talk about it and now i’ve seen links to articles explaining what it means. Well, before i click on any of those i want to write down my initial thoughts and feelings before i allow other opinions to sully what i experienced. I hope you do too. Maybe stop reading this and think about what you just heard and saw and then come back to this.
Last thing. I am probably gonna get things “wrong”. But that’s the thing. It’s my initial interpretation. I’m allowed to get it wrong. I may find out in the coming days and years that my take on it was completely outside of what the artist intended. And you know what? That’s actually a good thing. Childish Gambino has me thinking in other ways that he didn’t expect me to. I hope he feels happy about that. If i was in his shoes, i know i would.
Enough preamble. Let’s go.
The first scene is of an older black man playing his guitar with an upbeat beat. We zoom into Gambino who’s shirtless and shimming his shoulders. Automatically i think, “Oh, this is gonna be a happy, upbeat, affair.”
That’s when the gut punch of him shooting the man in the back of the head happens. As fast as the bullet, the music becomes dark with Gambino saying, “This is America” repeatedly, touching on police brutality and the need for black men needing to carry guns to survive.
We then get our emotions turned again as we see a church choir singing. Again, the listener and viewer is pulled to another image of positivity and happiness, a church choir.
And what does that son of a bitch do again? He shoots them up with an assault rifle. How did i not see that coming? How did you not see that coming? But we didn’t and, man, wow oh wow.
He then starts rapping about the most basic things that hip hop has devolved to; money and flash, but that in itself is another rip in the gut amplifying just how absurd all that stuff is.
And when he talks about the materialistic things, he drops in a line referencing drugs from Mexico, saying, “I got the plug in Oaxaca.” As a Mexican American, that hit, hard.
And there is a long pause, just to let it sink in that much deeper.
Then we go back to the positive music again, but this time it mixes with the dark and the only lyrics that are being said are, “Get your money, black man. Get your money, black man,” the entire point of the song.
Then, Gambino is seen running in fear with a large crowd chasing him.
Fade to black.
As a brown man growing up in the concrete jungle of America, this piece of art just struck right into my chest. The things that couldn’t be more different.
Violence and luxury goods.
Fun and but then getting caught.
It was all on display in this video.
And he’s right. This is America. Might not be your east valley America, but it’s my damn America.
I didn’t grow up eating apple pie. Cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving is something new, and gross, to me. Where’s the tamales at?
So whenever i hear someone say “real America” or spell out ‘Merica followed by some stupid ass gaudiness, that shit pisses me off. As if i’m not a real American. And then white people wonder why we don’t assimilate. That’s not true. We do. It’s just that they don’t accept our history as theirs in the meanwhile we have to accept theirs as ours.
And why are all these black and brown men in jail? ‘Cause we’re killing each other to survive in a country that’s designed to reward one race on at the detriment of others.
White people love their guns ‘cause they kill brown people, both foreign and here at home. Of course they’re worried about hunting and what-if-someone-broke-into-my-house fantasies. Because that’s their only problem they face with them. Meanwhile, the rest of us of the darker complexion have to go to jail or the grave all to feed a white man’s desire of drugs.
This is America. Get your money, black man. Get your money, black man.
This is America.

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