Student Question

What is the overall meaning of the song "This is America" by the Childish Gambino?

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The overall meaning of the song "This Is America," by Childish Gambino, is that America is a country blighted by materialism, violence, and racism.

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Throughout the song "This is America," Childish Gambino highlights America's issues with materialism, racism, and violence.

The persona that Gambino adopts at the beginning of the song cheerfully sings "We just want the money" and "Money just for you." This persona is presumably a personification of America's preoccupation with materialism. The upbeat, choral quality of the singing and background music suggest that Gambino is parodying the way in which wealth is joyously celebrated in America. The superficiality and hollowness of this attitude is then exposed by the dramatic switch to a trap beat, as Gambino begins to rap, "This is America." Later in the song Gambino sings, "I'm on Gucci ... I'm so pretty." Here again, Gambino is parodying and criticizing the idea that personal attractiveness is synonymous with and dependent upon material possessions.

Later in the song, Gambino highlights the gun-related violence that America has become somewhat infamous for. For example, he sings "Guns in my area ... I gotta carry 'em," He also sings, "this is guerilla, woo," implying that there is guerilla warfare on the streets of America. In 2018, when this song was first released, there were almost 14,000 homicides involving guns.

Gambino also highlights, throughout the song, the racism that plagues America, a country that consumes and co-opts Black culture while enacting violence on Black bodies:

You just a black man in this world

You just a barcode ...

You just a big dawg.

In these lines, Black men are described metaphorically as "barcode[s]" and "dawgs." Describing black men as "barcode[s]" implies that in America Black men are seen as, or reduced to commodities, without human value. Describing Black men as "dawgs,"or dogs, suggests that, in America, Black men are treated like animals.

Elsewhere in the song, the persona says that his grandmother would often tell him "Get your money, Black man." This line is repeated eleven times throughout the song, and the implication is that in America, Black men must keep their head down and achieve financial prosperity in order to survive.

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