“This is America” highlights America as a tale of two cities (and it always has been).
During the middle of what’s sure to be an Emmy-nominated appearance as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live, Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino dropped a video for his new song, “This is America.” Directed by frequent Atlanta director and collaborator Hiro Murai, Childish Gambino’s “This is America” has already been viewed nearly 16 million times and is getting rave reviews from critics and fans alike for its brazenness and honesty.
If you have been following Donald Glover’s career or turned into Season 2 of his Emmy-award winning show Atlanta, you probably are not surprised at how direct, horrifying and thought-provoking “This is America” is. As we have discussed over the past few months we, in America, have a gun problem. Children are being shot in their schools and their neighborhoods. Churchgoers are getting slaughtered in churches. People are getting shot and murdered at music festivals. Black Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americas, LGBTQ Americans, poor Americans are literally being targeted for living, in many ways, in a different America.
In his 1984 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address, Mario Cuomo spoke directly to then-President Ronald Reagan who called America a Shining City on a Hill. His words not truer than today.
“And the President is right, In many ways, we are a singing city on a hill,” Cuomo said. “But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in the city’s splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city; there’s another part of the shining city; the part where some people can’t pay their mortgages, and most young people can’t afford one; where students can’t afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”
Cuomo went on, “In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can’t find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit in your shining city. In Fact, Mr. President, this is a nation — Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a “Tale of Two Cities” than it is just a “Shining City on a Hill.”
A lot has been written about Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and even more, will be written for weeks if not years to come. Some people will want to quickly draw comparisons between Mr. Glover’s view of America and Mr. Kanye West’s version. However, what Mr. Glover did in this video as well as what he does episode after episode in Atlanta, is expose precisely what Mario Cuomo did in 1984, that there are two Americas.
“This is America” highlights that America is a tale of two cities, and always has been. Do we have it in us to make that change?
Watch Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” Official video: