“This is America” by Donald Glover is the most important piece of art we’ve been graced with in a long time.
I’m watching it with headphones on at the clubhouse of a local golf course. I don’t even play golf and the circumstances as to how I found myself here instead of some place comfortable are inconsequential. I hesitate to make the video full screen. I feel something and look over my shoulder. From the corner of my eye, I see two older white men looking back at me. I adjust my screen so it’s not so easily visible to them. I’m trying to hide. I continue to watch the video and an older white man walks past me, sure to get a good look. I keep my head down and watch him pass.
I want to shake my head but I don’t. I’m alone. This is a symptom. This is America. The disease is real.
The philosophy of white supremacy has pervaded American history from Columbus’ infamous landing through today. It has influenced American domestic policy. It reaches every part of American life and has become all too comfortable. We don’t beat around the bush. We dance around it and sell it. It’s why there are still black and white neighborhoods. It is why minority neighborhoods generally look much different than white neighborhoods and the property values don’t increase until white folks get close and want it. It’s why there are such things as Native American reservations.
We have different starting lines and there is a systemic disadvantage to being a person of color in America. Since the first natives were gunned down by settlers, white folks have always had all possibilities laid before them in the United States whereas people of color have had to fight for the same opportunities.
In 2018, we are still trying to convince many people that black lives matter. In South Carolina there are candidates who could legitimately be the next governor of the state who are either too ignorant and entitled to recognize why the Confederate Flag is offensive or too proud to care. I’m done being passive about that reality. It’s disgusting.
To pretend that the minority has the same experience as the white man is to ignore the hangover of historic racism which still hampers the minority community. To simply say everyone has the same opportunity is a lazy cop out. The struggle is not only a result of the past which has determined the obstacles that must be overcome. It is also a result of modern racism consisting of individual ignoramuses in addition to elected ones who represent larger factions of perceived supremacy.
All this is to say, the issue of racism in America is too deeply ingrained and natural to discuss in a binary way. “This is America” bypasses the binary arguments which trivialize human realities into election votes and connects to the subconscious in a way that only art can. The simplicity of symbols and archetypes is masterfully flashed before our eyes in a rhythm which doesn’t stop once it starts, flipping switches and connecting our conscious and subconscious selves so that the modern expression of racism is sublimely laid out in about four minutes.
Racism in America is inherent, historic, and prevalent. It is vile, encrypted and, like an inoperable tumor, intertwined with the skeleton of what is referred to as Western culture and more specifically, American history. Like a surgeon, Glover sliced it open so that everyone can see it.
It is not that people have been unable to efficiently articulate the struggle until now. The lack of such art, not to say it hasn’t existed, is a factor of the power of white supremacy. That power has waned for decades, but only in microscopic increments. Consider the multiple monuments to white supremacists on the Statehouse grounds or the Calhoun monument in Marion Square. Refusal of this fact because of social norms and comfort is tragic. Yet, the minority in America generally have extra obstacles to life in general. There is a rhythm to the madness of oppression which has made it sustainable to this point in time. It is a kinder, gentler slavery that evolved from the abolishment of the old one. That rhythm must be broken.
We are mentally enslaved and placed in a loop. The proof of inequality is exhibited when a person is almost shot for buying Mentos while black … or someone dies for selling loosies. There is outrage and conversation. Then there’s an awards show and a new episode of New Girl. The world keeps turning and we do it all over again.
Admittedly, there is slow progress and it is a testament to those who labor tirelessly, fueled only by love, even if it is sometimes hidden by frustration, anger, and exhaustion. It is carried on the backs of those who must suffer or die in order to provide another shred of evidence that systemic racism exists. It’s an X-file.
I’ve got to stop. It’s really uncomfortable in here. Anyway, my words just cheapen the message. Just watch “This is America” at least 10 times. For those sharing the struggle, “don’t catch you slippin’ up.” We’ve still got a mountain to climb.
Ali was born in Greenville, S.C. but grew up in High Point, N.C. where he studied English/Writing at High Point University. He has called Charleston home since 2006 and wants to believe Bigfoot is real.