Does Childish Gambino's This is America risk traumatizing victims of gun violence?

Childish Gambino's new song This is America has racked up tens of millions of views in a few short days, and divided opinion. It's the latest example of how African-American music tackles the political moment in the United States.

There is a point behind the shock value, argues professor

In his new video This is America, rapper Childish Gambino takes on gun violence, racism, complacency and ignorance. (YouTube)
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Ready Story Transcript

Childish Gambino's viral music video This is America could be traumatizing to people connected to the violence it portrays, according to a PhD candidate in Africana studies at Brown University.

"The 2015 Charleston massacre is still pretty fresh," Bedour Alagraa told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"If it had been me, or my own mother, or someone I knew that had survived this massacre ... what must it feel like for Donald Glover to take it upon himself to use it as an artistic cue."

In the video, Childish Gambino — the alter ego of Donald Glover — is seen smiling and dancing. That levity is cut short as the music changes, and escalating gun violence and chaos fills the screen. At one point, he guns down a black gospel choir, reminiscent of the 2015 South Carolina church massacre. The YouTube video has racked up 36 million views since it was released on Saturday.

WARNING: Video contains graphic material

Alagraa argued that artistic productions, "especially black expressive cultural productions, remain deeply ethical at their core."

"And this was not that," she said.

Ricky Jones, head of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville, disagreed that the piece was "constructed to disrespect anybody who had undergone that kind of violence."

Rather, he argued, its intent is to shine a light on the fact this violence exists.

"We have in effect normalized black death in America," said Jones.

"You have some people who may have a strong reaction to this video ... but they don't have a strong reaction to a 12-year-old child being killed by police in a Cleveland park."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal, Danielle Carr and Bethlehem Mariam.

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