If You're Sharing Childish Gambino's "This Is America" Memes, You're Missing The Point

14 May 2018, 16:00

This Is America memes
This Is America memes. Picture: Childish Gambino

By Josh Lee

Meme-ing Donald Glover's incredible music video pretty much proves his point.

On May 5th, Donald Glover (a.k.a Childish Gambino) released the searingly satirical "This Is America" video, pairing the sorts of dance routines that tend to go viral online with scenes of death and destruction to expose how American popular culture can be used to mask or distract from the daily persecution, suffering and murder of the country's black community. It makes for grim viewing, particularly when Glover himself guns down a black church choir, a reference to Dylan Roof's brutal racist murder of 9 black worshippers at a southern church in 2015.

Yes, "This Is America" is a hard watch. Not only are we forced to confront the violence that has dogged Black American communities since their ancestors were first stolen and brought to the continent, but we're also asked to think about our own role in perpetuating racist violence every time we choose to retweet black entertainment over news of another black person killed by the police.

via GIPHY

It's a natural instinct to try and neutralise what makes us feel uncomfortable, and turn the painful into the ridiculous. It helps us cope with the day-to-day sh*t-storm that is the modern world, and offers some respite from the 24 hour doom and gloom news cycle. But sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable - and that's why the memeing of Donald Glover's "This Is America" is super inappropriate.

As several other publishers have noted, since its release, some have reshaped "This Is America" into something more emotionally manageable. Whether it's Nicole Arbour's tone-deaf reworking of the song and video to discuss the plight of (white) women, or meme accounts dubbing Venga Boys music over the visuals, many have rushed to make This Is America about anything BUT what it's actually about.

Not everything has to be a meme

Generally speaking, all's fair in love and memes. They're the language of the internet, with almost everything from Donald Trump's latest sexual controversy to Fiona the hippo getting the meme treatment. But memes allow us to control how we engage with information emotionally, meaning that even the most important and heartbreaking issues can be flattened into a throwaway bite of entertainment. But as the neo-fascist movement continues to grow and black Americans continue to be brutalised by the state, the internet needs to collectively ask itself if work that specifically asks us to think about oppression should be meme'd by people who don't experience that oppression.

Your kind of proving Donald's point

The "This Is America" video is predicated on the idea that people will focus on what is light and entertaining, at the expense of what is hurtful or traumatic. That's why, on first watch, you fail to notice literal death riding in on a pale horse, flanked by cop cars. It's why it takes three of so viewings to notice the man drop from a height onto the top of a car, in an apparent suicide. Creating a meme out of the video just adds another layer of distance between the viewer and the actual subject matter, and you're pretty much running away from the issues at hand when you join in.

via GIPHY

And let's think about the racial double standard for a second

"This Is America" purposefully references a recent mass shooting, in which the victims are black. Would we feel as comfortable meme'ing art about recent school shootings? If the answer is no, but "This Is America" feels like fair game to you, it's worth thinking about why black pain is easier to meme than white pain.

But what about my freedom of speech?

Yes, you're completely free to meme whatever the f*ck you wish, and nobody can stop you. But it might be important to ask why you use your free speech to create and share memes of a song that's literally trying to alert you to the fact that black Americans are dying in an oppressive country, when you probably didn't to shed light on the oppression that inspired the video you enjoy so much.