There was a time when Donald Glover was considered to be the “safe” negro to love by white people.
He was funny, immensely talented and treaded that fine line of colorlessness. He drew criticism from Black people because of what seemed like a fetish for Asian women and an apparent disinterest in supporting Black women. He was like the Tiger Woods of entertainment where Black people wanted to love him, but many of us didn’t feel like he loved us back. He was that Black friend who was told that he wasn’t like the rest of “them” and appeared as more or less the token on shows such as HBO’s incredibly whitewashed, Girls or NBC’s Community.
He wasn’t a threat.
And then “This Is America” happened.
Well, before that there was a smattering of Glover’s blackness peaking through in Atlanta and his the third studio album, “Awaken My Love.” But, now…today, there can be no question about Donald Glover’s blackness because “This Is America” pretty much eradicated them all.
Whatever criticism that existed prior to the release of that video appears to actually have been internalized by Glover over the past few years. It’s as if he’s letting y’all know what’s up. People are allowed to grow and learn from their mistakes and Glover is certainly one who has taken notice of the past to inform his future. The hope here is that he will remain an exceptional talent, but also continue to acknowledge race in America as a intrinsic factor of life as he has done directly with his brilliant video.
“This Is America” is an indictment on a gun-happy country where African Americans are here to entertain the masses and make everyone forget about all the chaos that’s happening within earshot. By now, you’ve read the numerous breakdowns of the video where Glover addresses everything from Jim Crow to police brutality. It’s not necessarily what anybody expected after his lighthearted appearance on SNL, but when that video dropped, all bets were off.
It’s official. Donald Glover is now a threat. He’s no longer the guy who just happens to be Black. He’s the guy who acknowledges without apology Black oppression and the fallacies of freedom in America and most of all, he isn’t afraid to use his art to speak out on these injustices.
“I just wanted to make a good song that people could play on the fourth of July,” Glover told E! News with a wry smile on the red carpet of the Met Gala.
He kept it simple, but said so much. Now, that’s free thinking.
The very concept of “free thinking” that Kanye West has continuously suggested is what Glover exemplifies with “This Is America.” Free thinking isn’t being contrarian for contrarian’s sake. It’s using your ability to challenge the status quo. There’s both rhyme and reason to Glover’s art and even though it may take multiple listens (or, in Atlanta’s case, multiple views and extended conversations), provocation of thought is exactly what an artist should seek to accomplish.
There’s a sense of betrayal by a certain sector of white people who assumed that Glover would continue to be their trusted Black friend who exists merely as a counterbalance to all of the blackness that has taken over our country. They thought he could remain a colorless pawn that would offset the Kendrick Lamar’s of the world and be cradled in their laps as the safe, non-threatening negro.
Think again, white people. Think again.
Glover is far from that trope. He doesn’t make art arbitrarily. He uses it to provoke thought and challenge a country that still has a problem with gun control and the mere existence of Black and brown people. He’s not Tiger Woods or O.J. Simpson. He’s the best kind of artist; one who is unafraid to rock the boat despite his financial security. He’s a teacher, an explorer, a guide, a rule breaker and rule maker. And the best part is, he’s just getting started.
Andreas Hale is a freelance writer who has contributed to The Root, Billboard, MTV, OZY and Yahoo. You can find him on Twitter @AndreasHale