The video opens with a with a scene of a man -incorrectly identified as -Trayvon Martin’s father- playing a guitar. Glover arrives on the scene and immediately shoots the man. The difference between the treatment of the gun and the dead black man is striking. The gun is wrapped in cloth and treated as a precious object, while Glover gives the dead body a scornful look before walking forward and dancing. It’s a commentary on how our society values guns over human lives.
The after the shooting the music shifts from old school soul and/or R&B to modern trap music. As Glover and the school children dance chaos abounds in the background. Lots to unpack here. Glover and children perform ten kinds of dances from the South African Gwara Gwara to viral dances. One interpretation is that the difference dances show how America is a blended melting pot. Also as the dances go on, there’s the juxtaposition of black life in America. A culture of happiness and creativity amidst violence. This has been a theme of black life from slavery until now.
This is obviously a reference to the 2015 South Carolina church shooting. It’s not an accident that there are ten victims in the video. The church shooting had 10 victims as well. Glover walks away and begins dancing and acting like nothing happened just as society moves on quickly after the shock of events wear off. The chorus of “This is America” also starts as Gambino walks away from the carnage.
Dancing is a continuous theme and image. This time Childish Gambino dances his cares away in a closed in a warehouse on top of and surrounded by old American cars. The cars are shown earlier in the video when the lyrics say “Look at my whip” Whip is a slang term for a nice ride/car. The cars are symbolic of a lack of progress. Fancy cars may be glorified in urban music but the reality is quite different. Despite the realities of black life, African Americans still embrace and emulate the music we listen to.
The last and most powerful image is that of Glover fleeing in terror. This could have several meanings. One, black men have been running from angry mobs since the beginning of their existence here. Two this could be a reference to escaping from the Sunken Place. The Sunken Place is a motif from Key Peele’s breakout film “Get Out”
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it’s a few of the most powerful images from the video. I encourage you to do research for yourself, the interwebs are filled with interpretations and think pieces on the subject.