The gunshot transitions the sweet melody to a hard-thumping trap beat. As the man falls to the ground, Gambino faces the camera, holds the caricature pose, and raps, “This is America.”
A child appears holding a red cloth. Gambino carefully lays the weapon on the cloth, and dance-walks away, toward the camera. Two children carelessly drag the body away in the background as Gambino raps, “This is America.”
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now
Yeah, this is America
After a while, the thumping transitions back to the melody. A robed Black church choir sings and sways. Gambino reappears, walk-dancing in glee, until someone tosses him an automatic weapon. He guns down the church members, in an unmistakable reference to the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting.
The gunshots again transition the melody back to the thumping beat. Gambino raps, “This is America,” as the bodies are dragged away, as he delicately lays the rifle on a red cloth again, held again by a waiting child.
Is this America? Does America protect violence more than people? Is gun life America?
Read: America’s gun-culture problem
Were the Trump supporters violently occupying the U.S. Capitol America? Was all that violence, all that antidemocratic sentiment, who Americans partially are? Did more than 74 million Americans vote for Trump? Do 77 percent of those voters believe what he believes, what those insurrectionists who sacked the Capitol believe, against all evidence to the contrary: that the election was stolen from Trump and that he actually won? Is all that happened on January 6 part of America?
It is. They are. All of what we saw at the U.S. Capitol is part of America. But what’s also part of America is denying all of what is part of America. Actually, this denial is the essential part of America. Denial is the heartbeat of America.
Since 2018, when “This Is America” unpacked three words used to cloak persisting violence, I’ve been arguing that the heartbeat of racism is denial. There is the regular structural denial that racial inequity is caused by racist policy. And whenever an American engages in a racist act and someone points it out, the inevitable response is the sound of that denial: I’m not racist. It can’t be I was being racist, but I’m going to try to be anti-racist. It is always I’m not racist. No wonder the racist acts never stop.
What is the inevitable response of Americans to tragic stories of mass murder, of extreme destitution, of gross corruption, of dangerous injustice, of political chaos, of a raw attack on democracy within the very borders of the United States, as we witnessed at the U.S. Capitol? This is not who we are. From this bipartisan perspective, America is existentially nonviolent, prosperous, orderly, democratic, just, and exceptional. America is apparently not like those so-called banana republics, which are existentially violent, poor, chaotic, tyrannical, unjust, and inferior—as Republicans and Democrats keep implying. America is apparently not like those “shithole” countries, as Trump called them.