It has now been three months since the February 14th Parkland shootings––arguably the most far-reaching school shooting in America since Columbine. On the afternoon of February 14, a 19-year-old ex-student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took the lives of seventeen high school students. A day on which we celebrate love in its cheesiest form turned into a day of tragedy.
Unfortunately, what happened in Parkland, Florida is not an isolated incident, and school shootings in America are more common than one might think. In the last 18 years, over 188 school and university shootings have occurred in America, resulting in the death of over 200 people and injuries to a similar number. In the aftershock, the same questions arise, and the blame game begins, distracting us from real, lasting change: Was it guns? Mental health? The system? The same, of course, was asked of Parkland with President Trump’s stepping in with a knew-jerk promise even to arm teachers to keep schools safe–– this promise was swiftly walked back in light of the logic that adding more guns probably wouldn’t prevent gun violence.
In the past three months, I thought I had read and heard all there was to say about the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Almost all of the press coverage seemed to indicate the somehow “Parkland was different” and how America would be different. In some ways, Parkland was different as in the aftermath as the private sector stepped up. Companies and brands began to drop all associationswith the National Rifle Association (NRA) in light of the recent gun violence with big names like Delta, AVIS and Best Western. There was talk that within three months, high schoolers have created the kind of social impact that many have been waiting years for with Parkland becoming a symbol of the change that was possible. This felt like change. It felt like the NRA’s firm grip on the gun control conversation was beginning to loosen, but national legislationhasn’t changed significantly and the symbolic act of “marching for our lives” has remained just that: a symbol.
Then Donald Glover released his scathing critique of American society, “This is America”. Under the moniker Childish Gambino, he put forward the notion that in America, guns outweigh lives in 4 minutes and 5 seconds. In satire and protest, Gambino makes the same point that the seniors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas were trying to make. The same point that 1.2 million people across American walked for in the “March of Our Lives” protests and countless others mirrored in their hometowns.
A shirtless Gambino is at the forefront of the [This is America] video, but just like in real life, it is what is happening in the background that we should be paying attention to. The video begins in a warehouse with just a chair, a guitar and upbeat vocals. What seems lively and uplifting quickly turns into a harrowing portrayal of brutal violence with the first shooting occurring to the words “We just like to party”. As the dead body is carelessly dragged away, the gun used in this act of violence is carefully placed in a cloth. Gambino raps: “Yeah, this is America/ Guns in my area/ I got the strap/ I gotta carry 'em.”Lyrics and imagery drip with satire and sarcasm telling us that the debate over guns and lives has ended and America chose guns. As we’re left to mull over and process the senseless violence we’ve witnessed, Gambino leaves us with the statement that “this is America”.
Gambino’s controversial statement reminded me of the teenagers of the Parkland shootings, victims who controlled the narrative and asked the question of why nothing was being done. They raised the point that immediately after a tragedy, hard questions are asked, promises are made, but eventually, people go back to their lives. Gambino adds to this by telling us that we shouldn’t need to a tragedy to discuss one of the most controversial conversations in America. “This is America” has once again opened up the discussionand shed light on this issue. In just one week, Gambino’s video was watched over 88 million times and shared and commented about many times over. He is being lauded for getting people to talk and for insisting on social change, for bringing gun safety to the forefront again. But is talking about the issue enough? Because we’ve heard this story before. The question now is, will we have to hear it again?