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The Significance of Cars in “This Is America”

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If you’re a person who has ever used the internet — and I assume you are, since you’re reading this article on The News Wheel — you’ve almost certainly seen or heard about Childish Gambino’s groundbreaking song/music video “This Is America.” After all, it has nearly 770,000,000 views at the time of writing. Even though it came out almost three years ago, it remains a powerful statement on race relations and violence. What you may not know is that the cars that appear during the last minute of the video are far more than just set dressing.

Do be warned, the video — linked here — contains strong language, depictions of violence, and racially sensitive imagery. Watch at your own discretion. Additionally, I do not claim to intimately understand the challenges facing the Black community. This article is based on my own interpretations and some research, not firsthand experience.

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The context

It’s easy to write off “This Is America” as a takedown of American prejudice or racism in general, but it’s more than that. It’s a song about what happens when a country abandons people based on the color of their skin, denies them genuine equality, and stacks the economic system against them, even as it refuses to take action against violence that disproportionately affects people of color.

That idea is represented visually numerous times in “This is America,” and one segment uses vehicles to drive the point home with surprising subtlety.

The purpose

Toward the conclusion of “This is America,” we see Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) walking through a warehouse filled with old cars. He then proceeds to climb onto the roof of one and dance. To the casual viewer, this may just seem like a neat visual. However, “This Is America” is packed to the gills with symbolism, and these cars play a major role.

Much like the video itself, the presence of these vehicles is purposeful, poignant, and provocative. Forbes’ Adrienne Gibbs says, “’This is America’ gives careful attention to the types of cars used in the video. Nothing is new or modern. All of the makes and models are mid- to early-’90s, if not ’80s, cars.” She goes on to say that “luxury vehicles often seen in rap videos are noticeably absent.”

So — at least in my mind — “This is America” uses the automotive industry to shine a light on racial disparity. According to, “white workers have a larger percentage of their working population in high level jobs than other races,” and that wage gaps “can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Unfortunately, women — especially Black women — also rank at or near the bottom of earnings in multiple categories.

By including older vehicles in “This is America,” Gambino hinted at the fact that, on average, Black people make less money than white people. How is any responsible adult supposed to buy a shiny new family SUV when they make pennies on the dollar compared to white coworkers?

The point being, you can’t change the way you were born — nor should you ever be made to feel ashamed of yourself for being who you are. But race should never factor into finances or the ability to acquire a reliable method of transportation. By purposefully highlighting outdated vehicles, Childish Gambino made that point crystal-clear without beating us over the head with hackneyed messages or overused imagery.

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