The most complicated moment in Donald Glover's video for "This Is America" happens after he emerges from a door next to a black choir that's feeling the spirit, clapping hands, and singing "Get your money, black man, get your money, black man." At first, Glover engages with the choir; but then he checks himself and becomes pensive. He falls into a deep thought that's suddenly interrupted by a flying AK-47. He catches it, quickly turns, mows down the choir, hands the weapon to a bowing boy, and walks away as people rush past him with lynch-mob intensity.
This scene is not easy to unpack because its many parts are suggestive rather than didactic. A part of it suggests it is what it is and we should leave it at that. Yet another part strongly suggests a critique of the violent history of state Christianity. And another part of it suggests the capture of the church by the "money changers." And what this suggestion implies in the black American context is that the choir is mindlessly praising and encouraging the pursuit of what the soul singer D'Angelo once described as the "Devil's Pie."
Another part of the scene suggests a critique of the black church that's also found in Richard Wright's novella, "The Man Who Lived Underground." Early in this long short story (which was written in 1942 and inspired by French and Russian existentialism), Fred Daniels—a black man who enters the sewer of a big American city to elude racist cops—sees through a hole in the sewer's wall a black choir in a church. The men and women are singing: “Jesus, take me to your home above.” Wright writes:
[Fred Daniels] edged to the crevice and saw a segment of black men and women, dressed in white robes, singing, holding tattered songbooks in their black palms. His first impulse was to laugh, but he checked himself.
What was he doing? ...They oughtn’t to do that, he thought. But he could think of no reason why they should not do it. Just singing with the air of the sewer blowing in on them…
The message here, and I think it is also one of the messages in the "This Is America" choir scene (and, for that matter, the message in Linton Kwesi Johnson's 1980 dub track, "Reality Poem") is that nothing up there can really fix the many problems Americans face down here.
There's more. Another part appears to reference the Charleston church shooting, which Dylann Storm Roof, a white supremacist, committed in 2015. But pressing right against this reference to the hate crime is a part of the scene that seems to express the public's growing frustration with a Christianity that offers nothing but prayers for problems that are obviously sublunary, earthly, and human-caused.
There is no real reason why anyone should be penniless or homeless in the US. The condition of extreme poverty is not caused by forces unknown or that operate in mysterious ways but is imposed on humans by other humans. The same is true with mass shootings. The killers are not supernatural. Nor are they natural in the sense of bears or lions or tigers. In fact, I can understand sending prayers to students killed by a chimpanzee with a bazooka. How did it learn to shoot that thing? What made it hate humans so much? God only knows. Post your emoji of praying hands for a tragedy as bizarre as that. But not for mass shootings committed by humans in a society that has weak-to-no gun laws.
the number of school shootings that have happened since the year 2000 around the world:
SOUTH AFRICA: 5
— Marc Hilberer (@MarcHilberer) May 18, 2018
Now, why should we pray for a problem that can actually be fixed with a few laws and the enforcement of those laws? It's like praying for a plumber to clear a clog. Why do you need supernatural intervention for something like that? In fact, you don't even need a superhero to protect Americans from mass shootings. You only need a government that can perform this simple operation: one, remove public safety rights from inside of gun rights; then, two, place gun rights inside of public safety rights. Finished.
Christians should give their God truly spiritual problems to deal with. We do not want to see Him down here on His knees trying and failing to fix our matter-dense metal and gucky pipes with spectral hands. We don't want to see a glowing plumber's butt. Leave all earthly matters to us, the fallen.