Donald Glover might just be my new intellectual crush, guys. And not just because he was a writer on 30 Rock, is a Grammy nominated artist and has a new FX show called Atlanta on the way but rather he's just blowing up the idea of What It Means To Be Black while wearing a second-hand Hawaiian shirt.
In a September interview with New York's Power 105 radio, Glover aka Childish Gambino got into a discussion about race and power in America with radio personality Charlamagne Da God. Glover, who's from Stone Mountain, a suburb of Atlanta, said that blacks create culture that moves the world but we don't own it so we're constantly trying to show our power and worth. Charlamagne responded that Glover sounded like he was relinquishing his power to The Man and playing the victim, when Charlamagne himself felt like a victor. Glover reiterated that he's not seeing himself as anything but what is true about the black American experience in light of police brutality, and other moments that show African Americans struggling to show that their lives matter too. Then the pair dug into Glover's clothes and why he's got the sartorial choices of a retiree headed on a fishing trip.
"I'm fighting to be me, I want us to be us," said Glover. "I'm entering a point where I understand what I'm doing. I'm making a book and a show and the mixtape is almost done. Jaden is on there … the money from it, half of it goes to changing the policies for cops to wear [cameras]."
Glover's Jaden Smith mention is important too because Will and Jada's first born is an oddball too. He's a tiny outlier who wears Halloween costumes to Kardashian weddings and tweets haikus but he's still a black man in America. This kind of dichotomy is the crux of my new found love of Glover. He doesn't fit the stereotype of a black male rapper, but that doesn't stop him from being aware of his place in the world as a black male rapper.
Here's what he had to say about whether his style was part of a grand marketing plan on Grantland:
I wish I could sit here and be like, "All of this was planned." Or that I have a bigger thing in mind. But I really do have to be me. I've tried to be those things that I knew you could be. And I'm lucky that it happened really early. I went through that in high school. And then you go to college, and in the very beginning of college you're like, "I'm going to be this black guy." But then it's like, "I'm not."
I've been guilty of this, of assigning black people boxes that they must fit into To Be Black. There's certain music that one should know about, there are certain television shows like A Different World one should have either watched in real time or caught in re-runs, there are certain jokes one should instinctively, if not laugh at, at least understand.
But I was wrong. Those boxes are bullshit and I was being small minded and judgmental.
Here's the thing, if you are a person who is born into a certain ethnic group, there is nothing you can do to not be a part of that group. It's too late, you've already been born. With every ethnicity there are cultural cues that link us together but we aren't just those things. For example, I'm not solely made up of fried chicken (I'm a pescatarian), old black church lady mannerisms (I spent a lot of time around my Granny, I can't help it) and Beyoncé adoration (she is great though). These things say nothing of my love for all things British (not stereotypical black), love of mayonnaise (not stereotypical black) or my dedication to wild-eyed Fiona Apple (not stereotypical black).
My skin is black (no Nina Simone) and I like what I like, which may or may not be in keeping with whatever popular blackness means these days, but what connects me to other people of African American descent is experience. I know that if a police officer decides to shoot me dead today, America might care about it and they might not because I am a black woman in America. I've already been beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police for just trying to wait for a friend outside of a party. I'd broken no laws, posed no threat to the cops and when I called my mother to tell her, she just wearily asked me if I'd reported my abusers to the police HQ. When I travel alone and am fully clothed, some dude will still think I might be a prostitute because I'm a black woman. When I watch the news and see black children being shot, I will genuinely reevaluate my decision to have kids of my own because I don't want to be the next mother in that painful sorority alongside Sybrina Fulton and Lesley McSpadden. When I go shopping in an expensive store, someone might think I can't afford their merchandise because of the color of my skin—if they did that to Oprah, anybody can get it.
While all of these things are awful, they are part of our reality as black people in not only America, but the world. I know where I stand. And for those black people like Donald Glover or Jaden Smith who don't fit the preconceived notion of what blackness looks like in 2015, don't worry about people who think like I used to and crack those boxes wide open.
Image via Getty.