THIS IS AMERICA
Donald Glover’s White Partner Doesn’t Make Him Any Less Black
The ‘Atlanta’ creator, musical artist (under the moniker Childish Gambino), and ‘Star Wars’ star is getting heat for having a white girlfriend. It’s crazy, writes Touré.
You know we’re in the silly season of Donald Glover’s fame when you see ridiculous “think” pieces mulling over the bankrupt question: “What does it mean that Glover has a white wife?” (They’re not married, so there’s that.)
One of these writers actually wrote, “The fact that Glover’s longtime partner… is white has come into play in determining both his right and ability to craft and tell such authentically black stories.” It has? Where is this occurring? Because that’s not happening in my world, where Atlanta and “This is America” are widely considered some of the blackest pieces of pop culture out.
These strange essays point out Glover’s partner while saying it really isn’t a big deal (then why mention it?) but, they say, we’re just going to point it out, as if just pointing something like that out could be a neutral act. Another such piece read, “Should it matter that the one major thing that Donald Glover shares with Kanye West is that they’ve both created thriving families with white women? Personally—I don’t find that fact offensive—but I do think it’s interesting enough to point out.”
I’d love to know what exactly makes that random fact so darn interesting.
Glover doesn’t deserve any of this. It seems to be a writer problem—everyone’s dying to write about him and all the takes are taken, all the big ideas about him have been published, and in order to get in on the click party you’ve got to say something new. Well, with every smart angle on Glover already mined, some have moved into dumb-angle territory. Like, “But what about his white wife?” Resist the impulse to bat around that idea the way you’d resist slurping the last drop in front of certain company.
Beychella—Beyoncé’s bravura Coachella performance—is definitely the blackest thing out right now. It was Beyoncé’s thrilling nod to HBCU homecoming culture and black marching-band culture and black Greek culture. She dug into blackness, pulled out a jewel of an idea, made it hers and gave her fans life. That show was everything. Meanwhile, MAGA Kanye, this pre-album right-wing performance-art piece, has been a bull in a china shop—where the china is the emotions of his fans—and after the last few weeks, they’re all broken. He’s hurt so many people who liked him with his far-right talking points.
OK, so where does “This Is America” fit within that spectrum? I’d put it just a millimeter away from Beychella. It’s so freakin’ black. The song is a mixture of soul, gospel, and hip-hop. Glover’s dances and movements through space are so of the culture. Yes, he’s commenting on American gun violence, but more than that the video reflects the Kafkaesque nature of American blackness, where any calm moment could become chaotic—even if you walk into a Starbucks or out of an Airbnb. The video is a tango of violence and dance, of chaos and peace, of confidence and fear. And it seems deeply black—like Invisible Man black—to end with the dual moments of, first, Glover dancing atop a car like Michael Jackson full of himself after trial, and, poof, a moment later, Glover running for his life, his face wrapped in fear as a mostly white mob chases behind. That twosome very much encapsulates what it feels like to be black in America.
So the brother creates one of the blackest pieces of art in the game today, something that shows a deep understanding of what it is to be black on a cultural level and meta level, and that makes some people say, well, I guess now we can talk about the semiotics of him having a white partner. I couldn’t glean from any of these pieces what they believe Glover is receiving or giving up because of his partner’s whiteness. They certainly don’t say her white privilege could grant him greater access or make him more palatable to white fans. One piece says, hey, what if he talks to her about his work and she responds and that influences him and then…? No. Just no. Her whiteness does not transform his blackness. Stop acting like his white mate could infect him with wackness like she might give him a cold. He’s Atlanta. He’s “Redbone.” He’s “This Is America.” He’s Lando freakin’ Calrissian. Right now he exudes dopeness the way you perspire sweat.
I take this one a little more personally because my wife is not black and I’ve had that weaponized against me more than once. It’s usually brought up as a disqualifier, as if marrying someone from outside the community means your blackness is somehow suspect or compromised, and it inhibits you from being an artist exploring the community. Really? How is that?
Both before and after I married my wife, I was a black writer who was fascinated by the epic creations of black culture. The marriage didn’t change that. Your spouse’s whiteness doesn’t shield you from racism and white privilege; it doesn’t undercut your blackness like baking soda in cocaine. You don’t get a Get Out of Racism card when you marry white. No matter what you do, you stay black ’til you die. I love my wife and my culture and there’s no need for a think piece to interrogate the space between those two great loves.