Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

A Gray Matter: On Donald Glover and Post-Blackness

on January 03, 2014, 1:00pm

 A Gray Matter: On Donald Glover and Post Blackness

Component is a section of Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, H. Drew Blackburn discusses Childish Gambino and the effect the polarizing rap artist can have on the individual.

In a November concert review, New York Times critic Jon Caramanica dons recent sensation Macklemore, “the first contextually post-black pop-star rapper.” Caramanica expands on this idea, saying, “he is a harbinger of cultural and demographic seismic shifts long in motion. His success has taken place largely outside of the traditional hip-hop ecosystem.” But, can a white guy, one who is simply rapping and earning a few massive hits, be a signifier of post-blackness?

No. It’s not possible because the core philosophy behind post-blackness and the purpose of the term is to challenge methods of blackness. Cultural critic Toure, and author of Who’s Afraid Of Post-Blackness? What It Means To Be Black Nowdefines post-blackness as “attack[ing] and destroy[ing] the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing blackness.” Other than the act of rapping, which has long been homogenized, Macklemore hasn’t exactly changed any conventions or stereotypes of blackness. Maybe, with the nuance of “pop star,” there’s some truth in Caramanica’s proclamation, but still what about Kanye West—a man who has actually attacked the ideas of blackness through his fashion and music. Also, Kanye has paved the road for rappers to obstruct the ideas of blackness, like Kid Cudi and Drake. The most notable from the Kanye West Tree of oddities, in terms of post-blackness, is Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino.

Macklemore

Glover’s career speaks of a man that shatters most stereotypes closely associated with blackness especially those tightly interwoven into rap music. He wrote for an Emmy award-winning television show at 21, graduated from New York University (which has a diversity issue), and isn’t violent or selling drugs in his lyrics. Glover is a distinct representation of post-black in hip-hop, having found his way to success through roads less traveled and a fan base unique from the typical rap fan.

A post-racial society is as realistic as unicorns raining during a locust storm on February 32nd and the concept of post-blackness in of itself makes this obvious. In the eyes of many blackness is a finite set of activities, moods and speech. The inclusion or exclusion based simply on race is hurtful and damaging. It’s safe to say Glover has been teased and complimented on his race. The most relatable example is the inevitability of white people commending him for “talking white,” as if it’s a legitimate compliment and not just deeply racist, or black people writing Glover off for “talking white,” because apparently only white people use grammar correctly.

There’s a scene in the screenplay that’s paired with the Glover’s sophomore album Because the Internet where a pair of women tease Glover’s character, The Boy, about his penis. They insist that he pulls it out. “I’ve never seen a black dick. Is it purple?” One of the women says. “Grape dick,” the other one adds in for a little sting.

That’s an example, too, one that is relatable, but not as common for everyone.

Though his blackness is not always the surface material, Glover’s numbness and self doubt can be ascribed to his meandering between black and white in the eyes of others and himself.

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 2.16.48 AMOn October 14th, Glover was staying at the Marriott Residence Inn. On the hotel’s stationary he scribbled down his thoughts, fears, and desires and uploaded his catharsis to Instagram. “I hate caring what people think,” he wrote in one of the notes. “I’m scared this doesn’t matter at all,” he wrote in another.

Considering the macabre overtones in the Instagram posts, it appeared to many that Glover was on the verge of a massive breakdown. In an interview with NME, Glover glazed over his natural loneliness and shied away from the notion of a breakdown saying he’s “not having a personality crisis, more like a personality burst. I just wanted to be honest.” Glover’s honesty in the posts is a bit uncomfortable. The text has an impenetrable air of a person unveiling his deep depressions to the world because he can’t keep them burrowed any longer: “I’m afraid people hate who I really am. I’m afraid I hate who I really am.”

Here are Glover’s insecurities eating at him. The insecurity involving race rears it’s head too: “I’m afraid people think I hate my race.”

Living in a society and nation that frequently defines its inhabitants in terms of race and class is the the root of Glover’s never-ending loneliness and perpetual ennui. If he can’t feel as though there’s a place that he can belong, how can he be truly happy?

Over at Gawker, poet Kyla Marshell recalls seeing Gambino at a show about two years ago in New York City. In the concert review that’s just a tad bit late she condescendingly illustrates Gambino’s lack of ability to be comfortable in his own skin. “If Donald Gambino weren’t so hurt by the achy split he was made to feel as a well-spoken, non-gangbanging little black boy,” Marshell says “maybe he could find something to say besides, Gee, it really sucked being a well-spoken, non-gangbanging little black boy.”

It’s not the being a well-spoken black boy that eats him up, though, and Marshell does note that Glover’s success is a big last laugh moment for himself, “this is for high school, for the cruelest thugs, for the clueless whites, for the girls who always said no. But not for anyone else.”

But, I disagree.

I’m on a balcony with a friend smoking a cigarette, killing myself softly, talking about Because the Internet. We’re discussing the scathing review on this site and our thoughts on the album. I think it’s okay. My friend says he likes it—no he loves it. But, he’s got an IAMDONALD poster hanging on his living room wall, a signed copy of Camp, and a rare 1 out of 800 first pressing of Because the Internet on vinyl. He’s a big fan of Childish Gambino, the rapper and adores Donald Glover, the man. I ask if he could seriously find himself disappointed with the album. The answer is no.

Why?

“Because his story is so much like mine.”

He wasn’t speaking of the story arc found in the world created for Because The Internet. That isn’t what he sees in himself. It’s Donald Glover the anomaly. The black guy who carved out his own idea of blackness by simply being himself and following his dreams.