The Personas of Donald Glover
Black Minstrelsy and the Badman in the 21st Century
In this essay, I argue that Donald Glover takes on the personas of the minstrel and the badman in order to fully encapsulate black personhood. By taking up these historical personas in new ways, Glover humanizes black personhood by commenting on the distinction between “artist” and “black artist” while embodying both ideals at the same time. In Community, Glover’s earliest work, his character Troy Barnes plays on the ideals of the minstrel, while in “This Is America,” Childish Gambino plays both with the ideas regarding the minstrel and the badman by both taking part in the tradition and signifying on it. However, in Glover’s recent show Atlanta, his character Earnest Marks enters new territory that moves beyond the tropes of either the minstrel or badman. In this way, Glover’s work not only embodies black entertainment but also provides a meta-commentary on both its past and its future by demonstrating the central paradox of this enterprise: that black entertainment relies on the very racist stereotypes that it aims to reverse.
In this context, Glover subverts the racism of the white mainstream through his minstrel and badman personas while also pointing a way beyond these tropes. Through this subversion of the white mainstream, Glover shows that black artistry and artistry need not be mutually exclusive; instead, Glover’s performances as both black artist and an artist who is black show that black entertainers can inhabit and portray both identities simultaneously. By joining these portrayals, Glover creates mainstream media with a complexity that fully encompasses the personhood of Blackamericans, acknowledging the impacts of systemic racism while also representing them beyond the reductive tropes of the minstrel and the badman.
Faculty Mentor: Jillian Skeffington
Department: English (Honours)