“You’re A Grand Old Flag” : Patriotism through fragmentation

Discussions on patriotism and Americanness are currently running rampant across news outlets, online discussion boards and in-person interactions thanks to the present polarizing political atmosphere. While many would prefer to dismiss these discussions out of discomfort or disregard, they are vital topics regarding the wellbeing and future of our nation, a nation that has been grappling with what it means to be an American patriot since its inception. Concerns around patriotism and Americanness received a reviving jolt in the era of modern warfare, especially with the entrance of the United States into World War II and the subsequent Cold War. The tension never resolved in the general subconscious of the American people, leading to our current dilemma of newly visible white supremacy and xenophobia, in large part thanks to our newest armed conflict with combatants in the Middle East.

Artists have been active in the process of making visible the underlying and often unacknowledged tensions regarding who is American and what is a patriot through their art, especially when representing a national symbol like the American flag. Typically, one imagines the flag flapping gloriously at the top of a flag pole, waving in honor of a national military holiday, or representing the foundation of the United States, as we see in both the image of museum-goers admiring the War of 1812’s Star Spangled Banner (fig. 1) and a photo I snapped on family vacation for the 4th of July in 2009 (fig. 2). All of these instances are laden with unquestioning zeal for the hegemonic national narrative of American particularism. While patriotism is a necessary unifying force in creating a national identity, calling individuals to serve one another for an agreed upon larger goal or good, it is also, as Martha C. Nussbaum states in her article “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom,” a means of “inviting those who consider themselves “good” or “true” Americans to distinguish themselves from outsiders and subversives, and then excluding those outsiders.”[1] By critiquing the nation through the breaking down of symbols meant to represent the nation and its dominant narrative, like the flag or the pledge of allegiance, artists open avenues for a critical patriotism that subvert the negative, exclusive expression of patriotism that paves the way towards nationalism. Art can do this by pointing out how limited our general definition of “American” is and provide an expanded perspective on the term. The silent, unacknowledged assumption underlying the title “American” is that it is being applied to a white body of generic and distant European descent that is Christian in upbringing or mentality, if not necessarily in practice.  Our language makes this obvious when examining how the term “American” is applied to people that fall outside of this specification: African American, American Indian, Asian American, Black American, Jewish American, Latino American, Muslim American, etc.  Rarely do we encounter the phrases White American or Anglo American.  An exception in which we might find a white body’s American-ness qualified would be if an individual was a first or recent generation immigrant from a country that, while predominantly Caucasian, historically was not considered white and, thus, established distinct communities in the U.S. An example of this would be immigrants from Ireland or Poland, leading to the appellation Irish American or Polish American.[2]

In thinking critically about how to be patriotic in a way that embraces more than a narrow slice of the American population, we also need to consider how symbols of Americanness are deployed, who they represent, who they protect, who they exclude, and why.  The American flag is a prime example.  It is both an expression of the hegemonic national narrative and an extension of this thinking about who is American. Thus the symbol can be exclusive of those who are othered by the silent definition of “American” and the dominant narrative, since their history and their identity are not recognized by either. If the symbol does not represent this othered person, instead representing an ideology and history that has been directly antagonistic to their existence, it is understandable for that person to seek to break down the symbol so that those who are “American” are aware of the exclusion or so that we as a nation might work towards a more inclusive understanding of who should be represented and protected by that national symbol.

I argue that these two critical actions of fragmenting national symbols and reinterpreting them is one of the highest forms of patriotism, since it guides us towards a broad acknowledgement of how rich and full and complicated our histories and communities are and always have been. What could be more patriotically American than rebellion against a dictatorial status quo that excludes the voices of the populations deemed lesser?  It is this question that led me to consider the work of African American artists that take the American flag as their subject in order to subvert typical understandings of the symbol as patriotic and to reconstruct a more critical patriotism that lets the struggles and triumphs of non-hegemonic communities and individuals, specifically those that are African or Black American, own claim to that flag by playing an active role in building the future of America. While this idea of critical patriotism may seem foreign to the standard definition of patriotism as simply “love of or devotion to one’s country,”[3] it does function under the operational definition of patriotism laid out in Nussbaum’s article, mentioned previously, in which she defines patriotism thusly: “I shall understand patriotism as a strong emotion taking the nation as its object.  As I shall understand it, it is a form of love, and thus distinct from simple approval, or commitment, or embrace of principles.  It is closely connected to the feeling that the nation is one’s own, and it usually includes some reference to that idea in its rituals.”[4]

The American flag in modern art: an origin story

Before commencing with the works of the African American artists key to my argument, I first wish to contextualize how the American flag entered the modern art stage on a national scale as a subject in its own right, distinct from its incidental inclusion in history paintings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Jasper Johns (b. 1930), to my knowledge and the general consensus of art critics, was the first artist to focus solely on the flag with his Flag (1954-55) (fig. 3), causing quite a stir in the Abstract Expressionist movement dominating the time.[5] Despite or perhaps due to the political atmosphere of the United States in recovery from the Second World War and presently in the grip of the Cold War, both Abstract Expressionism and Johns’ supposed rebellion against it with works that included recognizable symbols and sculpture removed art from national or international political commentary.

Flag (1954-55) embodies the artistic version of uncritical acceptance of the American flag as a symbol. Johns does fragment the flag, but only to make the viewer recognize the independent geometric components that go into the composition of the emblem, not the messaging underlying the flag symbolically. The flag itself was irrelevant to Johns beyond that it was a recognizable symbol that forced the viewer to look more closely at the surface of the painting to understand how the symbol might itself be considered art.[6] Essentially, Flag (1954-55) enabled Johns to focus on the fetishization of the surface of a painting.

Faith Ringgold’s Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger, 1969

Over a decade later, the United States found itself fully embroiled in the Vietnam War, a proxy war within the Cold War conflict with the USSR. The power structure of the U.S. was highly invested in reestablishing a united domestic front in the face of widespread opposition to American involvement in international conflicts. As one means of accomplishing this, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act of 1968, an expansion of a flag protection law from 1948 that had been limited to Washington D.C. The primary clause of the law stated that “[w]hoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.”[7] Only two weeks after the passing of the Flag Protection Act, Apollo 11—the result of the Space Race that served as another extension of the Cold War—planted the first flag on the moon, claiming it for proud, “good” America of hegemonic, exclusive myth.

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930)—an artist from Harlem who completed her B.S. in Fine Art and Education at the City College of New York the same year that Johns shocked the art word with his Flag (1954-55)—responded to the tensions running through an America that was experiencing a push for racial and gender equality, a reevaluation of its international activities, and American supremacy as unquestioned global power.[8] She accomplished this by creating two series of works, American People (1962-1967) and Black Light (1967-1969). From American People, two paintings (fig. 4 and 5) depicted the American flag with critical context to make the viewer question for whom the flag exists, whom it excludes, and how the flag can be used to reflect the contemporary state of America. While these paintings are worthy of papers in their own right, it is Ringgold’s 1969 painting Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger from the Black Light series that I believe packs the most intense punch in performing Nussbaum’s critical patriotism.[9]

Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger (fig. 6) serves as an assertive, emotional and didactic portrayal of how Ringgold, as an African American woman, has been treated by those who consider themselves good, proper (white) Americans. This painting expresses precisely that problematic side of patriotism Nussbaum pointed out that serves as a means of “inviting those who consider themselves “good” or “true” Americans to distinguish themselves from outsiders and subversives, and then excluding those outsiders.”[10] In this instance, the viewer is made to understand that Ringgold has been made the subversive outsider that is not a true American and, thus, the flag becomes just another sign for where she is not welcome and the rights those who are “American” wish to deny her. The viewer feels an echo of the aggressive exclusion that the artist has experienced. As Karen Brodkin wrote in her article “How Jews Became White Folks,” “[o]ne of the greatest privileges of whiteness is that you don’t have to spend all your time and energy defending your collective right to exist.”[11] Ringgold makes visible this privilege and viscerally expresses the experience of living in a country where she is treated as a lesser citizen and her silence is demanded through laws like the Flag Protection Act.[12]

This is accomplished through the composition of the painting. Ringgold ensured that this ultimate symbol of American pride metaphorically embodied her experience by simultaneously hiding and making inseparable from the flag the text “DIE NIGGER.” Under the stars, in a subdued black, lies the word “die.” The stripes of the flag subtly spell out the word “nigger.” Due to the painting’s composition, it takes the viewer a moment to realize that she is not examining a faithful but artistic rendering of the standard American flag. Then, the viewer has to exert effort and contort herself to read what is actually being represented. In this way, Ringgold renders the work of Johns’ Flag (1954-55) an immature novelty;[13] she uses the same stratagem of taking something familiar and making it unfamiliar, but then does more than play devil’s advocate to a movement out of touch with the reality around it. Instead, Ringgold takes on the responsibility of being an artist, of being able to communicate directly with people who have been, willfully or unconsciously, unaware of the experience of America beyond the one presented by the narrow national narrative invested in silencing those who are made outsiders. She performs the necessary act of telling her story that allows people to make a human, concrete connection to this othered experience. As Nussbaum again illuminates:

a reliable way to trigger altruistic emotion in human adults is to ask them to listen with vivid involvement to another person’s story of woe.  Without such a narrative…helping behavior is not triggered…If altruistic emotion is to have motivational power, then, it needs to hitch itself to the concrete.  The idea of the nation…needs… above all, narratives of struggle, involving suffering and hope.

Ringgold accomplishes this necessary act of bringing people close, or making them feel, and thus opens the way for an expanded narrative to represent the “American experience,” allowing for a hopeful future in which the flag representing the United States no longer screams “Die nigger” at those previously not deemed properly American.

Dread Scott’s What is the Proper Way To Display A US Flag?, 1989

The 1980s were marked by economic recession, staggering unemployment, a savings and loans crisis, and the ‘tough on crime’ and precursors to the ‘war on drugs’ policies that exacerbated already tense relations between the police, the courts and the African American community. It is this continued institutional and physical violence against the black community and the rise of neoliberalist policies that led Dread Scott (b. 1965) to finally combine his activism and his art, resulting in What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? (fig. 7).[14] The work depended upon audience participation. Visitors could walk up to a shelf supporting a notebook in which to write their response to the work and to share how a U.S. flag should be displayed. In order not to stand on the three by five foot flag placed under the shelf while writing that response, they would have to lean awkwardly over the edges of it to reach the response book or move the flag. Above the shelf was a print of caskets covered by American flags with Korean protestors carrying anti-American signs. The installation elicited quite a response, even inspiring condemnation from President George Bush, Sr. and the national Congress.[15] Congress went so far as to institute another expansion to the Flag Protection Act. Despite full knowledge of the unconstitutionality of the law, Congress continued its maneuverings, allowing the police and the courts to move forward with imprisonments. The Supreme Court of the United States maintained in the subsequent case regarding the law that it was indeed unconstitutional under the First Amendment, as “the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”[16]

Its very disagreeableness is actually what makes the installation so useful. It takes a symbol that we as a nation generally accept unquestioningly, performing ritualized acts before and around it without taking into account those excluded from Americanness or perspectives deviating from the prescribed narrative. As Steven C. Dubin recounts in his chapter “Rally ‘Round the Flag” from Arresting Images, the judge who was meant to sign an injunction keeping the exhibition from opening refused to do so, pointing out that “[t]his exhibition is as much an invitation to think about the flag…as it is an invitation to step on the flag.”[17] Like Ringgold’s Flag for the Moon, this work makes viewers acknowledge and consider their preconceptions tied to this symbol of Americanness. Scott’s approach to critical patriotism, however, is even more demanding of the audience. He does not allow attendees simply to react and think but structures his installations so that they, in processing and reaching conclusions, must implicate themselves in both the installation and the other attendees and their reactions. As Scott himself states in an interview, “even if they thought, ‘this guy’s a real asshole and he has no clue what he’s talking about,’ I wanted them to be very much bound up with saying, ‘this guy’s a real asshole and he has no clue what he’s talking about.’ And have that be part of the work.”[18] This exhibition served as an exemplar of his approach. Take some of these selections from the response book, for instance:[19]

Dear Dread, Like someone who viewed the exhibit, I began reading other people’s comments standing next to the flag, but gradually moved to standing on it. As someone raised to be iconoclastic (at least I thought I was) it was an interesting moment of self-awareness, which (I think) is the whole purpose of the display. Perhaps when human life and liberty is really valued above property (and symbols) in America we will all have more allegiance to the principles of “liberty” and “justice” for all. Congratulations on your courage in getting arrested to test this crazy law.

P.S. Kudos to the gallery for their courage. Why is it OK to “Knowingly maintain on the ground homeless people but not the flag”???[20]

Hi, the flag is now folded on the shelf. I have the right to unfold it, but the veterans are here and I’m afraid to. Is it right (is it American) for me to feel afraid to exercise my rights?

Right now a lady is on the ground crying because of what you have done. I feel you did something wrong and I feel you should be put in jail or have something done to you for this. I love my country and it hurts me to know that don’t. I hope you feel good about yourself for what you are putting people through. You’re an asshole.

In these responses, it is clear that participants were being drawn into the discourse around critical patriotism, a patriotism that grapples with the diversity of people and experiences contained within a broader definition of American, as well as confronting how people make the nation one’s own through ritual, as Nussbaum dictated in her characterization of patriotism.[21]

The conflict surrounding the exhibition, I believe, stems from a feeling that the nation as one’s own in an exclusive way was threatened. As Nussbaum writes, “[t]o say what a given nation is, is to select from all the unordered material of the past and present a clear narrative that emphasizes some things and omits others, all in the service of pointing to what the future may hold.”[22] Justice Frankfurter of the Supreme Court of the United States appears to have held similar views given the decision he authored for Minersville School District v. Gobitis in 1940. Written at a time when the government was equally invested in cementing a cooperative relationship between the state and its citizenry, especially regarding “how to inspire national subjects to perform and embody unity and order of the people, the law, and the state,” Frankfurter concluded that “[w]e live by symbols. The flag is the symbol of our national unity, transcending all internal differences, however large, within the framework of the Constitution.”[23] What is the Proper Way to Display A US Flag? attempted to rewrite the hegemonic narrative by reordering materials and activities from the past and present that had previously been glossed over, making it so that the flag really might have a chance to transcend internal differences so that we all are represented and protected by the flag as equal Americans.

David Hammons’ African American Flag, 1990

David Hammons (b. 1943) created his African American Flag (fig. 8) just one year after Scott’s What is the Proper Way to Display A US Flag?. 1990 marked the year that the U.S. began its involvement in the Gulf War and the Supreme Court’s decision defending the First Amendment in United States v. Eichman, as well as the year that the first black mayor of New York City was elected. Though born in the Midwest and trained on the West Coast, Hammons found his way to New York City by 1975 and, thus, was present during this landmark election.

In this atmosphere of continued antagonism and small steps of progress, Hammons conceived his African American Flag. Hammons certainly created other works that placed the American flag in the forefront and illustrated how it, as a symbol of the American Dream, has served as an insult to the communities excluded from being considered “American” and from the protection of that flag (for instance, fig. 9). However, the African American Flag opens up a space for some resolution to assuage some of the pain of the African American experience in the U.S. through reclamation.[24] I do not suggest that the positivity in Hammons’ flag is at all one dimensional; instead, his flag acknowledges the exclusion and pain woven into the flag, while still resulting in a hopeful and forceful assertion of identity and ownership. It is this transcendence of trauma that allows Hammons’ work to create a close connection to “the feeling that the nation is one’s own” that is essential to Nussbaum’s critical patriotism.[25]

As Albert Biome states in his article “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” the American flag is a symbol tied up in the emotional myth that “all Americans can find themselves somewhere within its folds,” while actually serving as a means of excluding those who aren’t sufficiently “American” or who “do not accept their definition of patriotic loyalty.”[26] Hammons channels this idea, acknowledging the power and exclusion that both the American and the Pan-African flags hold, then subverting those characteristics by intertwining the two.

Before elaborating on that idea, first we must better understand the Pan-African flag (fig. 10). According to the Universal Negro Catechism, the three bands of red, black and green hold great symbolic significance:

Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland.[27]

The flag was created for the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which Marcus Garvey founded in 1914. Garvey created the Association as the operational arm of the Pan-African movement. The Pan-African movement intended for all people of African descent, both those who emigrated directly from Africa to America and those who descended from other regions as a result of the African diaspora, to band together for the wellbeing of all African peoples. As part of this banding together, all these people of African descent were to develop independent self-reliance separate from white America and colonial power in order to secure economic independence and return to Africa, the “Motherland.” As a symbol of this unity and independence, Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association created the Pan-African flag. Garvey’s own words best express the significance of this action: “Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, ‘Every race has a flag but the coon.’ How true! Aye! But…[t]hey can’t say it now.”[28] While this was highly empowering for the African and African diasporic communities, it did and still does efface the individual uniqueness of each community and insists upon regarding Africa as the only place of belonging. Like the American flag, the Pan-African flag’s intended universality privileges one perspective and excludes others.

Hammons’ flag turns the nonintegrationist and African-centric attitudes of the Pan-African movement on their heads through the melding of both the Pan-African and American flags.[29] As Garvey announced, there is pride in having a flag, an emblem of togetherness and belonging. Hammons, with his flag, makes a bold declaration of belonging and ownership of place here in the United States for the African American and diasporic community. The combination of the two acknowledges the exclusionary weaknesses of both while celebrating how the African American community has been integral to the development of the United States and boasts a rich history and culture that has roots in the United States and will continue to grow and flourish here. This flag shouts that the African American community deserves representation here in the United States as fully acknowledged and visible Americans who maintain a claim to the American Dream after centuries of hypocrisy that allowed them only an American Nightmare.[30] In this, we see a proud assertion of critical patriotism, one that dramatically expands the definition of American and, thus, America.

Thornton Dial’s Don’t Matter How Raggly The Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together, 2003

The early 2000s marked a turn in American self-conception and a heightened fear of the other thanks to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 and the commencement of the U.S. “War on Terror.” Thornton Dial (1928-2016), a self-taught artist from Alabama who regularly engaged artistically with current events in his later career, created a number of works in the first decade of the 2000s related to the domestic tensions around who is and is not American and how all parties feel about one another. These works function twofold; they expose the fervor of terror and compulsory unity and work to find calm through acceptance of what is past. They also strive for identifying common ground in one another’s humanity for a more hopeful future. As Dial himself expressed:

I always be looking to the future. I respect the past of life, but I don’t worry too much about it because it’s done passed. The struggles that we all have did, those struggles can teach us how to make improvement for the future. Art is like a bright star up ahead in the darkness of the world. It can lead peoples through the darkness and help them from being afraid of the darkness.[31]

Four works, in particular, operate within this mentality. Everybody Loves the United States (fig. 11) strikes a chord of horror for those who have perished on all sides of this conflict and demands a sense of self-awareness of the consequences of our actions as a nation. Don’t Matter How Raggly The Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together (fig. 12) embodies the sundering of the idea that we, as a nation, are all right, that we are unified in opinion and experience. But it also demands that we acknowledge that we still have to live with one another. We still have to find a way to pick up and carry on as a country, even after all that we have done to one another and to the world.[32] New Veteran’s Day (fig. 13) forces the viewer to recognize the cost and consequence of combat on the soldiers who return from the war in which we find ourselves. It acknowledges that loss and recognizes the importance of remembering and honoring those who have experience it in the name of this country. Finally, We All Live Under The Same Old Flag (fig. 14) captures a more forlorn America, one that has shredded itself to the point of near unrecognizableness and must now find a new identity based upon common ground. It hints at the opportunity to rebuild in a way that allows the flag to symbolically represent a new America, populated by Americans by an expanded definition.

Dial’s work from this time directly confronts the debate about who is American. Dial did, when visualizing this dispute, seem to occasionally reference who is American in terms of nationality, but more particularly, his work grapples with who among those of American nationality is allowed to consider themselves belonging to the term “American.” The works that distill this conflict in its clearest form are, unsurprisingly, his works that are fragmented recreations of the American flag. Everybody Loves The United States and New Veteran’s Day, while rendered in the colors of the national flag, maintain a greater focus on expanding the viewer’s empathy to include those impacted by a war that has been unpopular domestically, rather than redefining Americanness. Don’t Matter How Raggly The Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together and We All Live Under The Same Old Flag, however, speak directly to allowing ourselves as Americans to disagree fundamentally with one another while still working towards a future that allows us all to be visible and heard, no matter what modifier is placed before the word “American.”

Nussbaum’s accounting of the French philosopher Ernst Renan’s ideas on nation describes the phenomenon illustrated by these two works. Renan argued that “a nation is not simply a physical location, it is an idea, a ‘spiritual principle.’  This spiritual principle involves, on the one hand, a story of the past, usually a story of adversity and suffering, and then a commitment to the future, a willingness to live together and face adversities for the sake of common goals.”[33] With his fractured, scrappy, battle torn flags that work to capture the struggle of defining and asserting American identity, Dial allows the viewer to see that, even as we rip apart at the seams, we cannot escape being Americans together, no matter how much we have fought against it.

Towards a hopeful future through critical patriotism

These four African American artists, through their fragmentary revisionings of the American flag, have made strides towards reclaiming this symbol of Americanism from the stranglehold of hegemonic rhetoric. These efforts have produced potent expressions of critical patriotism and declarations of Americanness. Faith Ringgold made her experience as an outsider in America visible, soliciting personal connection between her story and the viewer and pointing out the need for a broader understanding of who is protected under the word American and under the flag. Dread Scott, by implicating visitors in the art making process, pointed to the ritual sanctity many Americans grant to symbols. The infuriated response to the questioning of this ritualization by those comfortable in the current power imbalance—even in the face of those deeply betrayed by the failure of the government and society to “deliver on the flag’s promise”—exposed how unacknowledged, ignored and harmful the experience of America has remained for so many Americans not granted full acknowledgement as Americans despite the Civil Rights movement and continued efforts for equality.[34] In David Hammons’ work, viewers witness a playful but assertive declaration of belonging by African Americans. He artfully made the point that African Americans have played a significant role in establishing America, that the community has a rich history, and that they deserve to be visible and own their place here in the United States as full Americans. Dial offers up a hopeful future for all those who have been betrayed by America and excluded from the protections the flag is meant to extend. The viewer cannot help but feel the rage and resentment that rended the flag, both from those who have been refused their place in its folds and from those who have ensured that individuals who do not fit the white skinned, Christian-leaning mold of Americanness have not found a place. But because Dial already sees a world in which all Americans are true Americans, he pushes the nation to find a way to make it work going forward together, no matter how messy the process.

Even while some may fuss that these artistic subversions and recreations of this national symbol are disrespectful, it is through critical patriotism that true common ground and freedom for all might be found. As artist Edward Kienholz expressed when a viewer of his installation The Portable War Memorial (fig. 15) raged at him for his irreverent treatment of the flag, he loves America “as much as any patriot but hoped, in his own way, ‘to change it’” for the better using a more critical patriotism to avoid blind acceptance of the symbolism of the flag in order to prevent further tragedy and injustice.[35] All of these artists display this same hope with their unique treatments of the flag. Through fragmenting and reconstituting the flag, they bring forward critical understandings of what we take for granted, who is excluded, and where America needs to change in order to move forward positively. With continued police brutality, mass incarceration of Black and Latino Americans, institutionalized racism and xenophobia, an Executive Branch populated by white supremacists, and a news cycle obsessed with division and fear mongering, we are in dire need of a prompt and inclusive reimagining of Americanness. These artworks can help get us there.

Figures

Fig. 1

National Museum of American History, Star-Spangled Banner, 1989.

Fig. 2

Elizabeth Grab, 4th of July, Boston’s South Shore, 2009.

Fig. 3

Jasper Johns, Flag (1954-55), 1954, Museum of Modern Art.

Fig. 4

Faith Ringgold, The American People Series #13: God Bless America, 1964

Fig. 5

Faith Ringgold, The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding, 1967.

Fig. 6

Faith Ringgold, Black Light Series: Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger, 1969.

Fig. 7

Dread Scott, What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, Installation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1989

Fig. 8

David Hammons, African American Flag, 1990, Museum of Modern Art

Fig. 9

David Hammons, Injustice Case, 1970, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Fig. 10

Universal Negro Improvement Association, Pan-African flag, 1920.

Fig. 11

Thornton Dial, Everybody Loves The United States, 2002

Fig. 12

Thornton Dial, Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together, 2003, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Fig. 13

Thornton Dial, New Veteran’s Day, 2004

Fig. 14

Thornton Dial, We All Live Under the Same Old Flag, 2008

Fig. 15

Edward Kienholz, The Portable War Memorial, 1968

End notes

[1] Martha C. Nussbaum, “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom,” The University of Chicago Law Review 79, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 215-216.

[2] These distinctions are holdovers from a previous, even narrower definition of whiteness than the one under which we currently operate as a country.  For more on how Polish immigrants became white, see Sarah Kendzior, “How do you become “white” in America?,” De Correspondent, 1 September 2016. https://thecorrespondent.com/5185/how-do-you-become-white-in-america/1466577856645-8260d4a7.

[3] Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. (June 2005), s.v. “patriotism.”

[4] Nussbaum, “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom:” 217. This definition I find preferable to typical, uncritical definitions of patriotism, since it returns subtlety to the term, allowing it to function as distinct from nationalism, which can be understood as an amplification of the negative, xenophobic aspect of patriotism pointed out by Nussbaum. Operating under the standard definitions, the two terms function interchangeably in a way that discounts the connotations of fear and anger that accompany nationalism.

[5] Albert Boime, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 3. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108982; Kate Taylor, “Jasper Johns Without Flags,” The New York Sun, 25 January 2007. http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/ps/i.do?p=STND&sw=w&u=unc_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA166481998&sid=summon&asid=905e710c6bef3fd69313893f7245484f.

[6] “Jasper Johns Flag 1954-55,” Museum of Modern Art, 2011, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78805.

[7] United States 90th Congress, 18 U.S.C. 700, et. seq., 5 July 1968, http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title18-section700&num=0&edition=prelim.

[8] Lonnae O’Neal Parker, “Faith Ringgold exhibit challenges America to see its true colors,” The Middletown Press, 19 July 2013. http://www.middletownpress.com/article/MI/20130619/NEWS/306199913.

[9] The title of the work, harkening back to the planting of a flag on the moon to claim it, calls to mind the “imperial aggrandizement” inherent in national flags, especially that of the United States, which adds stars as it adds territory. While I will not be pursuing this idea and the colonizing of the othered body that follows it, more on the imperialist ties of flags can be found in Albert Biome, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 2-25.

[10] Nussbaum, “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom:” 215-216.

[11] Karen Brodkin, “How Jews Became White Folks — and May Become Nonwhite

Under Trump,” Forward Association, Inc., 6 December 2016. http://forward.com/opinion/356166/how-jews-became-white-folks-and-may-become-nonwhite-under-trump/.

[12] “Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s are the Focus of an Exhibition,” ArtDaily, September 2010. http://artdaily.com/news/40753/Faith-Ringgold-s-Paintings-of-the-1960s-are–the-Focus-of-an-Exhibition#.WRe85xPytE5.

[13] For more on Jasper Johns’ work as an exercise in novelty, see Jed Perl, “Flag Burning: The sly fakery of Jasper Johns,” The New Republic [Washington D.C.], 2 December 1996: 42. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212799216?accountid=14244. For a more positive reflection on Johns’ Flag (1954-55) and its significance, see Albert Boime, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 2-25.

[14] “Interview: Dread Scott,” Neo-Griot: Kalamu ya Salaam’s information blog, 10 April 2012. http://kalamu.com/neogriot/2013/09/27/interview-dread-scott/.

[15] Mike Royko, “Ah, the flag: Such a useful symbol,” Chicago Tribune, 15 March 1989: 3. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1989/03/15/page/3/article/ah-the-flag-such-a-useful-symbol.

[16] Supreme Court of the United States, “United States v. Eichman 496 U.S. 310 (1990),” JUSTIA US Supreme Court, 1990. https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/496/310/case.html.

[17] Steven C. Dubin, “Rally ‘Round the Flag,” Arresting Images: Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.,1992), 111. For more information on the exhibition, this text provides the most comprehensive accounting of the installation and its context.

[18] “Interview: Dread Scott,” Neo-Griot: Kalamu ya Salaam’s information blog, 10 April 2012. http://kalamu.com/neogriot/2013/09/27/interview-dread-scott/.

[19] These quotations are drawn from the samples provided by Dread Scott from his description of the installation on his website. I selected these particular entries due to their direct response not only to the exhibition, but also to the response or presence of other attendees. Dread Scott, “What Is The Proper Way to Display A US Flag?,” Dread Scott, n.d. http://www.dreadscott.net/works/what-is-the-proper-way-to-display-a-us-flag/.

[20] This final quotation seems to be drawn from another response earlier in the response book.

[21] I make this assertion with the full knowledge that Dread Scott himself is a communist with firm beliefs that our current system needs not to simply be overhauled but to be entirely replaced by a community form of government. Despite this impulse underlying his work, the principles of critical patriotism still hold both for his behavior and for the participants in the exhibition.

[22] Nussbaum, “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom:” 220-221.

[23] Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson, A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America (New York: New York University Press 2013), 109; F. Neil Brady, “Ethical Theory and Public Service,” Papers on the Ethics of Administration, ed. N. Dale Wright (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1998), 233.

[24] Albert Boime, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” Smithsonian

Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108982.

[25] Antwaun Sargent, “David Hammons: The Private Public Artist,” The Nation, 25 March 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/david-hammons-the-private-public-artist/; Nussbaum, “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom:” 217.

[26] Albert Boime, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” Smithsonian

Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 5. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108982.

[27] George Alexander McGuire, Universal Negro Catechism: a course of instruction in religious and historical knowledge pertaining to the race (New York: Universal Negro Improvement Association, 1921), 32. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100790616.

[28] Marcus Garvey in speech on 19 March 1927, quoted from “Honorable Marcus Garvey, Gifted Man of Vision, Sets Out In Unanswerable Terms the Reasons Why Negroes Must Build in Africa,” Negro World 21, no. 6 (1927).

[29] Holland Cotter, “Invoking Marcus Garvey While Looking Ahead,” New York Times, 24 August 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/24/arts/art-review-invoking-marcus-garvey-while-looking-ahead.html.

[30] Antwaun Sargent, “David Hammons: The Private Public Artist,” The Nation, 25 March 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/david-hammons-the-private-public-artist/.

[31] Thornton Dial, “Thornton Dial,” Souls Grown Deep, n.d. http://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/thornton-dial.

[32] Corinne Segal, “How a sharecropper’s son with a third-grade education changed the definition of the word ‘artists’,” PBS NewsHour, 29 January 2016. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/thornton-dial-paintings/; Maxwell L. Anderson, “Most Comprehensive Exhibition of the Work of Thornton Dial to Premier at the IMA in 2011,” ArtDaily.org, 2010. http://artdaily.com/news/42507/Most-Comprehensive-Exhibition-of-the-Work-of-Thornton-Dial-to-Premiere-at-the-IMA-in-2011#.WRn5SRMrJE4.

[33] Nussbaum, “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom:” 221.

[34] Albert Boime, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory,” Smithsonian

Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108982.

[35] Albert Boime, “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory:” 17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108982.

Bibliography

Anderson, Maxwell L. “Most Comprehensive Exhibition of the Work of Thornton Dial to Premier at the IMA in 2011.” ArtDaily.org, 2010. http://artdaily.com/news/42507/Most-Comprehensive-Exhibition-of-the-Work-of-Thornton-Dial-to-Premiere-at-the-IMA-in-2011#.WRn5SRMrJE4.

Boime, Albert. “Waving the Red Flag and Reconstituting Old Glory.” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 4, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 2-25. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108982.

Brady, F. Neil. “Ethical Theory and Public Service.” Papers on the Ethics of Administration, ed. N. Dale Wright. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1998.

Brodkin, Karen. “How Jews Became White Folks — and May Become Nonwhite Under Trump.” Forward Association, Inc., 6 December 2016. http://forward.com/opinion/356166/how-jews-became-white-folks-and-may-become-nonwhite-under-trump/.

Chambers-Letson, Joshua Takano. A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Cotter, Holland. “Invoking Marcus Garvey While Looking Ahead.” New York Times, 24 August 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/24/arts/art-review-invoking-marcus-garvey-while-looking-ahead.html.

Dial, Thornton. “Thornton Dial.” Souls Grown Deep, n.d. http://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/thornton-dial.

Dubin, Steven C. Arresting Images: Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1992.

“Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s are the Focus of an Exhibition.” ArtDaily, September 2010. http://artdaily.com/news/40753/Faith-Ringgold-s-Paintings-of-the-1960s-are–the-Focus-of-an-Exhibition#.WRe85xPytE5.

“Interview: Dread Scott.” Neo-Griot: Kalamu ya Salaam’s information blog, 10 April 2012. http://kalamu.com/neogriot/2013/09/27/interview-dread-scott/.

“Jasper Johns Flag 1954-55.” Museum of Modern Art. 2011. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78805.

Kendzior, Sarah. “How do you become “white” in America?” De Correspondent, 1 September 2016. https://thecorrespondent.com/5185/how-do-you-become-white-in-america/1466577856645-8260d4a7.

McGuire, George Alexander. Universal Negro Catechism: a course of instruction in religious and historical knowledge pertaining to the race. New York: Universal Negro Improvement Association, 1921. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100790616.

Nussbaum, Martha C. “Teaching Patriotism: Love and Critical Freedom.” The University of Chicago Law Review 79, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 213-250. Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. (June 2005. S.v. “patriotism.”

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Perl, Jed. “Flag Burning: The sly fakery of Jasper Johns.” The New Republic [Washington D.C.], 2 December 1996: 42. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212799216?accountid=14244.

Royko, Mike. “Ah, the flag: Such a useful symbol,” Chicago Tribune, 15 March 1989: 3. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1989/03/15/page/3/article/ah-the-flag-such-a-useful-symbol.

Sargent, Antwaun. “David Hammons: The Private Public Artist.” The Nation, 25 March 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/david-hammons-the-private-public-artist/.

Scott, Dread. “What Is The Proper Way to Display A US Flag?” Dread Scott, n.d. http://www.dreadscott.net/works/what-is-the-proper-way-to-display-a-us-flag/.

Segal, Corinne. “How a sharecropper’s son with a third-grade education changed the definition of the word ‘artists’,” PBS NewsHour, 29 January 2016. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/thornton-dial-paintings/.

Supreme Court of the United States. “United States v. Eichman 496 U.S. 310 (1990).” JUSTIA US Supreme Court, 11 June 1990. https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/496/310/case.html.

Taylor, Kate. “Jasper Johns Without Flags.” The New York Sun, 25 January 2007. http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/ps/i.do?p=STND&sw=w&u=unc_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA166481998&sid=summon&asid=905e710c6bef3fd69313893f7245484f.

United States 90th Congress. 18 U.S.C. 700: Desecration of the flag of the United States; penalties. 5 July 1968. http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title18-section700&num=0&edition=prelim.

Universal Negro Improvement Association. “Honorable Marcus Garvey, Gifted Man of Vision, Sets Out In Unanswerable Terms the Reasons Why Negroes Must Build in Africa,” Negro World 21, no. 6 (1927).

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