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Democracy

Powerful photo series explores Black Americans' complex relationship with the flag

Powerful photo series explores Black Americans' complex relationship with the flag
Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

The American flag has been a symbol of the United States for centuries, but what the U.S.—and thus the flag it represents—has meant to different Americans throughout that time has varied greatly.

Imagine looking at the flag of a country that enslaved you ancestors, generation after generation after generation. Imagine looking at the flag of a country that pushed you and your family off your land and broke every promise it made to your people. Imagine looking at the flag of a country where people who look like you have never truly been free in the way other Americans are.

When your country has repeatedly disappointed, failed, or actively harmed people who look like you, how do you find pride and hope in its symbol?


That's a question explored by two female artists—one Black and one white—in a new photo series, "A New America," which "explores the complicated relationship of African Americans and the American flag." Actress and activist Jameelah Nuriddin served as a model while artist Erin Hammond took photos of her in front of a giant American flag that's more than 100 years old.

Nuriddin explains what inspired the project:

"As a black woman, I've always had a strained relationship with the American flag. If I saw a white person with a huge American flag, I would immediately look around for the Confederate flag or wonder how they would treat me. It's as though extreme patriotism was synonymous with racism.
It changed for me when I listened to the podcast 1619 by the NY Times; in the first episode, Nikole Hannah-Jones speaks about how her father used to always fly the flag in their yard. She reveals how black people are the great perfecters of the Constitution—I've also heard it described that Black people are the conscious of America. My relationship with the flag changed. Instead of seeing oppression and hypocrisy when I look at it, I see my ancestors who built this country. Literally. My lineage comes from Georgia and Alabama. It occurs to me that I am not a stranger in a strange land, but that this is MY country just as much as the racist hick—in some ways even more so. I can fight for it, and reclaim it—in the full glory of what it was meant to be."

In the 8-photo series, Nuriddin combines pledge of allegiance and Black power poses—"The two aren't at odds, but are one," says Nuriddin. And the photos are accompanied by a manifesto, written by Nuriddin, that mirrors the Preamble to the Constitution.

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

We, the people, are creating a world where every woman, man, and non-binary human being is met with dignity and respect. We have learned from the mistakes of our forefathers and are building a new America rooted in the complete and total liberation, support and growth of all people ...

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

... We cease to subjugate black and brown people, whose ancestors built this country and instead uplift, honor and make amends for injustice ...

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

We need to give Lady Justice back her eyes.

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

...Envision a world where all humans are free and equal—where we prize each other over material things—we stand against tyranny and oppression, hatred and fear.

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

We honor the past and learn from those that have come before. We respect the future and leave this world better than we found it. All spiritual and religious doctrines center on one fact—treat each other as we are one. See your siblings on this earth as interconnected.

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

We, the people, envision a world of true liberation. Where the value of a person's life is not placed on how much they own, but how deeply they love...

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

We believe respect and dignity are the birthright of every human being.

In this new America, there is nothing more Un-American than racism. We are divesting hatred, fear, and discrimination from the American Flag—holding it up in a new light that fully realizes and expresses the goals and beliefs written in the Constitution—that all people are created equal.

Erin Hammond and Jameelah Nuriddin

This is our America. We unite, let the hypocrisy fade into the past, and transcend together to finally fully actualize the words of freedom in the Constitution, in totality.

Nuriddin says, "If Black people can reclaim the n-word, we can reclaim the American flag. It doesn't have to be a symbol of hypocrisy and oppression...this is our America too, we can guide this country to fully realize its dream of equality and freedom for all."

"Our need to rise up and support Black lives in all facets is embarrassingly long overdue," adds Hammond, "and I strongly believe we can change this country. It will take perseverance and standing together and getting really uncomfortable at times, but every second of every day we can make movement towards real change and create a New America. Teaming up to bring Jameelah's vision to life was deeply fulfilling. This type of allyship is beautiful and is part of the world that Jameelah and I are fighting for."

The photo series can be viewed on Instagram at @jameelahcreates and @erinhammondart.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

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This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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