Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Digging in America's Backyard: Southern Artist Omar Thompson Questions Notions of Patriotism

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Digging in America's Backyard: Southern Artist Omar Thompson Questions Notions of Patriotism

Article excerpt

By the end of the day on September 11, 2001, America had changed in ways never imagined just 24 hours earlier. The American flag, imagined flapping briskly in the wind, became the most common symbol characterizing this new American self-image. Businesses and vehicles displayed it proudly, songs were written, hip-hop artists produced videos, and recent immigrant groups displayed it proudly to show their patriotism and offset anti-immigrant sentiments already in the air.

Had the "American Dream" finally become reality? Was a disunited America finally united? Many remained suspicious but their voices were drowned in a sea of patriotism promoted by ordinary citizens of all racial groups, the media, and public officials.

Omar Thompson, an African American artist in Atlanta, took the advice of the rap group Public Enemy and never "believed the hype." Thompson watched with profound curiosity as black-occupied vehicles wrapped themselves in the American flag like their white counterparts and joined in the "we celebrate America too" caravan. What was going on? Had so many African Americans suddenly gotten amnesia, forgotten how they arrived in America--the pain of the slave trade, the middle-passage, and life on the plantations throughout the Americas and the Caribbean? Even more recently, had African Americans forgotten the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement? Were the dogs and fire hoses, bombed churches and dead children erased from black memory banks?

What resulted from Thompson's questioning was an artistic output of more than 20 pieces in less than a year. …

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