Black children growing up in the United States often experience a range of emotions and complexities pertaining to Black American history and their identity in the country. They may feel embarrassment, shame, or anger brought about by history lessons discussing slavery and racism. Some have feelings of resentment or displacement as they realize they can only trace their family history back a few generations, unlike their white counterparts. Or, they may have difficulty feeling proud of their identity in America.
These feelings are the basis of Alana Tyson’s children’s book, My Red, White, and Blue, which navigates these emotions through the eyes of a young Black boy in a conversation with his grandfather. With engaging, lyrical text, and breathtaking art from ALA Carnegie Medal of Excellence winner London Ladd, the book fits precisely into conversations today about Black identity in America and the different ways people find meaning in it.
The idea for the book came to Tyson in 2016, as she was out shopping for summer clothes for her then-nine-year-old son. She saw a T-shirt with the American flag that she wanted, but when she reached for it, she hesitated.
“I questioned if having my son wear the shirt would make him (or us, his parents) seem unsympathetic to the Black community—like traitors, even,” Tyson shares. “At the time, there were increased shootings of unarmed Black men and teens in cities across the US, and the NFL was under increased scrutiny due to Kaepernick and other players and celebrities kneeling and silently protesting.”
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While she fully understood the perspective of those kneeling and protesting, Tyson also felt there was a voice in that conversation that was not being heard—that of the Black person who salutes the flag in honor of their ancestors and leaders who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms enjoyed by Black Americans today.
“Black Americans helped build America from its infancy, and many continue to do so through civil and military service, education, and activism—me included, as a federal employee. The fact that I felt conflicted about buying or wearing an American flag didn't sit well with me, and I thought that if I felt this way, how were children dealing with this conversation? So, I sought to create a story that showed both sides. Respectfully.”
Ultimately, the story doesn't advocate for any side, but rather advocates for readers to feel empowered and confident in their decision, whatever that might be. While some groups attempt to co-opt the American flag for their own partisan agenda, this book is a bold reminder that it belongs to everyone.
“I hope children take away that their voice matters and is enough. I want children to feel confident knowing that however they choose to relate to the flag is valid, and that they shouldn't be influenced by public figures or media on how they ‘should’ feel. As a Black person, you can love this country and your community simultaneously. You can love this country, and still want it to be better.”
The book touches on the American Civil War and includes an illustration of the National Museum of African American History and Culture as well as prominent Black figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Barack Obama.
“An iconic image of Colin Kaepernick is included, which is visually stunning. I cried the first time I saw it, because you can tell Ladd really understood the assignment and put his all into helping to tell the story. But also because Kaepernick appears frozen in time, having sacrificed his career for a greater cause, for people who look like me.”
While My Red, White, and Blue doesn't focus on the topic of identity in America solely, it's a perfect catalyst to deeper conversations about race pride and the Black identity. For parents and educators looking to have healthy and healing conversations that allow young people to feel proud about their heritage, this book is a great place to start.
“I wanted this book to inspire a new narrative, one that we, as Black Americans, create and nurture—not one that's force-fed to us. That new narrative being: Black history is woven into each stitch of the flag, so we don't have to disown it for today's injustices; instead, we can salute it in honor of those that came before us.”