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When That Flag Flies with Tameka Fryer Brown

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Tameka Fryer Brown shares That Flag, an affecting picture book that challenges the meaning behind the still-waving Confederate flag through the friendship of two young girls who live across the street from each other.

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NOTABLE QUOTES

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[2:31] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids.


And today we are going to talk about something that was confusing for me, as a kid. And you may have different feelings about it depending on where you live in the United States or elsewhere.


In today’s featured book, two friends and the flag that divided them.



[3:05] Book Summary


Matthew: That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown; illustrated by Nikkolas Smith



An affecting picture book from Tameka Fryer Brown and #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Nikkolas Smith (The 1619 Project: Born on the Water) that challenges the meaning behind the still-waving Confederate flag through the friendship of two young girls who live across the street from each other.


Bianca is Keira's best friend. At school, they are inseparable. But Keira questions their friendship when she learns more about the meaning of the Confederate flag hanging from Bianca's front porch. Will the two friends be able to overlook their distinct understandings of the flag? Or will they reckon with the flag's effect on yesterday and today?


In That Flag, Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith graciously tackle the issues of racism, the value of friendship, and the importance of understanding history so that we move forward together in a thought-provoking, stirring, yet ultimately tender tale.

A perfect conversation starter for the older and younger generations alike, this book includes back matter on the history of the Confederate flag and notes from the creators.



[4:34] Meet Our Guest: Tameka Fryer Brown


Tameka: Hi, my name is Tameka Fryer Brown, and I write picture books of all kinds for children. My most recent one is That Flag, and it's the story of best friends divided over the meaning and significance of the Confederate flag.



[4:49] The Version That Most of Us Know Today


Matthew: Do you know what we’re talking about when we talk about the Confederate flag? Can you picture it in your mind? It’s a bit different from our United States flag, which has a blue box in the upper left side containing fifty white stars and, outside of that box, thirteen alternating stripes of red and white. The Confederate flag has similar colors, but a completely different look.



Tameka: Well, technically there are several different flags that are associated with Confederacy. And the Confederacy refers to a group of southern states who broke away or attempted to break away from the rest of America because they thought that the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, was going to force them to do away with slavery, which was a system through which they owned other human beings, Black human beings. And it was, you know, a violent and, you know, an oppressive system.


And so they started a civil war to protect their ability to own Black people. And throughout the course of the war, they adopted a particular battle flag. And that's the version that most of us know as the Confederate flag today.


And what it looks like is it has a red background and it has a blue X that is outlined in white. And it has 13 white stars on it to represent the states that fought at some point, on the Confederacy side in the Civil War.



[06:30] A Symbol of White Supremacy


Matthew: That flag that we’re talking about is still around, long after the Civil War ended.


Tameka: The Confederate flag is still flown in places today by individuals and sometimes by institutions. And you know, some people say that they fly the Confederate flag just to celebrate Southern heritage and Southern Pride, but there are many people who fly it to symbolize, you know, the same kind of beliefs that the Confederacy had: that white people are better than black people naturally. Also other people of color, Indigenous people. Also that, you know, white people's wants and perspectives should be the ones that are prioritized in our society and that they should be the ones that end up making the decisions for the society and run the society.


So, you know, all of that is a part of a system called white supremacy. And the Confederate flag, unfortunately, is still the go-to flag for white supremacists today. You know, they use it whenever they want to intimidate people of color, especially Black people. And also just when they want to promote, you know, those supremacist beliefs, they tend to fly it in public spaces.


So yeah, it's still used unfortunately today.



[7:59] At The Center of It All Is Selfishness


Matthew: So now, listeners, we come to a big question. If there is a symbol that, for some people (or for many people), represents pain and oppression and injustice, why is it okay to publicly display that symbol in schools and in front of government buildings, and elsewhere?


Tameka: You know, I think that a lot of times people either don't understand that impact that a thing has on someone else, or sometimes, unfortunately, they don't care, or sometimes they don't care to learn and understand. And I think the center of it all is selfishness or self concern or self-centeredness. I think that's the root of, you know, that pridefulness that you're talking about and just having far too little concern for other people and the impact that our words and our actions have on them.


But something you mentioned before about the emotional impact, and I just wanted to say, I don't think we talk about the emotional impact of things like the Confederate flag and Confederate emblems in, in all manner of negative aspects of bigotry and prejudice.

And I, you know, when writing this book, my thought was that if I could communicate that emotional part,, that emotional impact effectively enough, then hopefully I would be able to enlighten other people about the net negative impact that it has on our society overall. And, you know, hopefully convince them that, you know, in this case, the Confederate flag, is a symbol best saved for museums and history books and not public celebration.


And so that, you know, is what I was really trying to focus on, or that was what I hoped the result would be by really focusing on the emotional impact in the story.



[10:42] BREAK


[10:50] How It Feels to Disagree, and Something More


Matthew: Welcome back.


Our topic today is polarizing. That’s a term used to mean that it makes people feel strongly one way or another. Is the Confederate flag a harmless symbol of Southern pride? Or is it a harmful symbol of white supremacy?


Disagreements, no matter what their nature, can be hard to navigate. When you disagree with someone, it can make you feel different from them, apart, against. It may feel like a surprise or a betrayal, especially if the topic is one for which you care deeply or personally.


Think for a moment, listeners. How does it feel to disagree with a friend?


Jonah: I feel like disagreeing with your friend can be a really hard thing. You could feel angry at them. Maybe you don’t want to be friends with them because of the way that they’re saying. And their opinions could make you really mad. Friendships are close, and it can be hard to let friends go like that. And I feel like I can’t imagine losing some of my friends to arguing with them or disagreeing, but things happen and you have to deal with it.


Tameka: When you disagree with someone you love and care about, about something that really matters to you, it's going to hurt. You may feel not only sad, but betrayed, you know? Especially if it's a best friend. It cuts deeper. That is a human experience.


And we all have been guilty of hurting other people as much as we've been hurt. And, um, so yeah, that emotional impact is real, just is real. For children as it is for adults.


That having been said, I am so glad that you talked about the book in terms of me not really answering all the questions, but more posing questions and giving the reader the opportunity to engage with the story however they need to engage with the story to glean whatever information or lessons that they need from the story and to spur conversation. That was my goal.


Not to really just espouse. I mean, I'm clear, I think I have a clear perspective in this story, no doubt. But I also hope that it would be written in such a way to invite actual conversation.



[13:55] A Willingness to Admit Harm


Matthew: With any disagreement or conflict comes with it the opportunity to repair harm.


Jonah: I think it depends on your situation. Things can definitely be repaired, but it depends on what happened and how you both feel about each other.


Tameka: It is possible. Work and effort is what it's gonna take. It's gonna take humility too, right? A willingness to admit... We were talking about pride earlier. It takes a willingness to admit that what you may have done that impacted the other person was indeed harmful. And a heart to apologize sincerely. And then a willingness again to do the hard work, you know, for however long it might take, in an effort to build up that trust and hopefully that closeness again, or at least some level of closeness.



[15:06] Reading Aloud From That Flag


Matthew: This is a really special book that, to me, lands in a really special way. It took bravery and courage and a lot of wisdom and love for Tameka to craft such a story that approaches conflict and injustice through questioning and leaning in. But complimenting her terrific story are some really gripping illustrations by Nikkolas Smith.


Tameka: Well, really, I want to point out two spreads, really. And it's really a shout out to Nikkolas and how well he did an amazing job.


You've seen the book. Throughout the whole entire book, but these two spreads had a really emotional impact on me. And I have received feedback from other people that they impact them as well.


And the first one is the split screen image where. Both Keira's family and Bianca's family are witnessing the event that happens in their community.


And to see how both. Families react.


I mean, if you really look at the details, you'll see how Nikkolas has portrayed the, the television, the two television networks, how they communicate the event differently. But, you know, just to see how both families react and to see the enlightenment, and not a positive enlightenment, but the understanding that Bianca now has. It's written all over her face and it's a shift that is like a shift in the story that touches me. It's what I intended with the words, and I think Nikkolas captured it so well visually.



“I'm trying to beat my grandpa at chess when I hear Grandma cry, ‘Lord have mercy!’


Mom turns up the news. It's news none of us wants to hear.


Two Black people were shot in their own front yard by three white men. They show pictures of the men on TV. They're standing in front of that flag. That hate flag.”


And then the final spread. Which in, although it's open-ended, uh, I, I did end it intentionally in a place, in a space of hope, because I have that hope.



I have the hope that with understanding and with knowledge and with the sharing of truth and holistic history, that change within people is possible. And so, um, I really am touched by that final illustration as well.



[18:21] A Message from Tameka Fryer Brown


Matthew: It is that time: when we say goodbye for now to Tameka Fryer Brown.


This is definitely a conversation that I look forward to returning to in the future, and I hope you do as well.


I am grateful to Tameka for sharing the original intent of the Confederate flag, as well as what it has come to mean today. I feel grateful for our conversation around disagreeing with friends and how we can work to repair harm. And I love that, like in That Flag, Tameka has saved lots and lots of room for questions in this conversation.


I hope, dear listener, that you will ask those questions to your grownups, to me, and also to Tameka. I know she would like very much to hear from you.


As I prepare my library for the next time it is full of children, and as you prepare for whatever is coming next in your day, I asked Tameka if she had a message she would like me to share with all of you. And, of course, she did!


Tameka: Absolutely. Please encourage them to never be afraid of the truth, knowing it, understanding it, embracing it, all of it. That's what makes us better people.



[19:49] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Thank you to Jonah for help on today’s episode.


Jonah: Hi. My name is Jonah. And I’m 12 years old.


Matthew: Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


Tameka? Where can listeners find you?


Tameka: I have a website, TamekaFryerBrown.com. And I'm also on Instagram at Tameka Fryer Brown, and I have a Facebook page, Tameka Fryer Brown Children's Book Author.


Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


You can also reach out and let me know what flags you see flying around your community.


Write to me or send me a message at matthewmakespods@gmail.com. That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


And always, don’t forget to check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack, if you are a fellow teacher or librarian. It’s the perfect podcast to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities. It’s available wherever podcasts are found. And Jordan is a buddy of mine. I love cheering her on and cheering this show on.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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