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Hannalee Billings

June 25, 14
English 102
White Lies Response

The poem White Lies by Natasha Trethwey focuses on a girl who is struggling
to find herself because of her multiethnic heritage. Trethwey herself was born in 1966 in
Mississippi to a white father and black mother, making this poem autobiographical of
Trethweys personal experience. Trethwey uses vivid imagery and underlying messages to
paint a picture of racism and discrimination in the south during the late 20
th
century.
Discrimination was mainly against African-American, as they were perceived as inferior
race, which led to Trethwey to want to conform to societies norms as a white person.
Even with the African-American civil rights movement ending around Trethweys
birth year, her home state of Mississippi because of its location in the south, racism and
discrimination was still present. Mixed children were especially scrutinized because of
the taboo of interracial marriages during this time period. Many of these children felt that
they did not belong in the African-American community or the Caucasian community.
White lies is Threshweys documented internal struggles of her life as a mixed
child. The first stanza is the lies I could tell, when I was growing up light-bright, near-
white, high-yellow, red-boned, in a black place, were just white lies. Light bright, near
white, high yellow, and red-boned are terms to describe a person of mixed race. This use
of color imagery is to allow the reader to realize that mixed children can be a broad
spectrum of colors, and in this case the young girl is white enough to pass as white.
The young girl is referring to how she could lie, which would be a white lie in the
reference to a trivial lie and a lie of color, about where she lives when people ask. This
can be derived from this quote, I could easily tell the white folks that I lived uptown, not
in that pink and green shanty-fied shotgun section along the tracks. She could also very
Hannalee Billings
June 25, 14
English 102
well lie about where she got her dress or what her skin color is, suggesting she is a
ashamed of who she is. The following stanza is I could act like my homemade dresses
came straight out the window of Maison Blanche. I could even keep quiet, quiet as kept,
like time a white girl said (squeezing my hand), now we have three us in this class. This
quote mentions how few people of her race are included in the school system and how
segregated children are in a classroom setting. People do not focus on personality they
focus merely on the color of their skin in regards to starting a friendship. Generalized
ideas of race are brought down through generations to a person social standing being
mixed was confusing and alienating.
The final stanza is But I paid for it every time Mama found out. She laid her
hands on me, then washed my mouth with ivory soap. This is to purify, she said, and
cleanse your lying tongue. Believing her, I swallowed suds thinking theyd work from the
inside out. Her mother is punishing her by putting soap in her mouth for being ashamed
of her heritage and lying to people about who she is. The young girl swallows the suds in
hopes that they purify her, not in the way her mother wants it to but to make her whiter.
Personally, Ive never been nearly as discriminated against by other people as
Trethwey probably has but I am bi racial. I know what it feels like to grow up in a
household where we speak Spanish and eat Ecuadorian foods but yet the color of my skin
is white. When I tell people Im half Ecuadorian they look at me shocked and I can tell
they are looking at the color of my skin, so I try to ease the conversation and say Yeah,
thats why my hair is curly. These are my white lies. But honestly, I shouldnt have to, I
shouldnt have to be ashamed or try to force people to see that I am Hispanic.
Hannalee Billings
June 25, 14
English 102
Racial discrimination comes in all forms, Hispanic and White, Asian and White,
Black and White, Middle Eastern and White, or any other races ("HUMAN RACISM).
Threthweys poem, White Lies is an exemplary work of art portraying the negative
effects of racism and how it affects ones social status and sense of self. Natasha sees the
White race as superior and other races inferior because of her upbringing and where she
was raised but it is important to recognize and learn from this poem that all races are
equal.
















Hannalee Billings
June 25, 14
English 102

Works Cited
Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. "10." Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction,
Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 4th ed. N.p.: Pearson, n.d. 330. Print.

"HUMAN RACISM - SAME RACE RACISM." HUMAN RACISM - SAME RACE
RACISM. Stop Racism Human Phobia, 18 July 2012. Web. 03 July 2014.