White Lies

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Natasha Trethewey’s poem “White Lies” revolves around a young girl struggling to acknowledge her true identity as being half-white and half-black. She lives her daily life under the façade of a pure white girl. The inclusion of certain key colors in the poem provides the reader with vivid imagery as well as a significant underlying message. The colors also paint a portrait of a young girl untrue to herself and the sad yet honest proclamation of her betrayal towards her heritage.

In the first stanza, the colors “light-bright, near-white, [and] high-yellow” are all obviously very light and to the speaker, pure. These bright colors stand in the mind of the speaker as tones of skin that are racially superior. In her eyes, and the sad reality of the time period, acceptance in society was dependent on one’s skin color. If gaining privileges in her community meant lying about her skin color to others, than a small “white lie” like that couldn’t do much harm, or could it? In the second stanza, the speaker establishes her desire to gain acceptance into white society in the form of lies. The first lie that she states, “I could easily tell the white folks/that we lived uptown” illustrates her ability to hide her socio-economic position and feign her identity as a well-off white girl. This relates closely to her second lie describing how she “could act/like [her] homemade dresses/came straight out of the window/of Maison Blanche”. The dress that she made clearly displays some fine craftsmanship, but it would only be assumed by others that it was from a luxury store if it was worn by a white girl. Her final “lie” in the stanza is arguable the worst. The speaker retains her white identity by remaining silent in the presence of a white girl in her class. The white girl in the class said, “Now/we have three of us in the class”. The speaker refuses to speak up when the other girl in her class assumes that she is white. She has sacrificed her true identity for one that is a...
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