“White Lies” by Natasha Trethewey

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.

I could easily tell the white folks

that we lived uptown,

not in that pink and green

shanty-fied shotgun section

along the tracks. I could act

like my homemade dresses

came straight out of the window

of Maison Blanche. I could even

keep quiet, quiet as I kept,

like the time a white girl said

(squeezing my hand), Now

we have three of us in the class.

But I paid for every time

Mama find out.

She laid her hands on me,

then washed on my mouth

with ivory soap. This

is to purified, she said,

and cleanse your lying tongue.

Believing her, I swallowed suds

Thinking they’d work

From the inside out.

This poem written by Natasha Trethewey uses a lot of vivid color imagery and to make the most out of it we should see a little of the author’s background. Natasha Trethewey was born to a black mother and a white father in Mississippi where it was illegal the interracial marriage. Therefore, we can infer she is the girl she refers to in the poem. In this poem, like in the short stories, we see how the society has affected our conduct; in this case, stating that the white race is better or superior than the black one. By this, the girl feels ashamed of her background and lies about it. She denied her heritage to the world since her skin was “light-bright”. Her mother tries to make her a better person by washing his mouth with ivory soap but she then again thinks that it will purified her from the inside out.

As we first read the poem, the white lies refer to the little lies she had been telling that doesn’t mean much, like where she lives and where her dresses are from, but furthermore we realize she thinks that white is better. This can be interpreted as a little contradictory because the WHITE soap purifies you from the WHITE lies. If lies are bad and white is good, then shouldn’t the lies be black? Anyhow, we shouldn’t be ashamed of our heritage even less lie about it because it is what makes each one of us different and unique.

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