Poems on Race

Race is an issue that has played a huge in American for years and has prevented people from being who they want to be. People act differently in certain situations so they would be accepted by a group of people or society as a whole. In Natasha Trethewey’s poems “Flounder”, “White Lies”, “Microscope”, and “Saturday Matinee” she talks about race in different perspectives. She discusses the effect of race on people and why she imitated people’s behaviors and decided not to choose a race to belong to. While growing up, Trethewey was faced with racial issues.

She was of a mixed background, one of he parents was white and the other was black and this led to her being caught up in a dilemma of wanting to be accepted by both races. Although Trethewey could make a decision on which race she would belong to, she feels it is better not to choose one. Firstly, Trethewey decided not to choose a race so she could have the freedom of being whom she wanted depending on whichever situation she found herself in. Being born of two different races puts pressure on her to try to please both races and be accepted by both blacks and whites.

In her attempt to please one race she has to deny the other race. In Trethewey’s poem “White lies” she says “I could even / keep quiet, quiet as kept, / like the time a white girl said/ (squeezing my hand). Now / we have three of us in this class. “(Lines 14-18) Instead of telling the white girl she was mixed she accepts the white girl’s misconception and decides to act like she was a pure white girl. Trethewey does this not because she was ashamed of the black race but because she did not want to be treated differently if she was suspected to be of a mixed race.

She did not want people’s view of her to be distorted just because of her race. Trethewey also wanted to feel rich like the other white girls. Trethewey says “I could easily tell the white folks / that we lived uptown, / not in a 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. ” (Lines 7-14 white lies) Trethewey enjoyed pretending to be a rich white girl and acting like other white girls.

She enjoyed being mixed and having the ability to pretend to be someone whom she wasn’t. She wanted to have the freedom to switch between which race she chose depending on the situation she found herself in. Secondly, Trethewey decides not to choose a race because by choosing one race over the other because she might offend her family members. She felt free associating with people from both races and she felt pressure and harassment from the other race when she tried to pick one race over the other.

In Trethewey’s poem White Lies Trethewey says, “But I paid for it every time / Mama found out. / She laid her hands on me, / then washed my mouth with Ivory Soap. “(Lines 19-23 ) Trethewey implies that when she once tried to choose the white race over the black her mum beat her and washed her mouth with soap. She decided to choose to be white for just a period of time and was beaten by her mum. She felt she would cause problems in her household if she chose to be black over being white because she might offend her dad and vice versa.

She did not want to like being scolded upon by her mum so she couldn’t pick the white race. Her inability to pick either side without being scolded upon or beaten made her feel safe being neutral. Finally, Trethewey did not choose one race over the other because was always told what to do and did not know which race to choose over the other. Trethewey says that she was always told what to do by her family members. Her aunt for example says “You bout as white as your dad. / and you gone stay like that. (Lines 3-4 Flounder) Trethewey’s aunt is telling her she is white and also implying a warning that she should act white and not try to change and be black.

She is scared of acting black because her aunt warned her to do thing like a white girl. Also Trethewey did not know which race to choose over the other. Trethewey says “I was born, I looked for the rays of light / and found, instead, Races of man: / skull measurement and body equations, / chin to forehead, femur to tibia. Pictures / detailing Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid. / Hair texture, eye shape, color. Each image / a template for measure, mismeasure. (Lines 15-21 Microscope) Trethewey says that after studying blacks and whites she learns that they are not very different.

This makes her feel less challenged to choose one race over the other when people of all races are very similar but different in only skin color. In conclusion, Trethewey was a girl caught up in a dilemma of pleasing two different races while avoiding being discriminated against. After learning of the similarities of the black and white races of people who feel like they were very different, she feels less pressure by not picking one side over the other.

She was also warned by both her white aunt and black mum to be like them. Trethewey did not know how to please both races. Although she could make a decision on which race to choose, she decides not to choose one race over the other. She wanted to have the freedom to have a personal experience with both races, she wanted to be able to pick either race whenever the occasion arose, and she did not want to be discriminated against by the black race if she chooses the white race over them and vice versa.

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