Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is a love story between two highschoolers during the 60’s integration movement. Sarah Dunbar is an intelligent and musically talented girl and is one of the first black students to attend a previously all-white school in Virginia. Linda Hairston is a strong believer in segregation, as taught by her father, who is an influential writer. The two fall for each other.
My first thought – interracial couple and lesbians? How much conflict can this little novel pack in? Given the timing of this story, Sarah and Linda are bombarded with so much external and internal conflict from people telling them they are wrong to themselves wondering if they are right about race and even sexuality.
Other people will try to decide things for you, she says. They’ll try to tell you who you are. Remember, no matter what they say, you’re the only who really decides.
Linda’s character is crafted up to be a spoiled girl who is upset at the Negroes for ruining her senior year. Through her interactions with Sarah, she begins to see the real truth – Negroes are not dumber, dirtier, or less superior. She struggles with this realization for most of the novel, due to the pressure she receives at home from her father. She is also confused about whether or not Negroes being equals or even superiors is because she has fallen in love with Sarah and that makes her special, different from the other Negroes.
Linda is a perfect example of how ignorance can be passed down or taught to a new generation. For Linda to accept Sarah’s words as a truth, she needs to also accept that her entire life had been a lie. Everything she was told and taught about the world since she was born was incorrect, and that is a hard pill to swallow for someone who has a lot of pride.
What if this—this rule that says what I did in the back room that day is a terrible sin—what if that’s just a rule some old white man made up, too?
Sarah and Linda both refer to their feelings of loving another girl as something “unnatural”. Again, both girls and the general population at this time and setting are highly religious and simply not being heterosexual was considered sinful and wrong.
This novel didn’t have time to resolve either issues, although the issues surrounding segregation and integration showed more of a promising ending. Unlike a favourite musical, Hairspray, not everyone is so accepting of social changes and this is evident as Sarah and her friends undergo constant bullying and harsh treatment as they try to graduate without anyone getting killed. At the end of the novel, the whole town doesn’t start dancing about integration, but we do begin to see slight shifts in perspectives come into play.
The issue of homosexuality remains unresolved, only lightly touched upon as the two accept their feelings for each other and move forward in their futures. I actually prefer it this way because it seems more realistic. This is another issue for another day, one that I can proudly say is well on its way to being resolved in today’s time.
There were many more social issues embedded inside this story line concerning class, violence, and media. It’s a good reminder to everybody that we shouldn’t always believe what people or the media tell us is true.
At the end of the day, Lies We Tell Ourselves is still placed in the YA section of the library and it only gives a shallow look into some of the hardships people faced at a time when acceptance was so difficult to find in others. I’m going to pull an Ellen Degeneres here – be kind to one another, folks. There has already been too much hate in this world.