Patricia Smith’s poem, “Blond White Women”, resonates with me as I, too, always admired blond little girls and women growing up. I grew up in the 80s and all I saw on my television screens were blonde images of beauty. Smith’s poem seems to move towards truth and clarity, and she uses great tempo and pacing that allows the reader to take in the visualizations within her poem.
It opens with the line “They choke cities like snowstorms” (line 1). This opening creates an image that correlates white women to snowstorms because their presence can be as dense as the snowflakes in a storm. As a young Black girl, it is difficult not to want to be like something that is completely idolized and admired. White women are everywhere and if we are so enthralled with them, it becomes un-natural to not notice their presence. Smith writes, “It is my habit to count them” (line 12). This rings true to many people who become fascinated with anyone or anything. You look for that thing everywhere or your eyes naturally gravitate towards the thing that has you so transfixed.
There is a lot of truth to Smith’s memory of playing dress up. She does not have the same hair type or skin tone of the one she admires so, she must make-believe with what items she has in her house. What better use for a mop than to use it and pretend the mop strings are beautiful blonde locks? Smith writes, “I remember striving for that breathlessness, / toddling my five-year-old black butt around / with a dull gray mophead covering my / nappy hair, wishing myself golden” (18-21). Every little girl dreams of being glamourous, with long flowing locks and beautiful clothing. For nappy headed little Black girls, their dreams are to have thin, straight, and golden hair like the white girls. I don’t know any white girls who dream of having thick and coily nappy hair.
This poem, to me, reflects a little girl’s desires to be the white version of herself. Smith says she presses a carnation pink crayon to her skin, rubbing it into the back of her hand to get the color to change. If she couldn’t use the mop head for her hair, she used her father’s white shirt with sleeves for pigtails (line 30). She practiced talking like a white woman and even gave herself a white woman’s name, Donna. I do not feel like this is an identity crisis per se, as opposed to an exploration of her reality. If she were to see more beautiful women like herself in her environment, she would not be so engrossed with the idea of being white. This is what makes representation in the media and entertainment business so important. We cannot idolize what we don’t see. This is damaging to her self-esteem whether or not she knows it yet. Smith acknowledges this in her poem by saying, “I hurt myself with my own beauty” (line 34). This is a contradictory statement because if she thought herself beautiful, she would not be hurting herself and being beautiful should not hurt. It is instead highlighting the damaging relationship she has with beauty. This line is a foreshadowing feature in her poem because, as Black women grown older and more confident, we recognize and accept who we were born to be and no longer look elsewhere for a definition of beauty.
This poem becomes even more personal as she talks about wanting this teacher to be her mom. There can’t be a one of us who has always wondered if another person or someone else’s mom or dad was our mom or dad. We give our parents such a hard time as kids, and there may be moments when we do not appreciate what they give us daily. In “Blonde White Women”, Smith can convey this feeling some students can have if they desire deeper connections with their teachers. Smith writes, “In first grade, my blonde teacher / hugged me to her because I was the first / in my class to read, and I thought the rush / would kill me. I wanted her to swallow me, to be my mother” (line 36-41). This was not only a moment for her to connect with her teacher, but it was a moment of harsh reality that the feeling was not mutual. She wanted to feel it in her heart, that acceptance, but all she got was rejection because she lingered too long. After this moment, the reality became clearer that she would never be a white woman; straighter hair and lighter skin would never change that. This is clarity for her as we find out her true identity; her name is Patricia Ann (52). And she begins to find the beauty within herself.
No longer enthralled with the prospect of being white, she acknowledges her mother and no longer finds any other crayon more beautiful than she is. Smith says, “Even crayons fail me now – / I can find no color darker, / more beautiful, than I am (line 53-55). This is a level of acceptance every little Black girl aims for. I remember wishing my hair blew in the breeze and wished my skin was lighter, but you cannot change who you were born as (subjective in this day and age, but generally speaking). To achieve self-love, you must love yourself as yourself and accept yourself as you are. I can appreciate this poem very deeply because this was me. Patricia Smith delivers a poem that every Black woman can relate to.