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The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd
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What are some quotes on racism in the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd?

There are many quotes about racism in The Secret Life of Bees, like when Lily says, “I decided everybody being colorless together was a better plan.” Rosaleen also notes the complexities of systemic racism when she says “you gonna have to drag people kicking and screaming” to actually enforce the Civil Rights Act.

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There are many quotes in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees that discuss racism. The book provides an in-depth look at the racially divided South and how racism impacts people’s lives and perspectives on the world. The narrator and main character, Lily Melissa Owens, is a fourteen-year-old who is taken in by a family of Black women. Throughout the book, Lily learns a lot about race relations. She thinks it is wrong how white people treat people of color and says:

I decided everybody being colorless together was a better plan.

While this is a nice sentiment, Lily also learns that it is idealistic, and racism has deep roots in US society. For example, consider the scene in which she talks to Rosaleen about the Civil Rights Act:

"Lily, child, there ain’t gonna be any place that will take a colored woman. I don’t care if she’s the Virgin Mary, nobody’s letting her stay if she’s colored."

"Well, what was the point of the Civil Rights Act?" I said, coming to a full stop in the middle of the road. "Doesn’t that mean people have to let you stay in their motels and eat in their restaurants if you want to?"

"That’s what it means, but you gonna have to drag people kicking and screaming to do it.’"

Here, Rosaleen explains that just because laws about racial discrimination are changing does not mean racism is going away. People who look down on other people because of the color of their skin are not going to just abruptly change their perspective one day. Racism is too deeply ingrained in the fabric of US society for one piece of legislation to check that every place and every person is not being racist.

Lily also takes note of the lack of difference between people with different color skin. For instance, consider how she observes:

There was no difference between my piss and June’s. That’s what I thought when I looked at the dark circle on the ground. Piss was piss.

Here, Sue Monk Kidd is using the simplistic view of a child to emphasize how at their core all people are the same.

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Here is a good quote that establishes how much racism is a part of Lily’s life.

“…It washed over me for the first time in my life how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment, how lately it seemed that skin pigment was the sun and everything else in the universe was the orbiting planets. Ever since school let out this summer, it had been nothing but skin pigment every livelong day. I was sick of it” (pg 154-55)


Lily has racism ingrained in her from her family and what society has taught her.

“T. Ray did not think colored women were smart. Since I want to tell the whole truth, which means the worst parts, I thought they could be smart, but not as smart as me, me being white. Lying on the cot in the honey house, though, all I could think was August is so intelligent, so cultured, and I was surprised by this. That’s what let me know I had some prejudice buried inside me” (pg 78).

Even though Lily is trying not to be, she has some racism inside her.


When Lily first meets Zach, she is shocked that he is attractive, because in her mind, black people were not supposed to be attractive. She says,

“If he was shocked over me being white, I was shocked over him being handsome. At my school they made fun of colored people’s lips and noses. I myself had laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in. Now I wished I could pen a letter to my school to be read at opening assembly that would tell them how wrong we’d all been” (pg 116).


Eventually, Lily has experienced so much racism that she begins to ponder if the world would be better without defining races.

“They (the Daughters of Mary) didn’t even think of me being different. Up until then I’d thought that white people and colored people getting along was the big aim, but after that I decided everybody being colorless together was a better plan. I thought of that policeman, Eddie Hazelwurst, saying I lowered myself to be in this house of colored women, and for the very life of me I couldn’t understand how it got to be this way, how colored women had become the lowest ones on the totem pole. You only had to look at them to see how special they were, like hidden royalty among us” (pg 209).


Zach says it all when he says “We can’t think of changing our skin… Change the world – that’s how we gotta think” (pg 216)

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