Saturday, March 22, 2008

My First White Friend

With Obama's speech and the issue of race front and center, I thought I'd recommend a gorgeously written, important book: My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Foregiveness by Patricia Raybon. I believe it's out of print, which is too bad, but get it from the library or buy a bargain copy. This book deserves as much acclaim as The Color of Water by James McBride.

From the jacket:

"'God help me. I stopped hating white people on purpose about a year ago.' With that daring confession, African-American journalist Patricia Raybon begins My First White Friend - a piercing account of how she decided, in midlife, to stop hating white America. In a hypnotic narrative that is part journal, part memoir, part social analysis, Raybon discovers that racial forgiveness is a dangerous choice. But the risk isn't in learning to love white people, it's in learning to love herself. 'That is the real matter. And it takes a harsh spotlight.'

Raybon turns that spotlight first on her fifties childhood in eastern Colorado, where she learned 'every race distortion ever performed by dark people: smiling when nothing is nice, laughing when nothing is funny, agreeing when nothing is agreeable.'

In that setting, Raybon mastered that polite 'grin of powerlessness,' urged on by the dogged upward mobility of her Mississippi-born father and the rigid rules of their middle-class life. But while she was soon acceptable to white people, she'd become an angry stranger to herself.

A quarter century later, Raybon realized her perplexed rage wouldn't be remedied by stoking her buried hate for whites, but by forgiving them, especially for the past. That 'audacious idea...a holy lunacy' meant first forgiving herself, but also forgiving her father for his seemingly excessive demands, her country for its caustic racial legacies, and even God for seeming to allow it all.

Along the way, Raybon unearths her family history to uncover the origins of her hate, then traces the significant chapters in her own life-among them her childhood confusion about race, her adolescent awe of 'white' culture, her discovery of sex and its mythology in black life, marriage and motherhood, her rediscovery of her religious faith and a friendship with her first white friend-to travel the hard road from hatred to forgiveness, trust, love, letting go, and moving on.

An honestly direct but deeply hopeful book, My First White Friend is a timely and original declaration of self-love and collective affirmation."

An excerpt:

"A book on racial forgiveness.

God help me. Because as I weigh the implications of it, and the potential of it, I clearly understand that the philosophy is provocative and good-but I know some people will hate me for it. Some will praise me for it. And some will censure me for it, or even rudely ignore me, deeming me desperate or dumb, or both. But I welcome any response even as I am resigned to it, because I am determined now to understand how my hate started, then figure finally how to slay it. Because hate has hurt me good over these long years. It has crippled me and cheated me and mugged me and left me scarred and impotent and dumb.

And if hate has done those things to me, it has done those things to millions like me."


Mary Ann (Moanna) said...

Obama's speech was great, the greatest speech since Kennedy's, I thought.

Thank you for the book review. My reading list grows longer every time I come here.

Julie Layne said...

The beautiful about art (art art, books, movies, music, theatre, etc.)is how it can be appropriate for where we are, no matter if it is 5, 10, or 100 years old.

I read Your Blues Ain't Like Mine a week or so ago after seeing the blurb on your book referring to Campbell, and it made me think long and hard.

Carleen Brice said...

Mary Ann, I agree. It's so refreshing to hear a politician face the truth!

Julie, Your Blues is one of my all-time favorite books! I'm so glad you read it.

Shauna Roberts said...

I've never heard of it, but it sounds like a fascinating book. The relationship between hating others and hating oneself is true yet mysterious.

The Writers' Group said...

Carleen, I just tried toorder it from Amazon, but it's not available. Any advice? The prose is electric.


Carleen Brice said...

Amy, There are sellers on Amazon selling used copies. I guess that's the only way to get one. And you're right: the prose is electric!