Skip to main content

My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love and Forgiveness

About the Book

My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love and Forgiveness

Taking a Chance on Love

The heart must be ready and brave. That's surely the only way anybody can get past the opening lines in my book: "God help me. I stopped hating white people on purpose a year ago."

I myself couldn't write the words until I'd stumbled around for months missing the point. I tiptoed around the keyboard, making believe that I was going to the heart, but missing it by a mile. That's because I was scared – worried like many writers that readers wouldn't accept what I needed to tell them most. In the end, I wrote – and rewrote – the same 40 or so pages of safe, fearful words, terrified that I'd somehow say the wrong thing. Then my friend and agent Carla Glasser, who doesn't have any fear about getting right to the point, called me up and said this, "You are a writer. So write what you absolutely must say." So I sat down and wrote these words. God help me.

A dam broke.

The next sentence just sort of poured out of my fingers and the next sentence and the next. And instantly I could see where I had to start and where I was going with these pages that would become My First White Friend. I would start it with a confession – talk flat out about race hate and what it had done to me, just pull out all the stops – and finish with a resolution or a "closure" to all of my racial mess. I would pick apart the reality, as James Baldwin put it, where "all you are ever told about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be."

I would do this. But then I would make peace with it. God help me. And then the surprise happened. The writing changed my life.

So now I am somebody new. I started out writing about race. I ended up converting to forgiveness.

But first I had to learn about forgiveness – learn from scratch, because candidly I knew nothing about forgiving. I thought it meant saying the words, I forgive you. It turns out that forgiveness first is about saying you're in pain.

That's the first step. Name your pain, as forgiveness scholar Barbara Flanagan puts it. Of course, that's where most folks in America get stopped, especially when it comes to race. We talk about the details, about what happened. But talking about what got hurt in the process scares us speechless. Certainly, I was terrified to look at my broken self and describe all the wounds resulting from race.

Harder still was step two, choosing to forgive them. But that is what forgiveness is – a decision. It's choosing to release the person who hurt you from the burden of your resentment, no matter how justified your anger or rage.

Surely, indeed, it takes a change of heart for any of us – broken and flawed as we are – to then start the real work of forgiveness. That includes everything from trying to understand the injurer's brokenness – asking what failure in the injurer's past and in the injurer's spirit allowed such a horrific offense – to stirring up your own willingness to forgive the hurt. 

To forgive so much that you can start to love.

This is hard, hard work. And when I look again at the first chapters of my book especially, the words fairly bleed up from the pages. One woman told me she was just crying and reading, and reading and crying. However, as the book evolves and the outcomes of forgiveness emerge, the tone of the book gives over to a lightness and a brightness that really pleases me. I'm speaking not about my talents or power as a writer, but about the power of forgiveness, a force that can transform hate to love. Surely forgiveness doesn't change the past. But it makes the memory and pain of the past bearable so a person can move on, then move up. That is true even when the injury is racial. That is the essence and the theme of my book and I am grateful to God that I was granted the privilege to write it.

My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love and Forgiveness
by Patricia Raybon

  • Publication Date: June 1, 1997
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0140244360
  • ISBN-13: 9780140244366