As a result of these experiences, and of the inherited memories of her father's mistreatment by white people in the South, she grew to hate whites. However, she later discovered that the rage she felt about racial injustice in America was eating her alive; it made her see herself only through white society's eyes, and never to see herself as herself first. Raybon made up her mind to embrace her religious upbringing in the Cleaves Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and to forgive--to forgive white Americans for misunderstanding, rejecting, judging, excluding, belittling, twisting, and wounding her; and to forgive herself and her community and family as well.
Her story illustrates the ways in which views of "others"--racial minorities, women, gays--as "outside the norm" can be a way to strip away our dignity and power, and how by rejecting the idea of a normative and instead embracing each other as people first--people with many of the same problems, shortcomings, and concerns--we can claim power for ourselves.
What does Raybon say about how much of who we are--as women, as women of color, as Staten Islanders, as whatever we are that is not entirely within the "normative"--is a result of us being and acting for those who define us as outside the norm?
Raybon describes her father's English as "perfect," spoken "with a crisp snap" even though it is largely a "foreign tongue" to him. Why is the way that Patricia Raybon and her father speak so important?
What is Raybon's family's history?
To what does Raybon attribute the hatred between poor white folks and poor black folks in the South? What does the film Salt of the Earth reveal about these same hates, except in its case, between Latinos and Anglos? Why are Black boys' replies to white boys' taunts and racial insults, according to Raybon, "no match for the ownership that the white boys carelessly held over the day"?
What is to blame for killing the love that should have existed within her father's family in the South?
What did it mean to her father to "be a Negro"? What special status did he attach to that term?
What incidents and patterns she experienced as a young woman taught Raybon to hate white people? How and why did her own father teach her to hate and distrust "the fearful and the pale"?
Why does looking pretty matter so much to Raybon as a young woman? What powers and priveledges do the pretty gain in our society? What light does her discussion of the ways in which beauty was/is racialized in American culture shed on the experiences and attitudes in Imitation of Life? How does the media's determination of what was normative--what was sexy, what was attractive, what was beautiful, for both men and women--affect Raybon's sense of self?
Raybon writes that admitting that in 1958 her "sense of self is dependent totally on how others see me--my physical self" is "a fool's confession." Why is that? What has happened to Raybon between 1958 and today to make her view that as "foolish"?
How do Raybon's experiences shed light on the stories of Sarah Jane Johnson and Annie Johnson in Imitation of Life? How is Raybon's belief in the power of forgiveness like Annie Johnson's beliefs? Why is Patricia Raybon, as a child, angry at the Black women who "should've tried harder to hold back that Holy Ghost" in front of white visitors to their church service? Why does Raybon feel "lynched" by the experience?
Who is Raybon's God? What is her God's gender and race?
In essence, there was a generation of protest between the perspective represented by Annie Johnson in Imitation of Life and Raybon's perspective on forgiveness in the 1990s. Raybon was a participant in that generation between, and she argues it was characterized by the necessity of expressing Black rage, hatred, and anger toward whites. What were the lessons Raybon learned as a part of that middle generation that make her advocacy of forgiveness possible? What did hating white people give Raybon when she was young? What did it take away from her, according to her?
According to Raybon, how does a person move from being a "victim" to having "power"? Compare Raybon's perspective on this with the character Esperanza from the film Salt of the Earth. How are their arguments similar and different? Compare Raybon's perspective to that put forward by Elsie Clews Parsons in her Journal of a Feminist.. How are their arguments similar and different? To what do you attribute these similarities and differences?
What does Raybon say is the importance of telling your story and naming your pain? Why is this such a key ingredient of forgiveness? What does this say about the importance of knowing our pasts, our histories, and telling those stories? What does that tell you about the significance of studying women's history?
Compare Raybon's narrative to the stories written by Virginia Woolf and Elsie Clews Parsons. Are there similarities of style, focus, or language?
Using My First White Friend, explain some of the differences and continuities between white and Black womens' historical experiences. Can you imagine a definition of women's history that would incorporate these differing though concurrent, linked, and convergent stories?
The Colorado Editor's article, "CU's Raybon Finds Peace in Forgiveness," Thursday, August 8, 1996 8:12:37 PM.
Lynne Hybel's Seeing Christ In Black and White, which contains some reflections on Raybon's book.
A syllabus for a course called, "History 480: The Formation of a Multi-Racial Society: Historical Analysis of Racial Conflict and Cooperation," which uses Raybon's book.
Email Patricia Raybon and tell her how much you enjoyed her book!
Several resources for womanist studies.
The Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Georgia's Womanist Homepage.
And Still We Rise, a discussion of Black women's history.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for History 182 (Women's History and Feminist Theory), The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, Fall Semester 1997.
Last modified: Monday 17 November 1997