I am enjoying exploring the life and works of Lemuel Haynes, an important but neglected figure in American history. He was a patriot, a preacher, and a poet. His accomplishments are all the more remarkable because he was the half-black son of a slave. You can find many biographies of his life on the web. The brief PBS one is perhaps as good as any for a brief overview:
From PBS you won’t get a sense of Haynes’ love for God and His word and his devotion to the ministry. He is sometimes called the “black puritan,” a reflection of the depth of his preaching and writing and theological understanding. I haven’t read all of his writings, and as he was a Calvinist Congregationalist there are a few things I know we would disagree on. However, I find in his sermons a love for God and His word that resonates with me and makes me think I would like to meet him some day in heaven.
His works are hard to find online; they are available primarily in libraries and out-of-print books. I found this one at the BJU library:
Black Preacher to White America by Richard Newman
And here on Google books is an old collection of excerpts:
Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes
In order to make his works more accessible, I have started converting some of them into Kindle books, starting with one containing his two famous poems:
The Poems of Lemuel Haynes
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I will include below some things I wrote last Valentine’s Day but didn’t post for fear they would be misunderstood. These are some personal thoughts on the subject of racism:
In a video promoting a recent book, a dramatically side-lit preacher looks into the camera, spooky music in the background, as he intones, “I grew up… as a full-blooded racist.”
As an aside, I’m not sure what he means by “full blooded” in this context. The dictionary definition refers to a lineage pure and unmixed, a purebred, something you genetically inherit from both parents. Does he mean he followed in the steps of both his parents who were also pure blooded racists? From the story that follows apparently not, because it was his mother who objected to the mistreatment of blacks at a wedding. Nevertheless, whatever a full-blooded racist is, this man says he was one.
So I reflect on my own upbringing and personal experience, and I sincerely don’t think I am, or ever was, a racist. Here’s an official OED definition for reference, “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” Nothing about that definition sounds like me, especially because of my sense that race is impossible to define and is hopelessly muddled with the broader concept of ethnicity. “Ethnicist” isn’t a word, but if it were it would better describe what is often called racism. I have experienced the tension that can come when people from different cultures interact, in some cases involving people of the same race but dramatically different cultures. The white American subcultures known as “redneck” or “hillbilly” serve as examples. I have also experienced the feeling of being a minority, in my case the only Caucasian in a department store packed with a thousand Koreans. But I cannot relate to racism in the “pure-blooded” traditional sense, where a person draws conclusions about other people based merely on their biological phenotype.
My experience with encountering other cultures is that every culture is a mixture of good and bad. It is appropriate to compare cultures and say, “There are things in this culture that I admire and think we could learn from.” It is also not wrong to say, “There are aspects of this culture that I do not appreciate and am not eager to follow.” That could superficially sound like racism, but it is not.
For example, someone might say, “people from that culture tend to be lazy.” This is not racist and might be true. To say, “everyone in that culture is lazy” is a hasty generalization and probably not true, but it is not racism either. However, to say, “all people of that skin color are naturally lazy,” is racist and surely wrong.
I recently bought my wife a greeting card for her birthday. It had a picture of a husband and wife on the front and some appropriate text that communicated well what I wanted to say to my wife. When I took it out at home to sign it, I noticed on the back a reference to Hallmark.com/mahogany. The website explains that this card is from a line of cards that “speak to African-American culture.” Some people might react negatively to this. “What would people say if it was Hallmark.com/white?” they might ask. Isn’t this voluntary self-segregation? But notice the confirmation of what I am saying. It doesn’t say, “Speak to people with black skin,” or “speak to people of African descent.” A lot of the rhetoric about racism could be defused if we could talk instead in terms of culture. In this case, if loving your wife is part of African-American culture, then I am for it. The fact that the couple pictured on the front had skin darker than mine was a non-issue when I picked out the card.
Speaking of the rhetoric of racism, it is hard to even consider writing about this topic because of the landmines of language. The Negro College Fund is still going strong (uncf.org) but the censure would be severe if I were to use that word. Similarly there is still an organization advancing the interests of colored people (naacp.org) but I best not use that word either. On the other hand, to use “African-American” will bring accusations of bowing to the demands of political correctness. It is hard to have open conversation when people are so touchy about vocabulary.
Revelation 5:9 is well known in this context. “[Thou] hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” Are those words merely four synonymous ways to describe a “multiracial” crowd, or is the Bible itself not suggesting that the issue is more complicated? “Tongue” refers to people of a common language, a central component of culture. “Nation” is the Greek word “ethnos” and is a broad reference to ethnicity. “Tribe” references a people group politically. “People” identifies common descent, perhaps the closest term to what we mean by race. May we get beyond the (dare I say it) black and white world of “you’re a racist” and begin to deal with the multicultural realities of both this world and the one to come?