Let me give you one bit of advance notice: this article is not really about an old movie or about the Black history behind it. However, since I love Black history, it seemed a good way to segue into the real subject, which I predict you will find both surprising and fascinating. So, stay with me until I reach the real reason for writing the article.
The 1967 movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, was a very controversial movie in that era, but starred some of the best-known actors of the day: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and also featured Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton. The film is about interracial marriage between blacks and whites, which historically had been illegal in most states of the US, and was still illegal in 17 states when the movie was being filmed, mostly Southern states. However, on June 12, 1967 (two days after Tracy died), laws against such marriages were struck down by the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Loving vs. Virginia. (Shockingly, Alabama became the last state to officially end its unenforceable ban on interracial marriages – in 2000!)
The movie is about a young white woman who has a whirlwind romance with a young, idealistic black physician she met while in Hawaii. The plot centers on her return to her liberal upper-class American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiance to dinner to meet her parents. Although her parents were very broadminded for their day, having taught their daughter to treat blacks and other minorities as equals, they have a difficult time with their daughter’s choice, as do his parents with his choice. The prejudices went both ways, as was quite common in that time period (and not absent in our day).
The movie can be viewed on YouTube, and I encourage you to watch it. It was quite ahead of its time in a number of respects. Not only did it deal with such a controversial subject for that era, but it confronted head-on the stereotypical views of blacks commonly held by probably a majority of the white population (especially in the South). The lead black character played by Sidney Poitier was the most intelligent, best educated, nicest and most moral of the whole cast. He was clearly the hero of the movie. For that cast of characters to have the courage and convictions to have made that movie in those times is both striking and highly commendable. I understand an update has been made that majored in humor, but I haven’t watched it (and won’t). The original classic was serious business, and I shed tears on several occasions when viewing it recently. Watch it if you haven’t or if you haven’t in many years.
Now fast-forward to 2010, the latest year for which I could find related statistics on the subject. Recent studies have shown that 8.4 percent of all current U.S. marriages are interracial, up from 3.2 percent in 1980. Although Hispanics and Asians remained the most likely to marry someone of a different race, the biggest jump since 2008 occurred among blacks. In another recent study, 83 percent of Americans say it is alright for blacks and whites to date each other, up from 48 percent in 1987. As a whole, about 63 percent of those surveyed say it would be fine if a family member were to marry outside their own race. Obviously, tremendous progress has been made since 1967 in the area of racial prejudice, but we still have a long way to go before Martin Luther King’s famous statement is a universal reality: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Well, now that we have learned a bit about an old movie and something about black/white romantic relationships and marriages in our present day, what is the real point of this article? Good question with a very interesting answer. As all know who have heard me speak very often, I typically mention my affinity for black people and in fact express fairly regularly my opinion that I must have some black blood in me. I have certain characteristics in common with most blacks that make it highly likely, at least in my mind. My favorite introduction to the concept is found in my oft-repeated statement that “I have too much soul to be a white man!” Of course, by that I mean that I could not be simply 100% white, in spite of my light skin color and Caucasian features.
Not only do I have an affinity for blacks that dates back to my very early years, I have always had a very strong aversion toward watching most racially oriented movies based on the period of time when I was growing up. A few years ago, at a small group leader’s meeting in Phoenix, our Region Leader showed us the movie starring Denzel Washington, “The Great Debaters.” After seeing the movie, I was so emotional that I went outside, sat on a bench for at least 20 minutes and just cried. When I thought I had my emotions back in control, I went back in with the group, and a young black brother just looked at me and asked, “Are you OK?” I just melted into his arms and cried on his shoulder for another few minutes. Later in a discussion time, I discovered that the younger black men were not nearly as affected emotionally by the movie as I was. A part of the difference was simply age, because I lived through the years when racial prejudice was very high and very real in my environment. I have many stories about what I both saw and heard, and so it is not just history with me; it was reality, if only as a pained observer.
During 2011 and the first half of 2012, I worked with the Houston church as much as my schedule allowed (which was quite a lot). We clicked from the beginning, and I fell in love with the church to the point that I dedicated my new book, Dynamic Leadership, to them. During the last six months of my work there, I was an interim lead evangelist, while helping them find a permanent couple to fill the slot, which ended up being Doug and Angella Wens. Likely I referred to the race subject more often in Houston than in other churches, simply because of the larger percentage of Africans and African Americans in the membership than in other churches I have worked with. However, it is a topic that I have addressed consistently for years just about everywhere – both in sermons and in writing. I have a chapter in one of my books about the Big Black Brother’s Club in Boston, a group that became somewhat famous there, or in the minds of some, perhaps infamous! We watched Monday Night Football together, and they voted me black on Monday nights, and all signed a certificate to that effect! These brother brothers still call me fairly regularly to stay in touch, both because they know how much I love them and also because they appreciate me thinking I’m part black, no matter what their personal opinions about the matter may have been.
Most of those in my audiences, regardless of their own race, probably think I am just injecting humor in speaking of having black blood in an effort to establish rapport with the black constituency present. The blacks who know me well know that I am not just kidding – I really believe it. In my first speaking visit to Houston back in January of 2009, Ronnie Ricks, one of the elders and himself an African American, may have taken me more seriously than many do because he told me about several services available to test one’s DNA to determine race and ancestry. I very quickly researched the web sites of several of these services in an effort to determine which one seemed to be the most scientifically accurate in their approach. But as I mentioned in my last sermon there back in May of this year, I procrastinated in taking the test, not because of the fee involved of several hundred dollars but because of the fear of disappointment that would accompany finding out that I in fact had no black blood in me.
I did think of a way to deal with the disappointment if that proved to be the case. Our physical bodies come from our parents through the procreation process. However, according to Zechariah 12:1 and Hebrews 12:9, God places our spirits in us directly. Thus, if he decided to place a black man’s spirit in a white man’s body, he certainly could do it, couldn’t he? With this thought in mind, if the DNA test proved that my bloodlines were void of any African blood, I could still believe and state that I had too many black characteristics for it to be mere coincidence. This explanation makes reasonable sense, right?
After we left Houston in May, I did finally get the test done. The company even had a sale and I saved $100 on the fee! The test involves a very thorough process and took a couple of months to complete before they provided the detailed results and explanations. You would have to be more scientifically grounded in that field than I am to fully understand the manual that accompanied the results. Thankfully, the results themselves were easy to understand. So what were the results, you ask? I am of 88% European descent and 12% African.
In looking back at my family tree and what I knew about my ancestors, my best guess is that my paternal great-grandmother is likely the main one who introduced the African American element into our family, and if so, she must have had a very significant percentage of black in her for me to have 12%, although the family kept it hidden with an alternate explanation for her dark skin. She and my great-grandfather were both deceased before I came on the scene, but my oldest uncle said that she was an American Indian (Native American, as current terminology would word it). However, since I had absolutely no Native American ancestry show up on my DNA test, she must have been African American passing as Native American. That was not uncommon in that period of time, due to the intense prejudice against blacks. So that is my best explanation for my African descent, and the 12% fits just about perfectly into that scenario. But who knows, given my crazy Louisiana and Arkansas relative chain, the black blood may have come from several sources. The how of it coming about in those days would most likely have been shamefully sinful if it didn’t come solely from my great-grandmother. That’s the sad part to contemplate.
The important part now, to me at least, is that I have a scientific basis to help explain how a 70 year old white boy raised in the Jim Crow South always had a different spirit toward blacks than most of his contemporaries, and shared many emotional connections that almost demanded that something in his heritage was involved. I also was fortunate that my parents didn’t possess the prejudicial spirit that was definitely present in many others in my extended family. The stark reality is that if my racial profile been known publicly in my early years when the “one drop” rule reigned supreme, I, and at least one of my parents would have been drinking from the water fountains marked “colored” and using public restrooms with the same sign on the door. The list of humiliating indignities and hatred we would have endured would have far exceeded the mere observations we made of others being treated so inhumanely.
I am glad as I write this little article that the atmosphere in which I spent my boyhood has changed significantly. I am not so ignorant as to think it is fixed, and given the sinful human element, it never will be completely cured until and unless sin is cured. And that only occurs in one person at a time when the blood of Jesus purifies and provides a common bloodline of all people who have made Him Lord and Savior. But praise God that much progress has been made in our country overall. Further, I rejoice to be a part of a movement that is about as diverse as any group in the particular geographical area where each congregation is found. Even in Arizona, which is primarily white and Hispanic, our contingent of blacks in the Phoenix church is far larger than in the local population as a whole. In God’s kingdom, it is not the color of one’s skin or racial makeup that matters – it is our hearts and our love for Jesus, one another and the lost.
I once wrote that our goal spiritually in the racial realm is not to be color blind, but rather color aware and color appreciative. Every race and every culture adds something special to the mix. When God made fish and flowers, the amount of variations found are a marvel to behold. When he designed humans, it would have been flat-out weird had he only planned for one color to exist. As it is, he designed us to enjoy similar variations as those found in the rest of his creation with the treasures they contain. I appreciate all races and cultures, and I appreciate that my own composition racially and culturally is basically Heinz 57, and that mixture includes 12% African. So now who’s laughing at old G-Dog and his comments about being a brother brother? I don’t always get the last laugh on my doubters, but I do this time, and I must say that I’m enjoying it immensely!
It will be interesting to see what my friends and family think about my uncovering of some family secrets and having much more than “one drop” of black blood coursing my veins (and heart). And maybe when I am having dinner again with some of you, you will see me in a different way. That is not a concern to me, since I am much like the old cartoon character Popeye, who often said, “I yam what I yam!” And I yam 12% African! What I am concerned about now is that I know for sure when I said hundreds of times that I had too much soul to be a white man, my statement has now been validated scientifically. How ‘bout them apples?!