9 May 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Is Jesus white, and are we black people a cursed race?

Signed, Puzzled African

Dear Puzzled:

The short answer is an emphatic no, to both questions. 

Jesus was a Jew of the Levant, and though artists pictured him for centuries with European features, he undoubtedly had dark skin, eyes and hair.

The pernicious notion that black people are a cursed race goes back to an old theory, much discussed in the era of American slavery and still mentioned from time to time, called the Curse of Ham. In Genesis 9, Noah’s son Ham is cursed by his father (not by God, as some assume) for laughing at his father when he was drunk and naked.

This was twisted into a justification for slavery, as explained here by pro-slavery Massachusetts minister Simeon Doggett:

The purport of this prophetic denunciation is, that the posterity of Ham would become a degraded, servile race, and eventually fall under the domination of the descendants of his other sons, Shem and Japheth. This extraordinary prediction has been wonderfully verified. The posterity of Shem spread over Asia, while that of Japheth possessed Europe; to whom Ham’s posterity, the miserable Africans, have for immemorial ages, been in slavery, either as conquered nations, or as individuals transported to America, by the sons of avarice.
—“Two Discourses on the Subject of Slavery” (1835)

There is no evidence, biblical or otherwise, that Ham was “blackened” by his father’s anger, as racist white preachers said. There is no evidence that Noah’s three sons were of three different races and populated different parts of the world. There is no evidence that God intended black people to be slaves to white people. 

Nor did a drunk Noah have the authority to impose a millennia-long curse on all his son’s descendants. There’s no evidence Noah’s hungover curse had any impact at all! This interpretation was invented to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws.

Aunty would hope such a stupid theology would have long since passed off the scene. But there are Christians who still believe this cruel fable, and preachers who preach it. At times dark-skinned people have internalized this supposed “curse” on themselves. Martin Luther King Jr. rightly called it a “blasphemy” that “is against everything that the Christian religion stands for.” 

Aunt Sevvy

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