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Are black people cursed?

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No, black people are not cursed. Black people are created in the image and likeness of God just as much as every other ethnicity of humanity. The idea that black people are cursed by God and divinely meant to be subservient to other races is often called the “curse of Ham,” based on an incident recorded in Genesis chapter 9. Other allegations go further back, to Genesis 4, saying that the “mark of Cain,” which accompanied a curse upon Cain, was that Cain’s skin was turned black. The problem is, neither of these passages says anything at all about race or skin color. Those who say that black people are cursed by God have no biblical basis for their claims.

In Genesis 9, Ham sees his father lying drunk and naked in his tent (Genesis 9:20–22). Ham tells his brothers of their father’s condition, and the brothers avert their eyes and respectfully cover their father (Genesis 9:23). When Noah came to, he discovered what had happened and leveled a curse on Canaan, one of Ham’s sons:
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25).

The descendants of Ham, according to the Bible, included the Assyrians, Canaanites, Egyptians, and Ethiopians (Genesis 10:6–20). Those who adhere to the theory that black or dark-skinned people are cursed have pointed to the fact that Ham’s descendants include Africans; they also say Ham’s name, which means “hot” in Hebrew, is evidence that the dark-skinned people of the world, who mostly come from warmer climates, are all Ham’s children and therefore part of the curse of Ham. Early Christian theologians sometimes used this reasoning in an attempt to explain (not necessarily endorse) why some people were routinely enslaved.

Invoking the “curse of Ham” was a tactic developed during the rise of the Atlantic slave trade in an effort to justify forced, racial-based slavery. Talk of the “curse of Ham” was especially prevalent in the United States in the lead-up to the Civil War. Both before and after that era, however, Christian scholars noted that the practice of race-based slavery was explicitly unbiblical. Racism (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 7:9), man-stealing (Exodus 21:16), and abusive servitude (Exodus 21:20) are all forbidden in the Bible.

The first point of rebuttal against the idea that Genesis 9 teaches that black people are under a curse has already been mentioned: nowhere is race or skin color mentioned in that chapter. Second, Noah’s curse is specifically levied against Canaan, not Ham; so, in literal terms, there is no such thing as a “curse of Ham” in the Bible. Canaan, not Ham, was predicted to become a slave to his brothers. Many of Ham’s descendants were never slaves; for example, the Egyptians, children of Ham, spent most of their history in a position superior to that of Israel, children of Shem. Third, the Hebrew terms used in Genesis 9:25–27 are often found in contexts suggesting inferiority but not forced labor, per se. The same word translated “slave” in Genesis 9:25 is used of Esau in relation to Jacob (Genesis 27:37–40), of Joab in relation to King David (2 Samuel 14:22), and of Abraham in relation to the Lord (Genesis 18:3). In none of these cases does the word carry an implication that literal slaves were involved.

The fulfillment of Noah’s curse on Canaan occurred centuries later when the Israelites (from the line of Shem) entered the land of Canaan and subdued the inhabitants of that land (1 Kings 9:20–21).

To rebut the theory that Genesis 4 teaches that black or dark-skinned people are cursed or deserving of discrimination, we note the wording of God’s rebuke of Cain: “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground” (Genesis 4:11), and “The Lord put a mark on Cain” (verse 15). The Hebrew word translated “mark” is 'owth, and nowhere in the Bible is 'owth ever used to refer to skin color. The curse on Cain was on Cain himself; nothing is said of Cain’s curse continuing to his descendants. Besides, the “mark of Cain” was meant to protect Cain (verse 15) and should be considered a mitigation of the curse, not the curse itself. There is absolutely no biblical basis for the idea that Cain’s descendants had dark skin. Further, unless one of Noah’s sons’ wives was a descendant of Cain (possible but unlikely), Cain’s line ended with the flood.

In short, the claim that dark-skinned or black people are “cursed” by God comes from a worldly, anti-biblical attempt to justify racism. There is no such thing as a “curse of Ham,” and there is no justification for race-based slavery. What sets the races against each other is the sinful nature of human beings.

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This page last updated: January 13, 2023