Ask anyone today and with all the recent police shootings of unarmed Black people, primarily Black men, they might be tempted to say, “Yes.” But, of course, that is not what the questioner is asking about.
Let’s see what the Bible says. Genesis 9:22-27 says, “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.” (NASV)
Many wrongly interpret his passage to mean that Ham was cursed and that was how black-skinned people came to be. First of all, Noah didn’t put the curse on Ham but on his grandson, Canaan. Canaan was not black-skinned, nor were his descendants who settled in the land known as Palestine. Three of Canaan’s brothers, Cush, Mizraim, and Put, settled in Africa. The Bible says nothing about Cush, Mizraim and Put’s descendants being under Noah’s curse. It is incorrectly assumed that they were, and that that is why they had black skin.
The Canaanites were in time enslaved by the Israelites (Deuteronomy 9:1-5), descendants of Shem, and later by Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, descendants of Japeth. This enslavement of the Canaanites fulfilled the prophetic curse put on their ancestor Canaan by his grandfather, Noah. The curse had NOTHING to do with the color of their skin. However, in later centuries this narrative was interpreted by some Jews, Christians and Muslims as an explanation for the black skin color, the enslavement of black-skinned people and the racist ideology that white-skinned people are superior to black-skinned people.
Because mankind at the time was not scattering abroad to fulfill God’s command to multiply and fill the earth, but instead built the Tower of Babel to keep themselves all together in one place, God “confuse[d] their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7-8) This must have been some kind of physiologic miracle, an instant change in those centers of the brain controlling speech, so that each family suddenly found itself identifying various objects and actions with different words. The confusion finally led families to split apart and go their separate ways. Since physiologic changes were necessary to confound tongues, it is not a stretch of the imagination to see how skin pigments and other racial traits could also be a result of physiologic change during this time.
A New Testament proof that neither Noah’s curse or the color of people’s skin have anything to do with one another, or the way that God works, is the fact that Rahab is listed in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of Jesus. She was a Canaanite, which made her a descendant of Ham. She apparently married an Israelite that placed her in the lineage of Jesus. This union was obviously blessed by God and shows that the particular line of people she came from was not important. It mattered only that she trusted in the true God of Israel.
Acts 17:26 (NIV): “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” Skin color is simply a matter of how much melanin [pigment] your body produces and over time dominant genetic patterns developed in various people groups upon the earth. Some developed a genetic dominance which tells their bodies to produce a large amount of melanin. Others developed a genetic pattern in which their bodies are signaled to produce low levels of melanin. And there are infinite variations within a complete spectrum.
For more on the Bible and racism, see www.ChristianQuestions.com, January 18, 2015 and February 22, 2015 programs.