Religion of Sunday, 29 April 2007
Source: kwabena Frimpong Amankwah
MANY religious leaders have answered “Yes.” Clergymen Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, in their Bible commentary, assert: “Cursed be Canaan [Genesis 9:25]—this doom has been fulfilled in. . . the slavery of the Africans, the descendants of Ham.”—Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Whole Bible.
It is claimed that not only the slavery of blacks was in fulfillment of this Biblical curse, but their black skin color is too. Thus many whites have been led to assume that blacks are inferior, and that God meant for them to be the servants of whites.
Many blacks became embittered by the treatment that they received as a result of this religious interpretation. One observes: “It was in the summer of 1951 when I, as an inquisitive seven-year-old, sat on the steps of the First Baptist Church in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and cried. I had tried diligently to rub off the blackness of my flesh, because my white girl companions had remarked about its offensiveness. The rubbing with Ajax cleanser left only a reddened, puffy spot that ached, almost as much as my childish heart, when I began to ponder why a God of love would make a person black, unless he really did not love me.
“I had heard that it was due to a curse put on our race by God. But still didn’t know or understand what we had done to God that merited such punishment. And I think, in reflection, that deep in my heart I had always harbored a private grudge against God for making me black and putting me into a white world. “In the crushing disturbances of my playmates’ taunts and racial epithets, such as: ‘If you’re White, you’re all right, if you’re Brown, stick around, if you’re Black, get back,’ a marked condition ensued, wherein I began to seethe, particularly at white girls my own age.”
What about this Biblical curse? Are people black due to a curse that God placed on some ancestor of theirs? And did blacks suffer centuries of slavery in fulfillment of this curse? Does the Bible really teach such things? Let us see. The Bible account in question reads: “[Noah] drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren . . . And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”—Gen. 9:21-27, Authorized Version.
It has been claimed that this Biblical curse singles out blacks for perpetual servitude. In fact, in 1838 the antislavery crusader Theodore Weld wrote in a popular tract: The “prophecy of Noah [quoted above] is the vade mecum [constant companion] of slaveholders, and they never venture abroad without it.”—The Bible Against Slavery, page 66.
But, first of all, please note that nothing is said in this Bible account about anyone’s being cursed with blackness of skin. And note, too, that it is Canaan, not his father Ham, who was cursed. Canaan was not black skinned, nor were his descendants who settled in the land that became known as Palestine. (Gen. 10:15-19) The Canaanites were, in time, subjugated by the Israelites, descendants of Shem, and later by Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, descendants of Japheth. This subjugation of the Canaanites fulfilled the prophetic curse on their ancestor Canaan. The curse thus had nothing to do with the black race.
From where, then, did the black race come? From Ham’s other sons, Cush and probably also Put, whose descendants settled in Africa. But, as we have seen, the Bible says absolutely nothing about the black descendants of these men being cursed! Yet it was incorrectly assumed that they were. When did church commentators begin applying the curse to Ham?
A churchman of about 1,500 years ago, Ambrosiaster, applied it thus, saying: “Due to folly Ham, who foolishly ridiculed the nakedness of his father, was declared a slave.” And John F. Maxwell observes in his recent book Slavery and the Catholic Church: “This disastrous example of fundamentalist exegesis [explanation] continued to be used for 1,400 years and led to the widely held view that African Negroes were cursed by God.”
Even up to a hundred years ago the Catholic Church held the view that blacks were cursed by God. Maxwell explains that this view “apparently survived until 1873 when Pope Pius IX attached an indulgence to a prayer for the ‘wretched Ethiopians in Central Africa that almighty God may at length remove the curse of Cham [Ham] from their hearts.’”
Yet even before Christendom’s beginning over 1,500 years ago, yes, possibly even prior to Jesus Christ’s life on earth, Jewish rabbis taught a story about the origin of black skin. The Encyclopædia Judaica claims: “Ham’s descendant (Cush) Is black skinned as a punishment for Ham’s having had sexual intercourse in the ark.” Similar “stories” have been manufactured in modern times. Defenders of slavery, such as John Fletcher of Louisiana, for example, taught that the sin that prompted the curse by Noah was racial intermarriage. He claimed that Cain was smitten with a black skin for killing his brother Abel, and that Ham had sinned by marrying into the race of Cain. It is noteworthy, too, that Nathan Lord, president of Dartmouth College during the last century, also attributed Noah’s curse upon Canaan partly to Ham’s “forbidden intermarriage with the previously wicked and accursed race of Cain.”
But such teachings have no foundation whatsoever in the Bible. And there were persons in past centuries who showed that the curse uttered by Noah was wrongly being applied to blacks. For example, back in June 1700 Judge Samuel Sewall of Boston explained: “For Canaan is the person cursed three times over, without the mentioning of Cham [Ham]. . . . Whereas the Blackmores [Black race] are not descended of Canaan, but of Cush.”
Also, in 1762 a John Woolman published a treatise in which he argued that the application of this Biblical curse in such a way as to justify enslaving people and depriving them of their natural rights “is a supposition too gross to be admitted into the mind of any person who sincerely desires to be governed by solid principles.”
What great harm has resulted from the misapplication by churchmen of this Biblical curse! The slavery of African blacks, and their mistreatment since the days of slavery, can in no way be justified by the Bible. The truth is, blacks are not, and never were, cursed by God!
Is the Black Race Cursed? Some have attempted to justify their prejudice by claiming that God cursed the black race. However, no such curse is recorded in the Bible. True, Genesis 9:25 says: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.” However, that oft-cited verse says nothing whatsoever about skin color. Besides, the black race evidently descended from a brother of Canaan named Cush. (Genesis 10:6, 7; in the “New World Translation Reference Bible” for Isaiah 43:3, where the name Cush is used to refer to the African country of thiopia.) Canaan’s descendants were evidently light-skinned—not black.
“God cursed the blacks”? This statement was used to support the slave trade and the subsequent oppression of the black people. How did it come about? Is this statement really in the Bible?
No, it is not. In Genesis, chapter 9, there is the account of Ham’s son Canaan, who was cursed by his grandfather, Noah, in these words: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.” In the course of history, the Canaanites were subjected by the Israelites and later by various world powers. But did this fulfillment have anything to do with the black races? No. How do we know? Simply because none of Canaan’s offspring were black. In fact, it was Ham’s other sons, Cush and Put, who settled in Africa and fathered the races of black people living there. The Bible does not say that these other sons or their descendants were cursed by God.
In the face of this evidence, why do people still cling to this myth? In some countries, as in the United States prior to the Civil War, economic advantages in certain areas fit conveniently into such a pattern of thinking. For other individuals, the nurturing of a feeling of superiority may make them feel good. The fact remains, however, that the Bible does not say the black people are, or ever were, cursed by God. So, with the Bible in hand, there is no need to be misled at any time. Anyway, is it not fairer and safer to check it for yourself, rather than to accept hearsay? Then you can be sure that your faith will be strengthened by the many good things the Bible has to say!—2 Tim. 3:16.
Who is HAM
One of Noah’s three sons, born after 2470 B.C.E. (Ge 5:32; 7:6; 11:10) He was possibly the youngest son (Ge 9:24); however, he is listed in second place at Genesis 5:32; 6:10; and elsewhere. At Genesis 10:21 Shem is called “the brother of Japheth the oldest.” Some believe that the expression “youngest son” at Genesis 9:24 refers to Noah’s grandson Canaan..
Ham was the father of four sons, Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. (Ge 10:6; 1Ch 1:8) The Ethiopians, Egyptians, some Arabian and African tribes, and the Canaanites descended from these sons. While it is claimed that some of the Hamitic tribes and nations listed in Genesis chapter 10 spoke a Semitic language, this does not weigh against their being of Hamitic descent or their having originally spoken a Hamitic tongue. Many peoples adopted the language of their conquerors, of other peoples with whom they associated, or of the land to which they migrated.
Ham married before the Flood. Along with his wife, his father and mother, and his two brothers and their wives, he survived the Flood. (Ge 6:18; 7:13; 8:15, 16, 18; 1Pe 3:19, 20) Ham’s sons were born after the Flood.
Sometime later he became involved in an incident that brought a curse on his son Canaan. Noah had become intoxicated with wine and had uncovered himself in his tent. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, and instead of showing the proper respect for Noah, the family head and the servant and prophet whom God had made an instrument in the preservation of the human race, Ham told his two brothers of his discovery. Shem and Japheth exhibited the proper respect by walking backwards with a mantle to cover Noah so that they would not bring reproach by looking on their father’s nakedness. Noah, on awakening, uttered a curse, not on Ham, but on Ham’s son Canaan. In the accompanying blessing of Shem, which included a blessing for Japheth, Ham was passed over and ignored; only Canaan was mentioned as cursed and was prophetically foretold to become a slave to Shem and Japheth.—Ge 9:20-27.
It is possible that Canaan himself had been involved directly in the incident and that his father Ham had failed to correct him. Or Noah, speaking prophetically by inspiration, foresaw that the bad tendency in Ham, perhaps already manifest in his son Canaan, would be inherited by Canaan’s offspring. The curse was partly fulfilled when the Semitic Israelites subjugated the Canaanites. Those who were not destroyed (for example, the Gibeonites [Jos 9]) were made slaves to Israel. Centuries later, the curse was further fulfilled when descendants of Ham’s son Canaan came under the domination of the Japhetic world powers of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Some persons have incorrectly held that the black race and enslavement of members of that race resulted from the curse pronounced upon Canaan. On the contrary, the descendants of Canaan, the cursed one, were not of the black race. The black race descended from Cush and possibly from Put, other sons of Ham who were not involved in the incident or the curse.
Why did Noah curse Canaan when Ham was the offender?
The occasion of this curse is described at Genesis 9:20-27 (Ro): “And Noah began to be a husbandman, so he planted a vineyard; and drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself in the midst of his tent. And Ham the father of Canaan saw his father’s shame, and told his two brethren outside. And Shem and Japheth took a mantle and put it on the shoulder of them both and went backwards, and covered the shame of their father, but their faces were backwards, and the shame of their father saw they not. And Noah awoke from his wine, and came to know what his youngest son had done to him. And he said, Accursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren! And he said, Blessed be Yahweh, God of Shem, and let Canaan be their servant: God give extension to Japheth, but make his habitation in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be their servant.”
The record of this incident is very brief and likely leaves out details that would be illuminating. Many Bible scholars believe that Canaan was involved in some way not specifically mentioned. The account shows that when Noah awoke he “came to know what his youngest son had done to him”. Rotherham’s translation has a footnote on “youngest son”, which reads: “Undoubtedly Canaan, and not Ham: Shem and Japheth, for their piety, are blessed; Canaan, for some unnamed baseness, is cursed; Ham, for his neglect, is neglected.”
Jewish religious authorities take a similar view. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by J. H. Hertz, comments: “This vague narrative refers to some abominable deed in which Canaan seems to have been implicated. . . . Instead of showing filial respect and covering his father, Ham deemed the occasion food for laughter, and mockingly repeated the incident to his brothers.” After noting that the Hebrew word translated “son” in verse 24 may also mean “grandson”, this source states: “The reference is evidently to Canaan.” The Soncino Chumash, edited by A. Cohen, points out that some believe Canaan “indulged a perverted lust upon him”, and that the expression “youngest son” refers to Canaan, who was the youngest son of Ham.
That some abuse or perversion or base lust, rather than a mere exposure of nakedness, may have been embraced by the words “saw the nakedness of his father” is apparent when it is remembered that incest or other sexual sins are meant when the Bible speaks of uncovering one’s nakedness or seeing one’s nakedness.—Lev. 18:6-19; 20:17.
In fulfillment of Noah’s pronouncement, Shem was blessed by becoming “the ancestor of all the Hebrews”, the chosen people of Jehovah and from whom the Messiah came. (Gen. 10:21, AT) On the other hand, in fulfillment of the curse the descendants of Canaan that were not destroyed when Israel entered the Promised land were put under servitude to the descendants of Shem. As Joshua said to some of these spared Canaanites: “Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” And of other spared Canaanites it is written: “Upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bondservice unto this day.” (Josh. 9:23; 1 Ki. 9:21)
The Canaanites were not wronged, but rightly deserved their treatment. They were idolaters, they indulged in shameful and abominable vice, they went beyond other nations in practicing human sacrifice. God doomed them to extermination not only as punishment for their wickedness, but also to prevent their seducing his covenant people.
He used the Israelites as executioners, and those Canaanites not exterminated or driven out were put under bondage, in fulfillment of the prophetic curse uttered by Noah. Incidentally, when some try to say this curse caused some men to be black-skinned they show ignorance of the Bible record, for colored peoples did not descend from the cursed Canaan.
Hence it seems that Canaan may very likely have been guilty of some abuse or perversion against the person of his grandfather Noah, and that Ham witnessed this without interfering. Instead he spread the story of the shaming of his father. Shem and Japheth acted to cover this shame. So they were blessed, the likely perpetrator Canaan was cursed, and the guilty bystander and tale-bearer Ham was personally ignored yet suffered through the shame brought upon his offspring.
Such is the reasonable view taken by many careful Bible scholars, though the greatly abbreviated record as it has come down to us in the Bible does not supply all the details. God does not need to justify to us his dealings with such situations by giving all the details, which in this case might clarify Canaan’s role in the matter.
The important point is supplied, namely, that Jehovah caused Noah to utter the prophecy and Jehovah brought about its fulfillment.
Slave Trade and Race
A major reason is that the profitable slave trade had by then reached its apex, and hundreds of thousands of Africans were being taken by force and pressed into slavery in Europe and the Americas. Often families were broken up, with men, women, and children being sent to different parts of the world, never to see one another again. How could slave traders and slave owners, most of whom claimed to be Christian, defend such inhuman acts?
By propagating the view that black Africans were naturally inferior. “I am apt to suspect all negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the white,” wrote 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume. In fact, Hume claimed that one could find “no ingenious manufactures amongst [Negroes], no arts, no sciences.”
However, such claims were wrong. The World Book Encyclopedia (1973) noted: “Highly developed Negro kingdoms existed in various parts of Africa hundreds of years ago. . . . Between 1200 and 1600, a Negro-Arabic university flourished at Timbuktu in West Africa and became famous throughout Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East.” Nevertheless, those involved in the slave trade were quick to adopt the view of philosophers such as Hume that blacks were a race inferior to whites, indeed, even subhuman.
Religion and Race
Slave traders got considerable support for their racist views from religious leaders. As early as the 1450’s, the edicts of Roman Catholic popes sanctioned the subjugation and enslavement of “pagans” and “infidels” so that their “souls” might be saved for “God’s Kingdom.” Having received the blessing of the church, early European explorers and slave traders felt no qualms about their brutal treatment of native peoples.
“In the 1760s, as for many decades to come, black slavery was sanctioned by Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed churchmen and theologians,” says the book Slavery and Human Progress. “No modern church or sect had sought to discourage its members from owning or even trafficking in black slaves.”
Although some of the churches talked about universal Christian brotherhood, they also promoted teachings that intensified the racial controversy. For example, Encyclopaedia Judaica states that “it was only after lengthy struggles and theological discussions that the Spaniards recognized the native races they found in America as men endowed with souls.”
The implication was that so long as the “souls” of the people of such native races were “saved” by being converted to Christianity, it was unimportant how they were treated physically. And when it came to the situation of blacks, many religious leaders argued that they were cursed by God anyway. Scriptures were misapplied to try to prove this. Clergymen Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, in their Bible commentary, assert: “Cursed be Canaan [Genesis 9:25]—this doom has been fulfilled in the destruction of the Canaanites—in the degradation of Egypt, and the slavery of the Africans, the descendants of Ham.”—Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Whole Bible.
The teaching that the forefather of the black race was cursed is simply not taught in the Bible. The truth is, the black race descended from Cush, not Canaan.
The modern idea of inherent superiority of whites had its origin with the conquest and enslaving of African blacks. The slave trade needed justification, particularly since those engaged in it were professed Christians. Charles de Second in Montesquieu, French jurist and political philosopher, explained how the traders reasoned: “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow, that we ourselves are not Christians.”
Professed Christians in America also needed justification for slavery, for the economy of the southern cotton planters was based on Negro slavery. Thus an American historian says: “The South searched the Scriptures for Biblical endorsement of the practice. .. . . Constantly the South argued that slavery was sanctioned and in fact commanded by the Bible, and was a divinely-appointed institution especially beneficial to the Negroes.”—“A Complete History of the United States,” by Clement Wood, pp. 217, 337.
The churches took a lead in justifying slavery. It was taught that Negroes are a cursed race, which is why their skin is black. In 1844 Methodists split North and South over slavery. The Baptists in 1845 and, about the same time, the Presbyterian Church divided right down the political Mason-Dixon line. As late as 1902 a Bible House in St. Louis published the widely circulated book “The Negro a Beast” or “In the Image of God.” It includes a chapter entitled “Convincing Biblical and Scientific Evidence that the Negro is Not of the Human Family.”
So, with church approval, blacks were viewed as inherently inferior to whites. The Encyclopædia Britannica lamented: “It was the misfortune of the African to be enslaved in America by Christians, who, unable to reconcile their beliefs with the practice of slavery, recast their conception of the Negro so that they came to regard him as property, not as a human being entitled to rights and liberties.”—Vol. 16, p. 200D, 1971.
But it was not just the churches that championed such views. Philosophers and scientists did also.
Philosophers and Scientist role
Around the 1830’s southern philosophers in the United States formulated the principles regarding the natural inequality of man, a concept by then already accepted by most Southerners. And the leading American physical anthropologist of the time, Josiah C. Nott, attempted to provide biological support for this concept. The view of some came to be that the various races evolved separately and that blacks are more closely related to apes.
After noting certain characteristics as evidence, The Encyclopædia Britannica observes: “The negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man, and to be more closely related to the highest anthropoids.”—Vol. 19, 1911, p. 344.
Some hold similar views today, including Professor Carleton S. Coon, former president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. He asserts that five races of men, in isolation from one another, “evolved independently into Homo sapiens not once but five times.” In a national United States television broadcast, a spokesman claimed that Coon “presents evidence, and takes the position, that the Negro race is 200,000 years behind the White race on the ladder of evolution.”
Such views, long held regarding blacks, help us to understand how early Americans could speak ‘of all men being created equal,’ yet sanction a form of slavery in which persons were viewed as inferior. The Sociology of Social Problems, Third Edition, by Paul B. Horton and Gerald R. Leslie, explains:
“The ‘all men are created equal’ dictum did not apply to Negroes, since they were ‘property,’ not men. Theories of a biblical Hamitic curse, of incompleted or separate evolutions, of geographic determinism, and of intelligence test evidences were successively employed to justify treatment of Negroes as inferiors. As long as such notions were believed—and most people did believe them—there was no inconsistency in professing democratic ideals while practicing discrimination.”
Probably few persons today claim that blacks are “not men.” Yet many still believe that they are inherently inferior. Their higher illegitimacy and crime rates, lower economic and social status, and, particularly, lower average scores on IQ tests, are considered “proof” of their biological inferiority. But is this evidence really proof of biological inferiority? Are there circumstances that account for the shortcomings of blacks, on an average, when compared with whites?
Origin of Americas Blacks
Many persons in the U.S. believe that the African forefathers of American blacks were savages, without culture or civilization. They feel that they were dull mentally, childlike, incapable of accomplishing complex tasks, or of developing an advanced civilization. But the facts are otherwise, as The World Book Encyclopedia comments: “Highly developed Negro kingdoms existed in various parts of Africa hundreds of years ago. . . . Some of the Negro kings and their nobles lived in great wealth and splendor. Their capitals sometimes became centers of culture and trade. Between 1200 and 1600, a Negro-Arabic university flourished at Timbuktu in West Africa and became famous throughout Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East.”—Vol. 14, 1973, pp. 106, 107.
True, African culture is quited different from European, even as Oriental culture also is different. And, unfortunately, some equate difference with inferiority. Yet, at the same time, there is no denying that in recent centuries the development of African life and culture was arrested. There was a lack of progress, a backwardness. But why?.
The reason was due, in large part, to the slave trade, about which The Encyclopedia Americana said: “It disorganized Negro culture and industry, stopped the development of art, overthrew governments and was the cause of that modern stagnation of culture which has marked the Dark Continent since 1600.”—Vol. 20, 1927, p. 47.
The magnitude of the slave trade, and its impact on African society, shocks the senses. According to The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 1976, “estimates of the slaves shipped across the Atlantic run from 30,000,000 to 100,000,000.” More conservative estimates give the figure “as about 15 million.” But even the lesser estimates are staggering, especially when one considers the casualties involved. It must be acknowledged that Africans were captured both directly by whites and in wars and raids by blacks, who sold their countrymen to white slave traders. No matter who bore initial responsibility, the captives were then marched to the coast, and held at embarkation stations. Then, chained together by twos, they were crammed below in the holds of ships in a space only large enough for them to lie down. There they spent most of the fifty-day Atlantic voyage without light or fresh air. About a third of the prisoners are estimated to have died even before boarding ship, and another third in passage.
It was in the early 1500’s that the first slaves were brought to the West Indies and South America to work the mines and plantations. In 1619 a Dutch slave ship delivered the first blacks to North America, not as slaves but as indentured servants. However, later in the 1600’s slavery was fully established, and, in time, there were some four million black slaves in the United States.
What Slavery Did to Them
Africans commonly were delivered first to the West Indies, where they were “seasoned,” or broken in as slaves, before being shipped to America. The policy was to separate people of the same tribal origin, to prevent any mass uprisings. Even families were broken up, and new names were given the slaves by the traders or by their new masters. The aim was to make blacks subservient, obedient. In the process, their personalities were distorted, their mentalities suppressed, and, realizing the futility of resisting, blacks often began to behave as if they were inferior.
Slave codes were formulated to assure their complete subordination. The Encyclopedia Americana says:
“Slaves could not own property, possess firearms, engage in commerce, leave the plantation without permission from their owners, testify in court except against other Negroes, make contracts, learn to read and write, or hold meetings without the presence of white persons. . . . the murder or rape of a slave or of a free Negro by a white person was not regarded as a serious offense.”—Vol. 20, 1959, p. 67.
In most slave-holding states, the punishment for teaching a black to read or write was either a fine, a whipping or imprisonment. In 1808 the United States made the slave trade illegal. However, the trade continued despite the law, since slaves were in greater demand than ever. This led to an ultimate perversion—producing slaves for sale. The Encyclopedia Americana explains: “A large-scale and profitable domestic slave trade developed, and some of the most cruel and cold-blooded incidents of the slave system were associated with it, such as the breeding of slaves in the older states for sale farther south, and the constant breaking of family ties by selling members separately.”—Vol. 20, 1959, p. 67.
Yes, the view that blacks were “not men” led to the breeding and selling of them, as is commonly done with livestock. Then, abruptly, in 1865, slavery was fully abolished in the United States. Yet attitudes persisted, and blacks were kept “in their place”—that of subordination to whites—by segregation laws and other means. Lynching by hanging was one important instrument of control. There were, on an average, 166 lynchings annually between 1890 and 1900. Also, as The Encyclopedia Americana relates:. “The sexual exploitation of Negro women by white men continued to be tolerated. Negroes received grossly unfair and discriminatory treatment at the hands of police and frequently in the courts.”—Vol. 20, 1959, p. 70.
Are we talking about ancient history? No, the grandparents of many living blacks were slaves. And people living today have heard from the lips of former slaves what life was like then. Even into the 1950’s the mass media in America portrayed blacks as inferior—invariably their role was as servants to whites.
Generally, however, blacks were not visible at all, neither in magazines, on television nor in newspapers, except in stories of crime. They were discriminated against at every turn, receiving second-rate schooling, and being barred from certain types of employment and from many other benefits enjoyed by whites. Practically everywhere doors of opportunity were shut to them, robbing many of any hope of improving their lot.
In view of these circumstances, can one really expect blacks to do as well, on the average, as whites in educational and other achievements? Would it be fair to judge them inferior as a race when they do not measure up to a certain standard? What happens when opportunities are open to them?
Opportunity and Motivation
Prior to 1947 blacks were barred in the U.S. from major-league baseball. That year, as racial tensions often ran high, a black was permitted to play. Soon blacks began to excel in baseball. In 1971, the year that they were world champions, in one game the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a team of nine players-all black. The situation is similar in other sports, causing the New York Times to say, “pro basketball is virtually a black game.”
What does this mean? That blacks are biologically superior physically to whites? Or does it mean that when opportunities are opened and instruction and motivation are provided, blacks can do well? Obviously the latter. Races are not born with talent to be ballplayers, musicians, scientists, college professors, and so forth. These things must be learned.
It is wrong to stereotype races, saying that one race is naturally dull and slow, another aggressive and militant, still another gentle and subservient, and so forth. Races are the way that they are particularly due to the education, training and motivation that they receive. For example, the Chinese were often characterized by many as being naturally gentle and subservient. But given the different education and motivation that they have received over the past several decades under Communism, few would characterize them that way today.
Yet the view persists that naturally, biologically, blacks as a race are slower mentally and less intelligent than whites. Is there reliable evidence that this is so?
Solution Available to All
These are not rare or unusual stories. Millions have learned prejudice from their youth; millions more have been victims of prejudice and, as a result, have suffered unjust racial discrimination. Yet, happily, God’s Word has the solution—it provides our Creator’s view of humankind and how we should treat one another.
First, as we have seen, the Bible teaches that we are all one human family. Yes, in God’s sight, humans of every race or nationality are equal in all respects. (Acts 10:34, 35) This is also the view that Jesus Christ expressed.
Christ’s principal command to his followers was that they “love one another” just as he loved them. (John 13:34, 35) This love among themselves was not to be some exclusive thing—just for members of a particular race or races. Not at all! “Have love for the whole association of brothers,” one of Christ’s apostles urged. And another said: “He who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.”—1 Pet. 2:17; 1 John 4:20.
How is this Christian love shown? God’s Word explains how when it urges: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Rom. 12:10) Think what it will mean when you do this. You will treat others, regardless of their race or nationality, with real dignity and respect, viewing them as “superior to you.” (Phil. 2:3) When such a spirit of genuine Christian love exists, the problem of racial prejudice is solved.
‘This is something that will never happen,’ some persons may object. Yet it has already happened among Jehovah’s Witnesses—in an organization of more than six million people! This is not to say that every single one of Jehovah’s Witnesses has become perfectly free from the prejudices learned from this ungodly system. No, but they have, to a degree unmatched by any other people on earth, solved this problem of race. And this becomes evident to any who investigate.
For example, Catholic writer William J. Whalen observed in the U.S. Catholic of July 1964: “I believe that one of the most attractive characteristics of this cult has been its traditional policy of racial equality. Negroes who become Jehovah’s Witnesses know they will be welcomed as full human beings.”
Also, G. Norman Eddy, after an intensive study of Jehovah’s Witnesses, wrote in the religious publication Journal of Bible and Religion: “Penetrating more deeply into their social values, I am struck with their genuine high regard for the people of all races. Unlike some who pay lip service to the doctrine of racial brotherhood, the Witnesses welcome all to their society—even to places of Outstanding leadership—without reference to color or feature.”
Are you a person who longs for true brotherhood, to see people of all races dwell together in peace? We welcome you, then, to attend a local Kingdom Hall where Jehovah’s Witnesses meet regularly to study God’s Word. See for yourself if they do not display genuine Christian love-for people.