Blackness in 3D: Biblical Race, American Law, and Contemporary Crises

“The state-sanctioned violence against Black Americans in contemporary society is connected to the history of racialized interpretations of biblical texts that defined blackness (and therefore Black people) as akin to dangerousness, depravity, and deviance (the “3Ds of Blackness”). In turn, these theological constructions of blackness shaped legal defintions of and justifications for the violent regulation of black bodies in the antebellum period and today. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Joel Bernard Kemp Emory University's Candler School of Theology Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

The role of American churches in shaping social, political, and legal matters remains in the news. Scholars like Anthea Butler, Robert Jones, and Jemar Tisby highlight the ways churches played a significant part in constructing America’s racial caste systems. My project, Blackness in 3D: Biblical Race, American Law, and Contemporary Crises, joins this conversation by illustrating how the racialized reception history of three texts from the Primeval History – (i) Genesis 4 (“Mark of Cain”); (ii) Genesis 9 (“Curse of Ham”); and (iii) Genesis 10 (“Table of Nations”) – contributed to associating blackness with ideas of dangerousness, depravity, and deviance (the “3Ds of Blackness”). Also, I investigate how these “theologically” informed misrepresentations of blackness affected legal restrictions upon and definitions of Black individuals in the antebellum period. Moreover, I argue these patterns of defining, regulating, and policing Black persons provide a framework to understand some of the violence Black individuals continue to confront within modern American contexts. As churches wrestle with issues of racism and their role in addressing what some have labeled as “America’s original sin,” an aim of this project is to equip American churches to think more critically about their role in constructing, and therefore correcting, America’s living traditions of anti-Black racism.