I've been reading J. Daniel Hays, From every People and Nation: A biblical theology of race. I'm really enjoying it so far. Occasionally something puzzles me a little. Consider the following passage:
The Bible does not begin with the creation of a special race of people. When the first human is introduced into the story, he was called adam [special characters removed because I have no idea how to do them], which means 'humankind'. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Adam and Eve are not Hebrews or Egyptians or Canaanites. It is incorrect for the White church to view them as White or for the Black church to view them as Black. Their 'race' is not identifiable; they are neither Negroid nor Caucasian, nor even Semitic. They become the mother and father of all peoples. The division of humankind into peoples and races is not even mentioned until Genesis 10. Adam and Eve, as well as Noah, is non-ethnic and non-national. They represent all people and not some people. [Hays, pp.48-49]
After the word 'Semitic', he places a footnote number, which leads to the following footnote:
[W.D.] McKissic [in Beyond Roots: In Search of Blacks in the Bible, 1990] disagrees, raising the issue of genetics, both for Adam and Eve and for Noah and his wife. The genetic pattern for all the races of humankind, argues McKissic, had to be present in both these sets of people. Thus they had to carry the genetic pattern for the Negroid race. If they carried these genes then one of them at least, according to McKissic, would have had Negroid features.
I'm not sure there's any real disagreement here, though, at least in substance. Hays seems to be thinking of race as some later subdivision of people, and of course Adam and Eve couldn't be of any race if it necessarily involves that. McKissic, on the other hand, is thinking of race in a very different way. If at one point you had two people who became the ancestors of every human being, including those who would be parts of pretty diverse races, then you must have had the genetic material necessary for those races to exist later. One thing McKissic doesn't take into account, at least in this quote (although I think he might in the book; it's been many years since I read his book, and I don't have it in front of me at the moment) is that mutations can explain changes in skin color, hair type, and so on. It doesn't have to stem from just genetic information present in the ancestors.
I seem to remember McKissic making the argument that darker skin color genes tend to be dominant, which means at least one of the ancestor-pair would have to be black. Using the term this way clearly does not indicate species sub-division into races, as Hays seems to be treating it. All it means is that we in our day have identified various characteristics that we associate with various races. Someone is identified as being in a certain race according to such characteristics. An earlier ancestor with those characteristics would rightly, as the English words are now used, be called black or white (or whatever) according to the criteria we now use to assign such terms. So if Adam, say, looked enough like the typical African or black American today that were he seen today he'd be so classified, then he was black by the meaning of the current term. That, as far as I can tell, is what McKissic means. He's simply talking about something different from what Hays is talking about.
Now there's actually been a DNA discovery since McKissic's book (and since Hays's book, for that matter) that shows that light skin color is a mutation and that the ancestors of white people were black by the current definition (as McKissic is using the term), so I think his view is pretty much scientifically confirmed at this point. Hays doesn't want to acknowledge that as Adam and Eve belonging to the black race, because his notion of race is defined as a sub-division that later occurs. But racialized terms aren't always used that way, as the meaningfulness of McKissic's claim shows. I think it's perfectly ok (at least linguistically) to say that Adam and Eve were black. It doesn't seem to me to involve any misuse of the terms involved. If this is right, then it has an interesting consequence for those who claim race terms involve an ancestry component. It doesn't remove an ancestry component, but it does allow someone with no ancestry (or no human ancestry, depending on how you view Adam and Eve) to have a race under one important concept of what it is to be a member of a race.