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December 13th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Call Jesus (or Santa) white? Expect a big fight

Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN

(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."

Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."

The Fox News host would have none of it.

"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Arguing about St. Nick, who was originally Greek before Currier & Ives got their hands on him, is one thing. But as for Jesus, people have been arguing about his skin color since the earliest days of American history. You might even call it an American tradition.

What's new about this latest brouhaha is how swiftly Kelly’s remarks were attacked. Thousands of people have rebuked her through blogs, articles, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

Comedian Jon Stewart accused Kelly of "going full Christmas nog."

“And who are you actually talking to?" Stewart said on "The Daily Show." "Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o’clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real — yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white?”

It seems that now, if you want to call Christ — or even Santa — white, you should expect a fierce fight.

The immediate and widespread rebuttal showcases how much America has changed over the past few decades. The nation not only has a black president, but also has refused to endorse the Christian savior as white.

Since the earliest days of America, Jesus was thought of as a white man.

When white Protestant missionaries brought Bibles and whitened images of Jesus to Native Americans, at least a few mocked what they saw.

Taking the imagery seriously, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh asked future President William Henry Harrison, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you kill’d and nail’d him on a cross.”

It was not until around 1900 that a group of white Americans explicitly claimed Jesus was white.

Concerned that large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jewish immigrants, were “polluting” the nation, anti-immigrant spokesmen like attorney Madison Grant asserted the whiteness of Jesus to justify calls for exclusionary legislation.

READ MORE: From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism.

“In depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Savior,” Grant wrote in his xenophobic best-seller "The Passing of the Great Race."

“This is something more than a convention,” Grant continued, and suggested that Jesus had “Nordic, possibly Greek, physical and moral attributes.”

Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man.

King responded that the color of Christ’s skin didn’t matter. Jesus would have been just as important “if His skin had been black.” He “is no less significant because His skin was white.”

READ MORE: Turkish town cashes in on Saint Nick legacy

Challenges to Christ’s whiteness have a long history, too.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham preached in the 1950s, and then wrote emphatically in his autobiography "Just As I Am," that, “Jesus was not a white man.”

But Graham was far from the first American to contradict the whiteness of Jesus. That honor goes to Methodist and Pequot Indian William Apess.

In 1833, he wrote to white Christians, “You know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services but to a colored one.”

Almost 100 years later, the Jamaican born, “back-to-Africa” spokesman Marcus Garvey told his followers, “Never admit that Jesus Christ was a white man, otherwise he could not be the Son of God and God to redeem all mankind. Jesus Christ had the blood of all races in his veins.”

In our age, the color of Christ has become both politically dangerous and the butt of jokes.

In 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s words “God damn America” and “Jesus was a poor black boy” almost derailed then-Sen. Barack Obama from winning the Democratic primary.

Now, Kelly bears the brunt of attacks and, in no surprise, was pilloried by comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Few Americans went on public record against King when he asserted Jesus had white skin in the 1950s. Today, thousands upon thousands from virtually every race and tribe of Americans have taken Kelly’s words seriously and seriously disdained them.

All the chatter about Jesus being white (or not) shows how much America has changed. There used to be “whites’ only” restaurants and schoolrooms. Now, even Jesus cannot be called white without repercussions.

What the debate hides, however, is what Jesus of the Bible actually did and how he related to people.

The gospels are full of discussions about Jesus and bodies. He healed the blind and those who suffered from disease. He touched and was touched by the sick. His body was pierced by thorns, a spear and nails. And he died.

READ MORE: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

The phenotype of Jesus was never an issue in the Bible. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor John mentioned Christ’s skin tone or hair color. None called him white or black or red or brown.

Obsessions about race are obsessions of our age, not the biblical one. When asked what mattered most, Jesus did not say his skin tone or body shape. He instructed his followers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Maybe this Christmas season, we can reflect not so much on whether or not Jesus was white and instead consider what it meant for him to be called the “light” of the world.

Edward J. Blum is the co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He can be followed on Twitter @edwardjblum. The views expressed in this column belong to Blum alone.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Black issues • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • God • Jesus • News media • Opinion • Persecution • Prejudice • Race • United States

soundoff (7,485 Responses)
  1. strike3gobraves@verizon.net

    Disagree with Megyn Kelly all you want, but she does not deserve the vitriol here. Why? Because she is not the one who started the discussion. Give that honor to Aisha Harris, who wrote a piece on a website stating that Santa Claus ought to now be somebody who is not White. Interestingly enough, Aisha Harris' name does not even appear in this article. And they say there is no liberal bias in the media...

    December 13, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Thinker...

      Either that or CNN hasn't gotten any better at research. I am just waiting till one of the news organizations gets duped by the Onion or something similar.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  2. John Pacella

    Megyn Kelly is cut from the same cloth as that other famous Fox kewpie doll, Ann Coulter. Both make stake out absurd positions by making outrageous statements that are easily refuted. However, at the moment the statements are uttered they are enormously successful as click bait, both for Fox generally and Kelly/Coulter particularly. Think Limbaugh/Beck with chesticles.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  3. Colorblind

    Just so happens that Megyn is right in her position. This person who want to make Santa black is just a PC sympathizer whining about yet something else they don't like regarding American tradition. If they hate America so much they should really just leave.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • John Pacella

      Have you ever been to the nome of St Nicholas? That would be Turkey, before you ask. Turks look nothing like the Currier and Ives version of St Nick. Another non-issue championed by Faux News and swallowed whole by their ignorant, uneducated followers in order to generate righteous outrage over a banal topic.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
      • floridamom1

        And yet, Turks are not black either. So your comment is ridiculous.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  4. Ian

    You people are idiots...Whining about a person who may not exist because a Thousand year old book that has been Edited about 10000 times. Religion is a way to control the masses....Gosh
    ..Just keep following the Mystical Sky Wizard....and his son....i bet if there was no religion...the Human race would be more technologically advanced

    December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • clydie

      Humans are weak. They need religion. But I think most people only pay lip service to the religion they were born under. Like a shirt, it's something to don or disregard at their discretion and convenience. The same can't be said for technology fanboys. The fervor they have for Apple or Google or the Playstation or Xbox or whatever latest gadget comes out is truly frightening.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  5. ego_death

    I would think he would have been middle eastern color... whatever they look like in Bethlehem. Isn;t that West Bank Palestine? I am pretty sure he would have the color of skin of the people in that area...

    December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  6. Jim

    If Santa was black... now thats a scarry thought. I would think he was an eskimo since he is from the north pole. Jesus was jewish so he was assumed to have lighter skin color. The Holiday represents Christ's Birth but has become nothing more than a marketing hype to sell crap made in china.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  7. Me

    That's right, Jesus wasn't white, he wasn't black, he wasn't yellow, he wasn't red. He was Semitic, he's a Jew! How is that so hard to comprehend? Yet he was more than a Jew, he united all races, all of humanity, the Adamic race, into one, the Christic race, where there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no white or black!!! HE is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He is One, and we are one, in Him!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Rich

      Amen. Love you Brother.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Tom

      Most Jews are white. One's religion does not effect their race.

      Jesus was white.

      We know this, because he was from Palestine.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  8. cjhickles

    Seems kind of silly to argue the race of two fictional characters.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • clydie

      It's better than fighting wars over fictional characters.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  9. edmundburkeson

    If your culture and race is in such a crisis that it needs therapy ... don;t take it out on others. If your group needs therapy maybe you should stop thinking of yourself as a group.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  10. Really

    Fortunately, Jesus wasn't white or black, he was Arabic. God saw this debate coming a long time ago !

    December 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Tom

      Arabic is a language, not a race.

      Jesus was white. He was from Palestine. Hello?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Justin

      I didn't realize that Jerusalem was in Arabia. Thank you for the geography lesson.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  11. dougma

    Jesus was like the "visible man" model. You could see into him and look at his organs and stuff.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  12. steve p

    a first century palestinian man wouldnt look like the tall thin caucasian with long straight dark hair – an image invented by medeval europe.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  13. Critical Thought

    Or you could just realize that they both DON'T EXIST.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Really

      "didn't" and yes, they both did. Historic fact, verified through many writings and personal accounts.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  14. bill

    wow-Jesus is Jewish-line of David-he is white-but it makes no difference–Martin Luther King,Jr. said that--this is like al sharpton looking for something to benefit himself. ??????????????

    December 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  15. TW

    Silly Argument, Of course Jesus and Santa are white.
    They both are inventions of a race and culture that justified their indiscretions and Inhumanities with the excuse that skin color is a factor in intelligence and superiority... Only white people could achieve such a status..
    Right!?????

    December 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • clydie

      Exactly. Everyone knows Jesus looked just like Bjorn Borg. He's a 6 foot tall athletically slim, blond haired, blue eyed guy. Sure he looked a little different from all the other 5 foot dark skinned, dark haired, dark eyed Jews in the Middle East at the time, but that's what gave him his star power!

      December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  16. George

    Do you want to know what Jesus most probably looked like, look at the Palestinians living on the West Bank today.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Tom

      Exactly. White.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:58 am |
      • New Age Goddess

        For the sake of a hearty debate, That's like calling Latinos white or Black... Anyway.. like some of my other like-minded people have stated... BOTH ARE MYTHICAL CONCEPTS... personified. *BLESS*

        December 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  17. matt houston

    Dude, everybody knows Jesus was white. As a matter of FACT every single hero or person that has done anything of worth for the world has absolutely been white. Even the Chinese heroes were all white...and don't forget, Nelson Mandela was actually a white dude in disguise too. MLK, the Buddha, Confucious, the list goes on and on! And weirdly enough, all the people who were villainous or evil have been non-whites. Weird huh?

    December 13, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Justin

      Hulk was green.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  18. sigh

    WHO CARES about what color something is that doesn't exist!?!?!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • FellowTraveler70

      "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.[1][3][4][9][10][11] In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity." From Wikipedia

      December 13, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  19. Robert

    My Jesus was a Jew. My Santa is white. Yours are what ever you want. So are Megyn Kelly's.

    So STFU and move on The country is dying uder Obama and we don't need these stupid diversions. Oh I forgot, Obama needs them

    December 13, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • matt houston

      Robert, you should teach a class on race because you seem to know things that I did not know. Maybe write a book on the subject too. Tell everyone how Jewish is a race because everyone seems to think that Jewish is a religion.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
      • wombat

        Lots of people know Jewish is both a race and a religion. You can be/practice either one without the other.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:47 am |
      • randaybarra

        Robert,

        That's not accurate. Judaism is a religion, yes. But it's also an ethnicity.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
      • Johnny New York

        Let me ask you this Houston: How is it that they identified you as a Jew in Nazi Germany? Did you now that Israel is the name of a person? He was Abraham's grandson. He's the one that stole the birthright from his brother Esau. His name was Jacob and God changed it to Israel. Do you know what a Semite is? Maybe you should look it up and then you will know what anti-semitism is. I could go on for hours. You have much to learn my son.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Tom

      You are somehow confusing race with religion.

      Jesus was a white Jew.

      Santa was a white Christian.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  20. Informed

    FOX news, what a joke.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Zalupa

      CNN is not that much better.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.