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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. Really

    1. Jesus was Jewish. No doubt historically confirmed.
    2. What race do Jewish people identify with? Asian, no; Hispanic, no; Black, no; white, ding ding ding we have a winner.
    3. Do yourself a favor ask ANY Jewish man what color he is. Get back with that answer.

    As far a St. Nick. I am part greek and identify myself as WHITE. Really do we not have better things to do that try to deny the facts.

    I guess if you say it enoough it will become fact in some people's eyes. Keep on dreaming folks.

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

      HOW DARE YOU speak the truth on a site like CNN!!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 11:53 am |
      • martiniano

        It's not truth. It is ignorance masked by self-righteous pride.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Jim Whelan

      Jews can be of any race.

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

        However, Jesus was born a Jew. He did not convert.

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

      To "Really" who wrote that ridiculous comment that all Jews identify as white after all "ask any Jewish man;"
      Your comment is impressive in it's ignorance. I am Jewish and do not identify myself as white; I identify myself as Jewish and American. There are ancient tribes of black Ethiopian Jews, there are whole groups of Sephardic Jews of Spanish heritage, and many middle easterners are olive skinned and brown. If you must make up your facts, please feel free not to share them.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • martiniano

      Wait, how is it historically confirmed? I have read the Bible and the Nag Hammadi and Josephus. There is no confirmation that Jesus even lived and in fact there is amazing coincident that makes him appear to be a made up figure based upon pagan demi-gods. What is your source?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
      • Ernest T Bass

        Exactly, in fact the entire christian religion is plagiarized.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Joe Black

    Fox news is absurd, but then so was the Slate article – in fact, it was basically racist.

    Meanwhile, Jesus was Jewish. But he wasn't an Ashkenazi Jew. He was Middle-Eastern Semitic – do we call Arabs "white"? Maybe or maybe not – but the idea that he was a dark-skinned African is utter nonsense.

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

      He wan't Arab either. The Arabs didn't expand in numbers out of Arabia until the 7th century AD. Jesus was most likely colored like a modern Syrian. I would call Al-Bashir white, but other can have a different opinion.

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

      How do you know what Jesus was?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  3. Pete Squadrito

    While I am certainly not a fan of Fox News, I'll pose another interesting question. If the issue of Jesus being (or not being) white is taboo, white is Obama always referred to as "black". As I understand it, he his half black and half white, therefore he falls into neither category despite his outward appearance.

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

      Trust me, if Obama thought he could have won over the lighter voting block, and not milk milk off the darker voting sectors, he would have been America's first 'Half-White" president at every freaking turn.
      Don't kid yourself. Regardless of ancestry or outward appearance, he is "Black" because it gets him the benefits of that particular block of voters with a simple word.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  4. floridamom1

    Jesus was a Jew. Whatever you want to call Jews is what he is, but from my perspective, every Jew I have ever met or seen has been white. There are not black. Jesus is not black, and neither is Santa. Even if Santa was originally Greek, but I think that story is false, Santa was never black. Greeks have darker skin than some, but they are definitely not black. Making Jesus and Santa black is nothing more than trying to present a picture to appease a certain group of individuals. They want their children to relate better to these people. But, it is OK for their kids to understand that Jesus was a Jew and therefore not black. Santa was not black either. Telling them so is a lie. Megan Kelly was right.

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

      yupppp these racist white hatemongers at CNN tries to give Jesus a 2pac image.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am |
      • CharlesBronson

        racist white hatemongers? did you know that a significant majority of whites voted for obama because they thought it would put an end to affirmative action? instead, its gotten worse. thanks obama

        December 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Are black and white the only choices?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • John Pacella

      The myth of a gift giving person who distributed largess at the winter solstice predates christianity. However, the Christian tradition comes from several sources. There is the Greek/Turk origin of "St Nick" and the northern eurpoean origin of "Sinter Klaus".
      Just because Kelly didn't "start" the discussion, doesn't give her license to introduce easily refuted "Fox Facts" to the debate.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • John Pacella

      You actually believe that the Jews of 2000 yrs ago, who originated in Palestine, looked like Jim Caveizel? More probably like Anwar Saddat.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • John Pacella

      Gee, I wonder how someone from Florida could come to the conclusion that all Jews are white? Is it also true that all Jews have a New York accent? BTW, there are Jewish enclaves all over North East Africa (the continent, not the "country", Sarah).

      December 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  5. optikradio

    It is ludicrous to change the color of Santa just to appease people. What is wrong with people??

    December 13, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  6. LOL

    the bible said he had skin of Brass......that's about the same skin tone of a white guy in the sun.
    Google brass if you don't believe me

    December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  7. ProCon

    All I know is this...Jesus can't be white. If he is, then there's racism in heaven. No such thing can exist in heaven.

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

      Jesus was born a Jew. Therefore he looked like a Jew.

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

        which is white or light brass color NOT BLACK like CNN posts

        December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Street Epistemologist In Training

      Why do you link a specific color with racism? If jesus was black, would that mean there would be no racism. In heaven, there would be no racism therefore color wouldn't matter. Are you pretending to know things you don't?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  8. Peteyroo

    Next we'll be arguing about what color unicorns and leprechauns are. Since we're talking about mythical figures, the color isn't factual but emotional. A chance for bigots to slam those who are different.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  9. Aubrie

    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.

    the fact is, no one cared one way or another... It DIDN'T MATTER then.... and is shouldn't matter now... Jesus is to each person what he needs in their heart... What does color have to do with anything??? I find it very pathetic that people are even making a stink about this.. Shame on all of you.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  10. S

    Ever since Obama has taken over, some members of the African community feel it's their right to take over America also. In almost every commercial now there is a member of the black community. They even have the Afflack duck taking in the black slang. This country was founded by our forefathers who were WHITE! The problem with the world today is that nobody pays attention to TRADITION anymore. Santa is WHITE...Jesus Christ is WHITE. Deal with it people. We're not going to change just because members of the black community scream racism every time it's convenient! It's not ignorance it's TRADITION. Personally I am offended when I walk into a department store and see a life-size santa that is black. Just saying...

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

      How could Jesus be white? He lived in a part of the world full of olive-skinned people. He wasn't Nordic.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am |
      • S

        Our Lord Jesus Christ was not black.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Ali

      Jesus was a Jew not a white person and living in the middle east he would have had the same skin colour as an Arab....
      America was not "Founded" Native Americans already belonged there way before the "White Man" Came and "Founded" a new "Country"

      December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • S

      You are all missing my point. The point I'm trying to make is that no one wants to follow TRADITION anymore. Look at all the literature from thousands of years and you will understand if you were not taught it in the first place.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:58 am |
      • HotAirAce

        Maintain tradition = maintain the status quo = maintain racism. But tradition sounds so much better. Hypocrite!

        December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
        • S

          I'm HIGHLY offended that you call me a hypocrite when your equality doesn't even make sense. That's YOUR opinion.

          December 13, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          You are easily offended. The sad part is you don't understand that you are offensive, or why.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Why doesn't the Bible describe him as being white? How can he be hidden from King Herod without being of the same likeness of the people he's been hiding amongst? Lilly white Jesus is made up to begin with. In fact, White Jesus is so white, he turns clear, then dissappears, because he's not there.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  11. ChristopherM

    Because Middle Eastern virgins miraculously give birth to white babies all the time. It's a Faux News miracle!

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

      Middle Eastern Jews are not black.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
      • Peteyroo

        Neither are they white!

        December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  12. CharlesBronson

    So Sad. people just have a problem with anything being white. It's always about race

    December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      Or rather, its more like 'reverse engineering the BS'.
      We were brainwashed with BS, then we figured out later that "Hey... this just doesn't make sense at all". Y'know... if the popular pictures of Jesus showed ANY tanning (from a man that lives in a desert) it'd have more credibility. He worked outside, he's a carpenter. He should be sporting a tan, at least.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  13. marleyman

    Belief,net is a joke along with the posts therein. Jesus didn't exist?? That isn't an argument in even the most liberal of informed academic circles. This site is nothing more than comic relief, week after week!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  14. Roman

    Santa isn't real, people. Jesus was a Jew, so he was probably olive skinned. Get over it!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  15. AverageJoe76

    Jesus' dipiction as white was onr of the first things to make you go "Whaaaaaat....?"

    I just wanted the truth outta reality. I thought the Bible was 'that' at one time. "Fool me once......"

    December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Anthony Straughtmore A Keeper of Records

      Go to the room where you keep your Bible. If it's gone, go to google. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your soul, then ask for guidance. Insert your pointer finger somewhere randomly, open and read until you've had enough. Or if using google, search, "random bible passage." Do this. Don't be afraid, you will be blessed if you have enough faith to at least humor me.,if it's lost, look where you keep photographs.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • AverageJoe76

        I don't understand you. Reading doesn't help, especially since I'm either suppose to take it literally (which means it's horrible) or take it figuratively. Either way, I've heard a Holy Spirit to provide guidance. When I thought I was doing that, it turned out to be ME telling ME what to do.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  16. Zanev

    We shouldn't be arguing about the skin color if two mythical things anyway.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Chris

      True. The easter bunny and tooth fairly look different to different people. Jesus is just another character in a fairy tale.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Captain Wolff

      Jesus the teacher/prophet existed. Roman census and law records show that to be true.
      Jesus the Messiah, however, is still up for debate.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:53 am |
      • Chris

        There are no contemporary accounts of a Jesus as claimed in the bible. If he was such a big deal to the Romans or Jewish leaders there would have been some form of record. We have shopping lists of the average Roman soldier. Any non-biblical reference to Jesus or "christ" were written well after his death and after writings stated to appear by early christian leaders. You can't take them to mean anything other than they probably knew of the growing religion.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  17. NIck G

    Hair of wool and feet of bronze. Not really that hard to figure out

    December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • floridamom1

      Please reference this one. I don't know where you got that information.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am |
      • T.O.

        It's in the bible. Look it up. He also walked everywhere he went. Drank wine. And fed the multiples of people with bread and honey(aka honeybun) and walked on water because he could not swim. That is a black man.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Cobra6

      Sounds to me like he was a conservative dirty-blonde Scots-Irish Evangelical Baptist who likes guns, coal, big trucks and BBQ pulled pork. You know, just like how Santa looks. 😉

      December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  18. Chris

    I hope they all realize that santa isn't real. He could be green for all we know. As for Jesus, big deal. He was born a Jew, he died a Jew and lived in the middle east. You do the math.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  19. Steph

    Anyone who denies the existence of God is just afraid of dealing with their own sin.

    Repent and live!

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

      I enjoy my sin. I embrace my sin and don't need to believe in any fairy tale. Heck, I sinned with your wife last night. Good sin.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      We can deny God's exsistence – but it doesn't matter what we think. Either God 'is', or God 'is not'. What I deny with a passion, is the details any MORTAL tends to adhere to a creator of reality. It puts the cart lightyears before the horse, and it shows complete foolishness to be confident of such things......

      ...passed down by ancients ..... translated many different ways ....... given different interpretations based on who says what ........ never proven.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am |
      • Chris

        What? More bible double speak.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
        • AverageJoe76

          I'm just saying that it wouldn't matter if God exsists or not. He's not showing himself. And your only other source of information is other humans. Whom know pretty much what you know already. They aint seen him. Nor heard him. But claim to. So it's the delusional leading the dumb. I'm not the smartest guy in the room.... but when people.... who breath, sweat, eat, make love, laugh, and die like you can, tell you "I have a personal relationship with God" aka "The Being Who Crafted All OF Reality" ................ I kinda let one eyebrow arch-up in a skeptic fashion.

          December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  20. Fish

    Foxnut arrogance won't allow free thought on any level as they know everything!!! Except that Jesus greatest lesson was to respect all people and the free will that our creator granted them!!! Megan Kelly is so arrogant somebody should slap her silly!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:44 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.