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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. RORORA

    Jesus is English mispronounciation ... his name is in Arabic "eessaah" ... he was actually (compared to today's geography" a Palestinian!!!!! and "White" is NOT European ..... there are numerous white who are not Caucasion. ..... and by the way, those who consider themselves Caucasion as the meaning for white, have no idea that Caucasions are people who were from the mount Caucus which is in Armenia and has nothing to do with European white ...... Jesus was an Arab ...... from Jewish parents back then, who were Arabs .....

    December 15, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • Not so

      No, Arabs are not an ethnicity but a linguistic group, and the languages Jesus probably spoke were not Arabic.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:41 am |
      • RORORA

        Wrong. ..... Arabs are a nation, a race .... have been around for thousands of years ...... and Arabic is a very complex old language because of that ...... they, however, have been nomads for long of those thousands of years, and only gave rise to numerous religions to unite and fight back their nomad-ism ..... Mohamad was one of them, so was other Abrahamic religions who were behind all other older, eastern religions, as well as 4000 year old Persian religion of Zorostrians

        December 15, 2013 at 1:46 am |
        • RORORA

          wrong spelling, ....... all Abrahamic religions were from arab prophets who wanted to get ahead in the old days...... all the things they said, holly books they produced, was nothing but a repeat from the Persian prophet, just to be able to fight back and concur the old middle east ..... even trinity was a repeat from Zoroaster .... I don't care about any of them but Abrahamic religions was nothing but a repeat of other existing religions and a racist-turned-fascist cult

          December 15, 2013 at 1:59 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        Same family though, and that's exactly what 'it' still is; a family feud that drags on and on and on…..

        We all know how much nonsense is being said in order to get the family on 'our' side of the gossip, in any language mind you.

        December 15, 2013 at 1:46 am |
  2. Macranthunter

    Nontroversy

    December 15, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • the five-four morons and an idiot

      exactly, we knew god, jesus and santa were white cux megyn told us so!

      December 15, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  3. Chris

    So what, go ahead an "fight" Santa is a white tradition and culture.

    You marxists and blacks have no right to slap a black, squashed sub Saharan African face on a very European tradition.
    While were at it let's make Budda, Allah and so many other fictional characters all blacks too since it "offends" them otherwise.

    Trying to steal someone else's culture and slap your racial face on it won't get you any points in life, it will make people dislike you even more than they already do.

    December 15, 2013 at 1:08 am |
    • God

      Your parents must be proud.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:21 am |
      • Chris

        Lmao, who lives to appease their parents? Submissive cowards who never get laid? Like you?

        December 15, 2013 at 1:49 am |
    • Nick

      Buddha was a real guy. His name was Siddhārtha Gautama. Also Christmas is stolen from another culture. And since Santa is fictional (spoilers) not to mention magical, why can't there be a black version? There's a black Nick Fury.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:24 am |
    • pattysboi

      Chris, Christ was NOT of European extraction, he was born in the Middle East. I remember growing up with pictures of a white Christ in my lutheran sunday school, but figuring out pretty early that the pictures were incorrect.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:28 am |
      • Chris

        No, he wasn't born at all, he is a fake character just like santa. Before you think you are going to lecture me on a very fake story about a very fake man, you should probably get an education.

        December 15, 2013 at 1:31 am |
        • David M

          I just finished "Zealot" by Reza Aslan. I suggest you do the same. Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person confirmed by a non-biblical source, Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, written about 93 C.E. Jesus was a Nazarene Jew. In the passage written which confirms Jesus of Nazareth's existence Josephus writes "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose names was James," about the stoning death of Jesus's brother James, who became of the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly.

          December 15, 2013 at 3:01 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          If you only realized how many folks were called 'jesus' and had a bro by the name of 'james' in these days you'd refrain from calling this confirmed.

          Like I stated elsewhere already; everybody orates about things we all agree to be real only to continue with utterly nonsense.

          In that respect the bible has passages we know are real but that doesn't mean a single thing about those items we all know are there only to entertain emotions.

          BOO!

          December 15, 2013 at 3:07 am |
        • Emma Goldman

          You certainly are full or misplaced aggression. I wouldn't normally say this, Chris, but, is there any way you could get your hands on a bing?

          December 15, 2013 at 3:44 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          Where do you observe 'aggression'?

          Nothing but folks who become mentally aggravated by what we all could observe though, fake trumps sense.

          December 15, 2013 at 4:06 am |
        • David M

          My source is Reza Aslan, PhD., University of California, Santa Barbara. Aslan writes that In Josephus's passage about James, he is writing about a very specific person, historically known and written about by other non-biblical Roman and Greek sources. This specific James, known as James the Just was the leader of the Jewish assembly in Jerusalem who was executed in 62 C.E. This Jewish Assembly would later be known as Christians. So no, this is not any James and Jesus reference to other commonly names Jews. Josephus is writing of James (of Nazareth), brother of Jesus (of Nazareth) "the one they called messiah". This writing is considered proof of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth as understood by people of his time.

          December 15, 2013 at 4:06 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        If anything he was erected in somebody's fantasy and we all know how colorful those can be.

        Mine is blue, royal blue.

        December 15, 2013 at 1:36 am |
    • Dingbat-spotting 101

      I bet you thought that made sense.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:28 am |
      • Chris

        To the insane such as yourself, nothing makes sense. You can't comprehend reason and sanity and will never understand the words of a sane person. That's your misfortune, and certainly yours and only your problem.

        December 15, 2013 at 1:36 am |
    • Chris

      Santa is white, has always been white and always will be white. If that offends you because you won't be allowed to steal our culture and children's tradition then too bad… get used to being offended. You will not be allowed to take what isn't yours to take.

      Santa is not yellow, he is not brown and he certainly is a black.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:34 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        Santa too will pass, it's 'jesus' who refuses to leave the limelight.

        December 15, 2013 at 1:37 am |
      • Nick

        So you agree. He is "a black"

        December 15, 2013 at 1:42 am |
      • MoveForward

        Santa is mythical. Myths can be whatever you want them to be. True, he's based on a real person but the resemblance is virtually nil.

        December 15, 2013 at 3:40 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          Same goes for 'democracy', and no, I don't believe in coincidence.

          December 15, 2013 at 3:43 am |
      • Emma Goldman

        Bad News Chris. Santa is black. He has been keeping that secret so as to find out who has been naughty or nice. Guess where you fall.

        December 15, 2013 at 3:42 am |
    • Woof

      Wow, ease off of the meth, Chris! You are on one heck of a rager!

      December 15, 2013 at 1:43 am |
    • Emma Goldman

      Information Overload! I cannot take – in this many falsehoods at the same time !

      December 15, 2013 at 3:47 am |
  4. LATIN LOVER

    It was the Vatican, as the seat of the Catholic Church, that hired Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to make “graven images” of Jesus, Mary and God in the likeness of White people—in direct contravention of God’s Second Commandment. It was Pope Julius II who commissioned Michelangelo to paint these White images on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Prior to Michelangelo, images of Mary and Jesus as the Madonna and Child were invariably depicted with Black skin. These Black Madonnas still exist in over 140 churches throughout Europe. One of the most famous is The Black Madonna of Częstochowa, housed since 1382 at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland.

    December 15, 2013 at 1:02 am |
    • lol??

      If Peter was the first pope the RCC's original assembly would have been 90% circ*umcized (not by orders of Peter) and Paul wouldn't have had to write Romans to the gentiles there.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:14 am |
    • Gavin

      Great point. The Madonna was pictured as Black. And that is NO more correct or relevent than picturing her as "white". She was JEWISH. Is that not clear when you read that book of mythology called the Bible? She lived in the middle east and was Jewish. I think MOST people in the middle east would be surprised if you said they were black. If you are really bothered by this just Google "images of arabs" and perhaps you will see a more likely idea of what Jesus and Mary looked like.

      December 15, 2013 at 2:44 am |
  5. lol??

    The pale horse sure looks green. Must be in the advanced stage.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:57 am |
  6. Lila

    I'm just upset that we've culturally incorporated a Santa to the point of this nutty "he's white!" conversation, but totally cut out Saint Nicholas's henchmen: Black Peter and Krampus. Come on! Who cares if Santa's white (I am not touching the Jesus thing, people will continue to insist a Palestinian was white for reasons I will never grasp), but how can you possibly instill the holiday spirit in children if they don't believe a terrifying horned creature will beat them with sticks or pop them in a sack and drag them off to a ship if they don't behave?

    Santa can be purple for all I care. Bring back Krampus.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:53 am |
    • LATIN LOVER

      It is amazing to read/hear that "Jesus" was white despite the obvious look of Middle Eastern people. You don't find an indigenous person in that area with white skin and blue eyes .

      December 15, 2013 at 1:10 am |
  7. EarthWorm

    Jesus was born to a Jewish couple which means his skin was darker than European white but far from skin color in Africa outside of Egypt, Libya, etc.
    If Jesus was alive today in the flesh in America he would resemble more of a Hispanic look than African American.
    SO the question is Jesus black...no not possible considering the makeup of race in Israel and the Middle East today.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • LATIN LOVER

      Bottom line...NO WHITE!

      December 15, 2013 at 12:56 am |
    • LATIN LOVER

      "Today". Europeans did not exist in Israel BEFORE Hitler. The word "Jew" appeared in the 18 century. IF "Jesus" existed ...he was not a Jew. He was a Palestinian!!!

      December 15, 2013 at 1:16 am |
    • sasha

      we must also remember that thousands of years ago there was no middle east. it was all northern africa before erosion. so was jesus black? possibly but does that take away from who he was? i think not.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:41 am |
  8. Kate Johnson

    It seems to me that it would be a very silly thing indeed, to take seriously comments about Jesus, from a person who couldn't possibly be a more dubious example of a person of faith. Pundits (IMO one of the most worthless forms of life on earth regardless of their political allegiances) like Megyn do more to defile God everyday with their divisive propaganda than the most militant atheist. Like the Pharisees of old, all white and shiny on the outside but all dead men's bones and corruption underneath.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  9. UriNation

    Mary and Joseph were white. How could Jesus not be?

    December 15, 2013 at 12:36 am |
    • LATIN LOVER

      Were they Europeans? No! Therefore, they can NOT be whites!

      December 15, 2013 at 12:58 am |
    • LATIN LOVER

      Were they Europeans? No! So....

      December 15, 2013 at 12:58 am |
    • Lila

      I'm going to rumble your entire argument by pointing out that Joseph isn't Jesus's biological dad. BAM! Blow your mind?

      ...though actually, now I think of it, there's a nasty argument lurking in there along the lines of "yes, well, Mary might have been Middle Eastern but we're pretty sure God is white (like Santa, beard and everything) and that's why Jesus would look white".

      I really hate these myth-based discussions.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:59 am |
    • Charlie

      The baby wasn't Joseph's for one thing.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:24 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        Call the Maury show!

        It's much like the ancestors of royals not being royal at all…yet we all have a neck for it because that way we can feel! ourselves a tad elevated too.

        December 15, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • jafeucht

      Because Jesus's father was GOD, and God was black.

      December 15, 2013 at 2:01 am |
  10. Lou

    Jesus is the last Roman myth

    December 15, 2013 at 12:34 am |
    • LATIN LOVER

      Correct!

      December 15, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • Icie

      Jesus is real.
      Talk to him: read and study the Bible, meditate on it (like, to truths it tells), than request that the Holy Spirit visit you and request to encounter God. Then see the thing that happens... then try to say that Jesus isn't real. I believe it and I understand that he is real. I experience it, I think you would like to too.
      Enjoy 2014!
      later.
      -Icie

      December 15, 2013 at 2:07 am |
      • MoveForward

        If I talked to him, I'd just be faking it, much like those who pretend they do, or should I say delude themselves into thinking they do.

        December 15, 2013 at 3:34 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          It's the economy stupid!

          Dare to state you don't care about 'him'* and you'll be shunned to the point of no return, not even a tax return.

          * This can be anything which provides godly 'rights'.

          December 15, 2013 at 3:38 am |
    • David M

      I just finished "Zealot" by Reza Aslan. Great book. Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person confirmed by a non-biblical source, Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, written about 93 C.E. Jesus was a Nazarene Jew. In the passage written which confirms Jesus of Nazareth's existence Josephus writes "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James," about the stoning death of Jesus's brother James, who became of the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly after Jesus' execution. This writing is secular. Other source materials such as the letters of Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, the Book of John, created the mythologies of god/man, divine birth and resurrection. They are theological – not factual – written to support a Christ belief system. Big difference there.

      December 15, 2013 at 3:27 am |
  11. Dan J

    You guys ever seen Khrystyne Haje from Head of the Class? Red hair, fair skin... and 100% arab. And any arab will tell you she is not a fluke.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:29 am |
  12. Dawar Naqvi

    JESUS was Arab

    December 15, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  13. baal

    The question should be, Did Jesus even exist?

    Just like Santa, the evidence to support that he did is scant @ best.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:24 am |
    • David M

      I just finished "Zealot" by Reza Aslan. Great book. Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person confirmed by a non-biblical source, Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, written about 93 C.E. Jesus was a Nazarene Jew. In the passage written which confirms Jesus of Nazareth's existence, Josephus writes "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James," about the stoning death of Jesus's brother James, who became of the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly after Jesus's execution.

      December 15, 2013 at 3:30 am |
  14. lol??

    You can't pick yer relatives, regardless of what the Mormons say. Don't insult a man by pickin' on his wife or children or their attributes.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:22 am |
  15. Carl Naughton Jr

    I like to think of Jesus as a mischievous badger.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • Similarly

      I see his followers as a vast horde of remarkably dim skunks.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:19 am |
    • lol??

      Not nice to bring up Mustelidae in pole light company.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:32 am |
  16. @OD

    Jews came up with one god religion, then everyone else wanted a part of it...then Jews came up with great bank and economics system and everyone else wanted a part of it...don't you get it? The color doesn't matter, noodles matter my friends, noodles!!!

    December 15, 2013 at 12:15 am |
  17. Kelvin

    As a black man, who cares if media portrays Santa as a certain race. If I want to portray Santa as a certain race to my kids I will. Santa isn't REAL so who really cares about this crap. At least Jesus is thought to have existed without any evidence whatsoever other than literature that has so much excluded and content that has been lost in translation that it's almost impossible to be a genuine Christian because no matter what you are ignorant to so many other facts...assuming everything is true. No way Jesus was white or black... white is American...black is American. Which we all know Jesus WASN'T American.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:13 am |
  18. Chet

    If you want a white Jesus you can keep your white Jesus, period. If you want a black Jesus you can have a black Jesus, period. If you need a brown Jesus you can get a brown Jesus, period. If you want a yellow Jesus, you can have him, period. If you like your red Jesus you can keep him, period. Enough already! Merry Christmas!!

    December 15, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • Kate Johnson

      Chet, you are clearly a person of great sense!! However, I do have to say the idea that anyone native born in the Middle East 2000 years ago was white, is truly bizarre.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  19. @OD

    Unless you want to make a white version of Obama, leave Jesus alone.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  20. lol??

    The NSA will make the final determination, AFTER they gather all the data.

    December 14, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
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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.