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 Belief Blog 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. Name*kathy


    December 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • J Hammy

      The problem with what you say there is this: "MRS. KELLY IS SIMPLY STATING HER OPINION." When she says "That's a verifiable fact" it is no longer her stating opinion. Opinion would be "I don't think we should portray Santa as black" or "I think Jesus was white." She said "Santa just IS white" and that Jesus was a white man, that's historical, a verifiable fact. See the difference? And stating your opinion on an opinion piece is one thing, stating your opinion as fact on a national news show is just ignorant.

      December 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • igaftr

      First, stop yelling.
      second she said verifiable fact....she is an idiot.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        Kathy is not to bright either (Jesus is coming back soon) so they have common ground

        December 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  2. Daniel

    An 'Assyrian' Jew looks/is white? Umm.... we all do know that was like Michelangelo's cousin or whatever in those paintings, right? Jesus was almost undoubtedly 'African' in countenance and skin tone. Santa on the other hand is loosely based supposedly on Saint Nicholas a bishop in the 4th century from the area comprised by the country of modern Turkey. So good chance he was 'Aryan' in skin tone and countenance.

    December 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  3. DaTrufHurts

    WHY, exactly, is this news? What is the agenda that is being pushed with stories like this?

    December 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  4. His panic

    Ok people; There is absolutely no need to continue being all flustered about the shenanigans of Ms. Kelly on FOX.

    Just remember what I've said. She was probably suffering from seasonal anxiety, Hysteria or maybe even a Panic attack. That is because evidently she does not Trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son. If she would, then she would not be saying and believing such absurdities. The commercially inspired "santa claus" is fiction and the st Nicholas one is a legend. People like Ms. Kelly who believe all this stuff, tend to suffer from seasonal anxiety, Hysteria and even Panic. As far as Claus is concern, I even I maybe his Panic while Satan [Claus] is American.

    December 16, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  5. Christian Girl

    Santa *IS* white! The idea of Santa Clause came from Saint Nicholas, who was a white man. A black Santa contradicts this. I guess since Santa isn't real, a black person can pretend to be Santa but I just think it's strange since the real gift-giving Saint Nick was white.

    Now Jesus, on the other hand, would have been a middle-eastern Jew when He was in the flesh but He really has no race. Jesus is God!

    December 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "When someone starts a conversation by identifying themselves as a 'Christian', they are about to be an asshole." ~ LET

      December 16, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Factually Correct

      "Saint Nicholas, who was a white man"

      Wrong. Thank you for playing.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • igaftr

      Nogomain is god.
      Ra is god
      Quetzlcoatl is god.
      Jah is god.

      blah blah blah, cha cha cha

      December 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • jayrblanc

      All contemporary images and religious icons of Saint Nicholas, or "Ἅγιος Νικόλαος" in the tongue of where he preached, show him as being kind of brown for a white guy.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • southernero1

      Santa Claus is an amalgam of several historical figures. St. Nicholas was one of them and was Greek, so olive skinned.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  6. Reason

    If I call Santa or Jesus Black should I expect a fight? Or is this a non-colorblind issue where I will be subject to racism?

    December 16, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  7. carlos

    The only reason to attack the reported Kelly that called Jesus and Santa white is b/c she is a female conservative. That is it pure and simple. When King said it, no problem but when a conservative woman (which drives the liberals nuts to say conservative and woman in the same sentence), says it she is attack and disparage for it.
    Who care if they are white? Shouldn't it peace and goodwill to all men. Oh now. folks like Don Lemon who was himself demonize for his momentary lapse of candor, must try to reclaim some sorty of legitimacy with the black commninty, is now by dishing out the same treatment he himself got for his honesty about blacks. So much for our post-racial world we were promised with this President. Seems like it is worse. Good grief people get a life.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Cintha

      You really think that Obama is the cause of racism? After all of the vitriolic hatred thrown at him and the FLOTUS because of their skin color? Blaming the victims? Really? Have you been living under a rock for the last 5 years??

      December 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • doobzz

      "The only reason to attack the reported Kelly that called Jesus and Santa white is b/c she is a female conservative."

      No, she was criticized because she made stupid, thoughtless remark.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  8. practicalkatz

    Jesus wasn't white; he was Middle Eastern. Santa? Well, Scandinavians are mostly white, I suppose, but the spirit of giving transcends all races.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • southernero1

      It depends on who you are referring to when you say Santa Claus. St. Nicholas of Myra was Greek. Kris Kringle comes from the nordic Cristkindl which means Christ child, which would make him Jesus, instead of St. Nicholas. The appearance of Father Christmas, a British character, was merged with these two to make the modern "Santa Claus" we see in the US.

      Since he is an amalgam of two real people and a mythical person, his "race" is pretty much whatever you want it to be.

      Jesus on the other hand, was an actual person, and therefore had some specific set of traits. The problem is that nobody actually knows what they are and therefore we can only guess. Naturally, most people want Jesus to look like them.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Scott

      Well, 2,000 years ago, the world was much different. Jesus was white as part of a race enslaved by the Egyptians that resettled in what is now Isreal. The Moors had not yet moved in. Just as Santa Clause is a Nordic figure, and no Moors were up there either. Still, these are things better handled by adults on individual basis. Seems like none here are doing so.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • Smauel

        So you really believe that desert dwelling people 2,000 years ago where white. St Nicklaus, whom Santa Claus is based on was from a region in Turkey under Greek control. I don't think so.
        I am "black" even though I have French, Jewish and Native American blood. I would not say either of these individuals are white nor black. They are middle eastern descent Jesus being a middle eastern Jew and Old St Nick is a middle eastern Turkish Greek.

        I mean facts are facts why do we argue this silliness?

        December 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
      • Reason

        The Egyptians should be paying retribution to the living ancestors of their slaves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        December 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  9. Shannon

    I'm trying to find the energy to care about this, but I can't. I have so many things going on that I simply don't have the time or inclination to worry about what race Jesus or Santa is.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  10. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Have they stopped teaching English (vocabulary, structure, grammar) in school? Typos occur, but the total lack of ability to convey your thoughts so that others can actually understand you is disheartening...

    December 16, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  11. Howaboutthat

    Jesus was neither "white" or "black"; He was Jewish.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      'nor' also, Jewish is an ethnic culture... not a race

      December 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Genetic markers have been used as evidence for Israeli citizenship. Epidemiologists also isentify illness and life expectency trends based on a jewish genetic identification. It would really depend on whether you think the concept of race itself valid and how small of devisions you want to assign as races.

        December 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          I guess the 'original' (whatever that means) Hebrew people would have certain genetic markers... but the modern diaspora (19-20th century) and intermingling of genes across the globe would make that pretty irrelevant

          December 16, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  12. jeff slater

    Does this mean if people call Jesus or Santa black to expect a big fight, or is countering that argument seen as racist? Just wondering.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  13. Dyslexic doG

    jesus wasn't born, he was written!

    December 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  14. drake

    It's a new week. Time for CNN to try to stir up a race debate.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Cintha

      I don't know if you noticed this, but Fix News and Megyn Kelly are the ones stirring the pot.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
      • Cintha

        *Fox News.

        December 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  15. daveinla

    Our grade school kids are no subject to the whole "Kwanza" thang. Ridiculous.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      English sentence structure, grammar and punctuation can be very useful to convey a cogent statement...

      December 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  16. Joe Truth

    I tried to stay aloft of this discussion; knowing full well that some of the comments would be indicative of personal desires and beliefs; but here we go...Jesus did exist. 1. If he did not exist, we would not be talking about him today nor would Jesus still be influencing millions to repent today, 2) Logic is a beautiful thing so here goes – We have undeniable archeological proof (evidence that has been found, interpreted and recorded) that Pontus Pilate existed – that Caiaphas (forgive spelling) and his family existed because their urns have been found!, (the Caiaphas family burial plots have been recently located; at this point we should be saying WOW!), we also have Joseph of Arimethia (forgive spelling), various kings and cities of Jesus' day that have been found. Therefore, how can we say that the central figure (Jesus) to all of these persons (Pilate, Caiaphas, etc.) did not exist? Did history create Jesus just so these personalities would have some imaginary character to persecute and increase their importance? Naturally that is not the case. So deal with it! Jesus existed and we will all answer to Him one day. Now regarding the color of Jesus (which is not important, but belief in him is...), why would Jesus differ in color from those of his region and time? The answer is he would not. Ancient Jews and the majority of cultures in that region had some form of color/pigmentation; it is a fact of life, who cares. But here-in lies logic again. When Jesus and family fled the area to hide from Herod, where did they go? Yes, Egypt! Jesus and family were not wealthy. They would go hide amongst a sea of common people, the common Egyptian laborer who (as history can bare fact) was very dark and worked the fields, farms or construction. Herod undoubtedly offered a king's ransom to anyone that could turn in those fleeing the slaughter of the future would be king (that would take his place). Herod killed members of his own family whom he thought would seek his crown. Herod, the wise architect king, had spies all over the known world. If Jesus and family were not the same color of those Egyptians that they sought to blend with, they would have easily been turned over to the authorities for wealth or favor. Like a school of fish, if one fish is albino, it could easily be spotted, even amongst thousands of gray fish. So why would God send Jesus and family to an area where they could not blend into society and live out a few years. So my friends if you were after fleeing families and chased a family down to Egypt, you would never find Jesus and family in a sea of people of common color; it would be virtually impossible. Here we have God using camouflage as a means to protect a manifestation of himself on earth (Jesus). This also gives you some indication of the color tone of Joseph and Mary as well. Again, logic is a beautiful thing. The journey of Jesus and family to Egypt is a cornerstone tale during the Christmas season, do we now dismiss this story (fact) that they went to Egypt to hid (not party) from Herod's proclamation of killing every child 2 years of age and younger? No, we do not. As a father, I would take my family to a location just as Joseph did in an attempt to protect, a place where there were so many like (similar) persons that detection was near impossible. So, Jesus' family lived, worked and lived their daily lives for a few years in a place where even the locals couldn't distinguish them easily as foreigners. God's wisdom is wonderful. Does or should Jesus' color matter at all, no it should not; just his message of salvation. As a nation, we have to get past this issue...

    December 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      An axiom of this belief blog... don't trust anyone who capitalizes 'truth', especially if it is in their handle...

      December 16, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Katt

      **Claps Loudly!!!!!! Love your input*** I'm so happy to see someone else acknowledges the facts of Egypt.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      such an infantile, fairy tale explanation of the world.

      all that talk and NOT A SINGLE SPECK OF PROOF!

      December 16, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      There is indisputable archeological evidence that the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk really existed, including its great walls as described in the Epic of Gilgamesh. There is further docu/mentary evidence supporting the fact that Gilgamesh was a real monarch. Does that mean that the rest of story is true as well and he truly was a demi-god who ruled for 125 years and took a trip to the underworld? After all, his story is older than that of Christ...

      As for the Christmas story, there are a number of historical innaccuracies.
      There is no record of Caesar Augustus' decree that "all the world should be enrolled" (Lk. 2:1). The Romans kept extremely detailed records of such events. Not only is the census not in these records, it goes against all that we know of Roman economic history. Roman docu.ments show that taxation was done by the various governors at the provincial level. Imagine a system of taxation based on people returning to their ancestral homes, going back a thousand years in the case of Joseph. Can you seriously believe that the Romans would have required the itinerant Jews to come back to Palestine, carrying everything they owned?
      Property tax was collected on site by travelling assessors – Joseph had no need to travel.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      I don't agree that Jesus was real simply because other artifacts were found on people surrounding the Jesus story.

      I DO agree with the logic of: How could he hide in Egypt if he were not of the same color as the people? Which makes perfect sense for the purposes of validating certain 'logical-truths' around the story. I haven't seen anyone screw with the race of King Arthur or Robin Hood. They were based in Europe, and we know them to be white. Why Jesus couldn't get at least the same treatment based on region is another reason to make one dig thoroughly into religion.

      And once you see how much influence MAN had on this 'ultimate truth', the more it becomes the 'ultimate lie' then you kinda back away to see it for what it is, and VIOLA.......... atheism.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  17. Jim

    Are we still allowed to dream of a white Christmas? The stupidity of what we argue over never ceases to amaze.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  18. dreamhunk

    who wrote the Torah. What is the likely hood of their pigmentation? Did they look like the people that are in Israel now?

    December 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • practicalkatz

      The people in Israel now are mostly European transplants.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  19. dcdave

    Of course Jesus and Santa are white and arguing with a racist (CNN will love if you do though) over it makes you as mentally challenged as them. Remember you're better than them (make more money, have higher IQ) because they don't even know the difference between black and white which any kindergartner with 2 parents would know.

    Happy Holidays

    December 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • klang

      Jesus was middle eastern he would have looked more like Saddam Husein than the white depictions that the fox news viewers insist upon today, it would be just as accurate to insist he was Chinese. Santa is a Fairy tale so who cares what race people decide to picture him as.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  20. The Truth

    People there is no argument, it is pathetically simple to know what races Santa and Jesus are.

    Santa was originally St Nicholas who was a Greek that lived in what is now modern day Turkey. He would have Greek physical characteristics, that was easy.

    Jesus is only slightly harder. Joseph was Jewish and his heritage is traced back to King David. Mary was also Jewish to prove this one has to know Jewish society and culture. To be Jewish your mother has to be Jewish, not your father. With Joseph coming from the highly prestigious House of David and given the xenophobia of the time it would make no sense for Joseph to marry somone that is not Jewish. So with both of them being Jewish Jesus would have to have Jewish physical characteristics. Why? Simple, if both are Jewish and the baby looks like any other race society would have condemned Mary as an adulterer and stoned her to death. That did not happen, so Jesus looks Jewish. See simple.

    So now we now what races they are do I care if other races play Santa or Jesus? As long as they are not trying to pass it off as historical fact and doing it just for fun then have fun I don't care.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I don't disagree with what you wrote... however, an axiom of this belief blog is... don't trust anyone who capitalizes 'truth', especially if it is in their handle...

      December 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • dreamhunk


      December 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • igaftr

      "jesus looks jewish"

      How does one look like any religion?
      Does Sammy Davis jr, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Bonet look jewish?

      December 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
      • Eddie

        Would it have made more sense to you if they had said "looks Hebrew?" or would you have asked how to look a language? Jewish is not just a religion but a culture and a race. You're confusing Judaism – the religion – with Jewish the race of people descendant from Israel grandson of Abraham.

        December 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
        • igaftr

          so you mean middle eastern. Notice I remove the bias that the jewish people always try to use to separate themselves from the mud people ( according to the torah)

          December 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Bruce

      You just used the phrase "historical fact" to describe santa clause. I have a secret, he never existed!!!

      December 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas ... that took me about 2 seconds to look up.

        December 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
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About this blog

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.