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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. ShakenBake

    I like to think of Jesus like with giant eagles wings, and singin' lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band and I'm in the front row and I'm hammered drunk!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • renae

      Best comment ever!!

      December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  2. W

    The bible describes his skin as bronze. As a white man, I can tell you that without hitting the tanning bed waaaaayyyyy too often, my skin is certainly not bronze.

    Santa is white. He is based on St. Nicholas who is Greek and comes from the fables of Dutch and Germanic folklore. I think there's a bit of Norse god Odin too.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Aaron

      ahh yes bronze. imagine your lilly whiteness in the hot middle east sun for your whole life. Now what color is your skin? Bronze right?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  3. Donnie Madison

    All in all, does it really matter? If you are a believer in Christ, that he is the son of God, came to earth in flesh, and died for our sins, then it shouldn't matter at all. Those who believe and have faith believe what they want depending upon their convictions, and those who don't believe, just don't believe. White, black, brown, yellow, red, orange, purple, IT DOESN'T MATTER!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  4. JPB

    Having trouble deciding which of these myths I care less about. Anyone care to help? (I realize Jesus existed - I'm talking about his mythical escapades.)

    December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  5. Ken D

    Mr. Blum, Megyn Kelly has brown eyes, not blue eyes. Nor is she a natural blonde.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  6. ST

    HEY PEOPLE...See if this logic works. It's actually the reverse. The fact that this lady was not able to accept Santa as white, and that she could not "relate" to a white Santa, speaks to how she's not very inclusive and accepting of others. This is what she's expecting from Santa ironically. Santa is historical, but still mythical. She's real. I expect more from her. I am Asian dude who likes Santa the way he is.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  7. gg

    He was born in the mideast, by a jewish mother, jews arre semites (as are arabs), pretty sure hes not white. jews back then were more semitic than they are today, alot of jews today are really european, although ofcourse most are still semites. This author is trying to show that we ltoday ppl argue against jesus being white out of being PC, thats not it. The reason why ppl in the 50s didnt criticize the whiteness wass becausee ppl were more ignorant back then. they didnt know much about the world, or the mideast, they just accepted things as is. Today people are more educated, we know where the mideast is and wee know they aarre generrally not white.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  8. Rachel

    Okay, Santa is Nordic and white. Enough. HOWEVER, Jesus was a Jew from the Middle East. I am pretty sure there were not a whole lot of blue eyed blond men in the Middle East over 2000 years ago. Why can't people just acknowledge that the 'white Jesus' was a product of European culture and not scientifically correct-nor was it meant to be. I do want to know how the Fox employee has such positive proof and where she gets her expertise in this subject. Obviously, she thinks she is God and would have that knowledge. Yet her comments remind me of a certain era in 20th Century German history. Hmmm

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  9. OK

    I can handle a white santa but not a white jesus leave Jesus alone .

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • ST

      I don't know....Jews look pretty white to me...whiter than my Asian skin....

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  10. mcannata

    "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa,"

    Neither Jesus nor Santa's existence is a verifiable historical fact... but there's more evidence for Santa being real then there is for Jesus.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Gabe

      Actually, there is a lot of evidence that suggest Jesus was a real dude. Aside from all of the historical references in text they have found a possible burial sight and remains. That being said, one thing he wasn't was white, he was from a part of the globe that was a prominent producer of middle eastern people and Jews. Seems like he might fall into those categories.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
      • mcannata

        If they found bones... then that pretty much destroys the myth that he rose from the dead. All written references about Jesus were done hundreds of years after he supposedly lived. Jesus himself for an educated man... never left one single written page in his life. There is NO physical evidence that he ever lived. Word of mouth is not evidence.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • ST

      St Nick is a white man dude. He did really exist. St. Nick was the original Santa Claus we know today. Jesus??? who knows...he's white compare to my Asian skin

      December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
      • mcannata

        St Nick serves as the basis for the legend... but Santa Claus is a myth.

        Although I would like to think he's real since I am still waiting for that Corvette I asked for a while back. I just keep telling my self that mavbe he's just busy

        December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  11. Atheism is for everyone

    Her imaginary friends can be whatever color she imagines them to be.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  12. df

    he was a Jew, from the Semitic peoples...that's pretty much it...whenever you get annoyed by the Jews, just pause to note the historic irony...Santa was a European based creation...end of story

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • john smith

      Santa originated in Asia Minor...in Asia.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
      • Kev

        You actually think being from Asia Minor makes a difference? Where do you think the Caucasus are located?

        December 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  13. karl from az

    Hey Harris, TOUGH! Jesus is Jewish (most Jews are white) & Santa is white, PERIOD! If YOU and YOUR racist comrades want to revise history, go ahead!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Tandy

      Hmmm. Persecution complex much?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • bczu

      Jewish is a religion. Anyone from any race can become Jewish. The skin tone for that climate is much darker. The white skin he is portrayed with comes from Europe.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • gg

      jews are whiite? is that why the KKK, neo nazis, and nazis invite jews to their whiite power marches?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • LBMac

      First of all the only folks that have rewrote history are your people. For years, white MEN have had to make themselves superior for some reason, they have to be above everyone, especially Americans-Blacks (and yes I am American before I am Black). Things have been done, from calling Jesus white to knocking of the nose of the sphinx. We are equal, that is how our God meant it to be. By the way there is no description of Jesus in the Bible, period. And please stop putting Santa Clause in the same sentence as our savory.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  14. hardrock2nd

    Since Jesus was the son of God, and was not of the earth, and you were not even alive in his day. How does anyone know the color of his skin. By the way great job on trying to identify him by his color and not by his content of his word or the true meaning of Christmas. As far as Santa goes, there are variations of him in a variety of cultures. Only people who do not have any real foundation to believe either way would have this argument. BUt you know you would still have everyone believe it is all about the white man. Seriously, get lives and stop finding reasons for humanity not to get along.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  15. AverageJoe76

    I never cared for black Santa – it just never fit, in my mind. A black man that lives at the North Pole?? Yeah right....
    ... and on purpose?!?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  16. Cheryl

    How can you even tell which of the Fox blondies said this? They all look alike.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Not true! Waking up to Megyn would be more than ok. To Dana P and her bi.tch friend, no thanks!

      December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  17. zappo15

    Clearly Jesus was a black jew from ethiopia

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

    You see GOD however he decides. There can be 100 different races in the room and he will look like each and everyone of them in their eyes. Just as GOD speaks a million languages at once, he is also a million images at once. Heathens!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  19. Tyson

    Jesus and Santa are white. Everyone who claims otherwise is just trying to be argumentative.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Cheryl

      Of course Santa is white. He owns slaves.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
      • Tyson

        LOL!

        December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • kelly

      where was Jesus from? was he from Europe?? NO

      he was from the middle east-therefore NOT WHITE

      December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
      • Tyson

        Stop being argumentative.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
        • kelly

          aww whats the matter

          you can't handle the truth?

          December 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
        • bczu

          Stop being ignorant

          December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • john wise

      Really, white Hebrews and Egyptians huh? Joseph would have never been able to fool his brothers during the Great famine, when they came to buy bread. Therefore those people were all black people. I am white and my inner racist says WHITE WHITE WHITE! But the truth is the truth!

      December 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Regina

      Wrong. Santa is based on St. Nick, who was a Turkish man living in c. 300 AD. Even the Russians in their paintings depicted him as a man of darker skin – middle eastern/Mediterranean. And if you believe Jesus was white, then I can't help you. His entire lineage is traced in the Bible and he's very clearly middle eastern.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  20. andrew

    The "War on Christmas" is actually being perpetuated by corporations who want us to forget what Christmas is really about and just spend like crazy. To them the only God is the almighty dollar

    December 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • kelly

      of course
      Americans love to call themselves christians bla bla bla... but they are very very far from it

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 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.