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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. pat thompson

    Oh, CNN's trying to stir the racial pot again.

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

      Not really. That would be Fox.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  2. Kenny Bania

    I as a white Christian dont even believe Jesus was white. At any rate i think its a mute point. Who cares??? If you are a Chritian and THOUGHT Jesus was white and learned he wasnt, are you going to denounce Christianity? As far as Santa goes, has anyone not heard the song 'Santa Clause is a black man'? lol

    December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  3. Peter

    "It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact"

    ROFL

    December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  4. Aaron

    Jesus and santa are not white in the British or Scandinavian sense. But they still originated from areas west of the Caucasus Mountains therefore making them Caucasians. End of discussion.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Opposing View

      There are only three races on the face of the earth: Hebrew, Ethiopian, and Gentile. Jesus Christ was a Hebrew. End of story...

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
      • DaTruthFunzzies

        He was ASIAN!!! That part of the world is belongs to ASIA!!! Merry Xmas!!!

        December 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Aaron

      Also Jesus may have very well had blue eyes and lightish blonde hair as well. People forget that the Aryan people actually originated from Persia and migrated west and north spreading their seed as they went. Many many many hebrews/arabs have blue eyes to this day because of that.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Dan

      Once you go east of the Caucasus Mountains, you never go back.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • misterflibble1

      Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas and the Coca-Cola ad in the December 1930 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

      Now concerning Jesus, *IF* he was real or even based on a real person, he was born in the Middle East, now I'm no expert but Fox News has made it very clear that people from the Middle East are NOT white. lol

      December 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  5. Dan

    This is like having a debate over the color of the easter bunny. Grow up people. The earth is not flat, the sun does not revolve around the earth, and there is no invisible man in the sky.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Opposing View

      This discussion is about Jesus Christ, and not about some invisible man in the sky. So get your facts straight...

      Why do atheists always tell lies. Answer: Because they have no God to keep them moral, so why not...

      December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  6. Seattle Sue

    Megyn Kelly is seldom right about anything.

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

      She's easy on the eyes, which is the main reason she's in the position she's in.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
      • sonny chapman

        10-4. She did take Karl Rove to the woodshed when he disagreed w/Fox calling Ohio for Obama on Election Night.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  7. ozob

    It matters... Jesus WASN'T "white" and hayseeds who would advocate that he was are simply primitive, uneducated, and too lazy to study or acknowledge the ethnic and cultural makeup of the historical and modern Middle East.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  8. DaTruthFunzzies

    To all you speciest and haters! Santa was ASIAN!!! Thats right ASIAN!!! Who else has the tech to travel around the world that fast back then? ASIANS!!! Ni Hao Ma! Konichiwa! Anoyhasayo! Merry Xmas!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  9. sonny chapman

    Santa is fictional. He can be any color or size a person wants him to be.

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

      You know St Nicholas was a real person right?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
      • sonny chapman

        I said SANTA, as in Santa Clause; drop your rock.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Sara

      Santa Claus isn't mythical per say. Yes, he is a mythical character, but he is based on a real person. That person was Saint Nicholas, who did exist. And, he was a Greek man living in what is now Turkey. So, Saint Nick *Santa Claus*, much like Jesus, was a Middle Eastern man.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
      • *

        per se (not per say)

        December 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Eric

      Santa is based on an actual person, who was white. Jesus was a real person, who could not have been black. Whats next? Depicting George Washington and and the other Presidents on our money as black? That is no less absurd.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  10. Cinman

    Jesus would have been fairly olive skin along with St. Nicolas. It was Christian racism that made them white. That Megan is clueless is not a surprise and barely ranks as news.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  11. crakkka

    Next will be Adam and eve were a gay interracial couple... j st to make it PC

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

      According to Genesis Eve was nothing more than a clone of Adam, and that would make Eve a man.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • Everything in Moderation

        Actually, no. If Adam were made from Eve he'd pretty much have to be female, but it is possible to get a female from a man's body. As it turns out: women are women, men are kinda mixed. Gotta love it.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
      • Opposing View

        Where do you think the term "wo-man" came from? That term merely means "a man with a womb". God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. The woman was made for the man (as his help meet) and not the man for the woman...

        December 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Vince

      Or that magical sky wizards can give babies to virgins. Crazy...I know!

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

      That is a story about a talking snake, an invisible man in the sky, and a magical rib. Seriously?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      How utterly stupid to take the POLITICALLY CORRECT (factually incorrect) stand of "Jesus is white" and try to flip it around so that the people pointing out the simple and indisputable reality to be "PC" as if they're altering facts to suit their agenda.

      And for the record: It was Adam and Lilith before Adam and Eve. That bit got PC'd by the Christians, too. Adam was a divorcee.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • JustSaying

      Adam was created from clay. Except for 'white clay' used for ceramics, most clays I have seen are gray or darker. So most likely Adam was non-white...

      December 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  12. CommonSensed

    This is beyond funny. St. Nick is northern European – to argue he was anything, but white is foolish. Jesus wasn't white – he was middle eastern so probably had nice olive skin. African americans need to bring in their traditional whatevers if they don't approve of the current ones.

    Get over it.

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

      This article is wrong. St Nick was actually from Turkey. He was arab colored. I could see the white beard and blue eyes even in a turk.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • morecommonsense

      Actually, Saint Nicholas was not northern european. He was actually from modern day Turkey, which was once part of Greece. Like Jesus, Saint Nicholas was also olive skinned.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  13. atroy

    Rhesus Christ.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  14. JM

    Born in the Middle East to Jewish parents, Jesus was born a blond California surfer dude.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      Don't forget the Scottish Jesus with his long straight red hair. Lovely pale skin, tall. They should have known he was a miracle worker when he didn't shrivel up into a burnt husk under that blazing sun.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  15. In memory of Royko

    All worship the prophet Dr. I.M. Kookie, who is white, black, and whatever other color you want him to be, and who did reveal all in his Book of Kook, also known as the Kook Book.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  16. JFCanton

    There isn't enough talk here about the fact that the race issue here is effectively binary: white or black. Obviously Jesus would have looked like today's Palestinian, but in the Western world that look has never resulted in the same *universal* racial characterization that being black has.

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

      Blacks would like the conversation to be about Black and white. I feel left out as an Asian. Maybe we should be louder.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  17. Ak

    Santa is white.. that is why he makes kids sit on his lap. Pedophile!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  18. AZ

    Fox news is just an extension of the KKK and Neo-Nazi. So who cares what they say.

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

      It's the yearly "War on Christmas" ratings grab.

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

      I totally agree

      December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  19. gg

    Santa is greek, are geeks white or not white I dont care, but get it right, santa is not nordic...

    December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  20. MEone

    Who cares what color Santa is? But the question should be directed at the author. When you start challenging convention, not for reason but for ridiculousness, the response is predictable. Why does the author find Santa's color so objectionable? Must all cultures reflect every conceivable combination lest someone dredge up some "perceived injustice" of omission? If a white Santa offends you, then create one of your own imagination. But simply trashing a concept for the sake of creating more trash makes little sense. As with all to many grievances, the person holding them seems more interested in bashing what is benign because it is easy and doesn't require a legitimate reason to do so.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:10 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.