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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. werthrough

    Next, you'll be a (racist) if you call a snow person white (god forbid I say "snowMAN" then I would be a chauvinist). Unless of course he/she was made from dirty snow. Then it would stand to (more than one) reason to call it black.. stupid, stupid. Liberal America…

    December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  2. Mo

    IF CNN REPORTED ALL THE FACTS YOU WOULD ALSO INCLUDE THE FACT THAT SHE WAS SPEAKING ABOUT AN ARTICLE BY A RACIST BLACK WRITER SAYING ALL SANTAS "SHOULD BE BLACK"!!!!.....INSTEAD OF MAKING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING......HOW ABOUT REPORTING ALL OF THE STORY CNN?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      She said that it was a fact that Jesus was white – that is unlikely as he was allegedly born in the Middle East and that's ignoring what a half-human half-invisible being might look like.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  3. jeses

    Google search "Jewish People" google search "Palestinian people" even google search "Iranian people" Jesus looks something along those lines.... now google search "African People". Then again google "White people"... and you will understand.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  4. Brian

    Santa Claus, being based on St. Nicolas, can be argued that he is white (although as a Greek I wonder how "white" he really is in the mind of wasps). But at the same time if we can completely change his clothing, make him fat and live in the North Pole with reindeer and elves (influenced by Finnish culture more than anything else) I don't think the color of his skin should really matter at all. I'm personally fine with him portrayed white, I grew up knowing him as such but I wouldn't get bent out of shape if he was portrayed differently anymore than we should be bothered by the differences between Greek and Russian depictions of St Nicolas, British Father Christmas and US/Globalized Santa Claus.

    With Christ it's a whole other ball game though. The idea of an Aryan Jesus is not only inaccurate but it has been used as a tool of oppression for centuries by Northern Europeans in away that can be described in my mind only as a complete Anti-Christ. Instead of the humble Semitic carpenter from Palestine who championed the down trodden of all backgrounds (be them of his own people the Jews or others such as Samaritans, Romans, etc) we get something that could have been concocted by Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler; Blond hair, blue eyes, pale skin and often decked out in jewelry. This image is in turn forced upon the poorer people of Europe in the middle ages (in most cases darker featured) before being exported for use on colonial populations in the Americas, Africa and Asia. "This is God, he looks like us and not like you." It's particularly sickening in Latin America and Southern Europe where the populations often believe themselves to be not only unattractive but inherently less "good" than Aryans to the point of favoring family members that are lighter over others. This could not be further from Christ's message.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • StormySyndrome

      You're trying to argue the color of a Catholic saint? Are you mad?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Whatever

      I agree. Well said.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  5. StormySyndrome

    Morocco has their own Santa Clause. They call him Black Peter. There you go African Americans 🙂 Your own black Santa Clause. Now get off our white one 🙂

    December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • sly

      ... hate to break it to you, but the black God Peter is indeed 'on' your white God Jesus, since he's humpin' him.

      That's what the God's do with each other – jus' a whole lot of rollin' goin' on.

      Nothing wrong with it ... open your mind and get over it.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • StormySyndrome

        wow...you just skipped insanity and went full retard. What???

        December 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • sly

          This is not the blog on which to get judgemental. Since we are all presenting opinions, I simply opined that the Moroccan God is having His way with that white Greek one ...

          Don't get all worked up about it – people do it, so do Gods ... gosh ... such close minded folks on here.

          December 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  6. Natalie

    Considering the BIBLE states that Jesus had golden bronze skin and hair like wool, I'm guessing He didn't/doesn't look like...well, you know...Fox News is a joke and Megyn Kelly has been a moron for a long time. There is better reporting on the Daily Show.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  7. Kisha

    If Jesus was white he would have died from skin cancer years before his crucifixion.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  8. duh

    clearly he was black, as evidenced by how early in the script he was killed

    December 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  9. Sam Harris

    I've been to Jerusalem, Jewish people there are pretty WHITE

    December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • mlynn

      The Jewish people from modern day Israel are mostly EUROPEANS who settled in the area after WW2. Of course they look white....lol.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Brian

      A lot, if not most, Jews in Israel came there from Europe and the Americas when the state was founded following WWII. These were people whose ancestors had immigrated to Europe generations before and intermarried with local Europeans resulting down the line in some Jews carrying the traits for light hair, light eyes and fair skin. The original ethnically Jewish population of Israel/Palestine was made up of primarily Semitic stock (it's been argued that Ethiopians and other Africans were part of the mix as well but that's a whole other subject for another time) just like Arabs and Assyrians meaning that they most likely were physically similar to modern Palestinians, Syrians and other northern Arabs.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  10. Jeff Bragg

    Why would anyone be interested in the self-important views of an avowed imbecile? That anyone other that the FOX news hypnotized moron minions would pay any attention to this loony-in-the-guise-of-a-news-anchor bubble head truly puzzles me.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • sam

      Thank god for Fox news–it's the only station that has the guts to tell the truth about race. And it's people like you who are destroying the West.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Whatever

    For the record, I'm white. Both Jesus and Santa should properly represent their true origin and race. If that makes them dark skinned so be it. It's the content of someone's character that matters. It's time society grows up regarding race. We're not children anymore, we know what's right and what's wrong. I could easily love a dark skinned Santa or Jesus without hesitation and anyone who can't do the same might want to book time with a therapist because they have issues.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  12. vivian

    "Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man" – Ha ha. Now what do you think would have happened if MLK had said back then that Christ was black? Are you trying to suggest that he believed Christ was white? LMAO.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  13. Liquidcobra

    Fox News is a joke. Only inbreds and racists watch it anyway.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • sam

      Thanks for the compliment, a**hole.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • sly

        ... sam ... without taking sides, you have to admit he's right.

        Fox is the nightly show for the KKK ... no one else really watches Alaskan Palin or Mexican Cruz now do they?

        December 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  14. John

    The Dutch St. Nicholas is really a combination of the germanic god Woden (norse Odin) and a greek saint who was a bishop in Turkey. Now even Woden was said to be a refugee from Troy in Asia. So who knows, and frankly who cares, what color any of these figures were. Just enjoy the holiday season with friends and family!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  15. janet

    I always pictured Christ as a short, dark skinned man with very curly hair, as most of the people in that area were in those days. It's really funny to see the bleached out blondish blue eyed figure portrayed by some folks – Christ looks like a poster child for white Aryan supremists!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  16. Truthbetold

    Oh, by the way, for those who don't believe, take no offense. I have no quarrel with you. You have a right to your choice just as I do. I do believe in God, but, I do not believe in forcing someone to believe as I do. Just like race, it is our right to religion as we see fit. Christianity, to me, is your personal choice. I honestly believe that the lord meant us all to come to him on their own. Do I believe that people wont go to heaven for being gay or being on the other side of the world and having no idea about him, or for struggling or for not being "perfect"? Absolutely not. Jesus died on the cross for a reason, so that we won't go to Hell for being human. We may even see Ted Bundy up there for all I know. I hold nothing against anyone.

    "IT DOES ME NO HARM IF MY NEIGHBOR BELIEVES IN ONE GOD, MANY GODS, OR NONE AT ALL. IT NEITHER PICKS MY POCKET, NOR BREAKS MY LEG." – THOMAS JEFFERSON.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  17. Jesus Christ

    The Revelation of Jesus Christ:

    Revelation 1:12-18

    King James Version (KJV)

    12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

    13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

    14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

    15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

    16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

    17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

    18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  18. Joe

    Jesus was Jewish and Santa is a fiction based on the story of the Greek bishop. St. Nicholas. Both JC and St. Nick were likely short and swarthy, with black curly hair. Does it matter how we categorize them racially? Both Jesus and Santa are important for what they represent–the spirit of Love–not for their respective genomes. Peace.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  19. cchuck19131

    Let's realize Jesus was a Jew from Palastine, so he WAS white. Santa originated in Scandinavia, so he also was white.
    A fierse fight to promote what?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Whatever

      Jewish people are not white. They have olive skin, not white skin. A more accurate representation of Jesus would be a dark haired, dark eyed man with tanned olive skin. A blond haired, blue eyed Jesus is absurd. It's laughable.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Jew's from palatine where brown. Also there are African jew's that go back thousands of years. And if it says in the bible his skin was bronze and his hair was like wool. Than sorry he wasn't white.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • Bill the Cat

        The Bible says his skin was like bronze just taken out of the fire. It's a light brown with a greenish hue, or in other words, olive. He was not African.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Jesus was Jewish, therefore he more than likely had olive toned skin. He was not European white. If you want to see a more probable depiction, look at Natalie Grant's "Alive" video on Youtube. And the earliest Russian Orthodox iconography of St. Nicholas depict him as a light skinned black man.

      "Santa" is white just like "Rudolph's" nose is red and "Frosty's" eyes are made of coal.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Rick C.

      So ancient Palestinians and ancient Greeks (now Turkish) are white? And the scientist paid by the Vatican to try to figure out what Jesus might have looked like are fake? You know 50 years ago might have been normal to be this ignorant. Try to get someone to help you use Google and do some research on history and geography. Stay away from the KKK page.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  20. Vijay

    Fox news should stop war on religion and holidays... This has become routine in Fox News channel every year... Why we have to discuss about Christmas ??? who cares about Santa's color or Jesus Color... God has no color and same goes to Santa as well....Santa's main job to put money for the poor so that they can enjoy the holidays too like wealthy people.. Why fox is not discussing about that???????

    December 13, 2013 at 12:49 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.