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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. TJ

    Christ was a historical person. And He was Jewish. It is not irrelevant that He was a Jew. He could NOT be the savior if He was not Jewish (see the original promise to Abraham). He came through the lineage of King David. The virgin birth gave Him the blood right to be on the throne of David. Joseph as his adoptive father gave Christ the legal right to be on the throne of David. Both Joseph and Mary were of the lineage of David. This is embarrassing that these are news reporters and they don't even take the time to investigate the historicity of Christ. He is not a myth. It does matter. Christ could not, according to Biblical prophecy, be the savior if He came from EUROPE or from AFRICA or from anywhere else. (And yes, I am Black and I am saying this). The reporter should be pulled aside for making such an ignorant misinformed statement about a historical figure.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      They say that Jesus being born of a virgin fulfills the Isaiah 7:14prophecy.
      However, the Hebrew term in Isaiah “almah” which means a “young woman”. "Virgin" is a mistranslation.
      Ttribal line cannot be passed on through adoption. Jesus cannot be "son of David" through Joseph. A tribal line also does not pass through the mother, and even if it did, Mary was not descended of David through Solomon.
      Don't forget that during that time, there were MANY claimaints to the Messiah role like Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Menahem ben Judah, Vespasian, Simon bar Kokhba, etc. ad nauseum.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • fred

        Yes, but only one changed the world and remains to this day the single most influential figure of mankind.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
      • TJ

        I think you need to consult some theologians Doc.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        What of the other Messianic prophecies?
        Did Jesus
        1) Rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem? Kind of hard to do since the Temple still stood during Christ's lifetime.
        2) Re-establish Jewish law as the only law?
        3) Save Israel? Lessee – just after His death (and Zombification)the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Jerusalem was laid to waste, and the Jews went into exile to begin a 1900 year long night of persecution, — largely at the hands of Jesus' followers.
        4) Establish a world government run from Jerusalem?
        5) Return all the exiled Jews to Jerusalem?

        December 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
        • fred

          I am aware of 300 some Messianic prophecies that were fulfilled. Can you let me know the verses you refer to that were not fulfilled.

          December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • dennis

        THE NAME OF JESUS CAN HEAL FROM DISEASE, AND SAVE SOULS.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
      • tessie may

        A tribal line did came from the mother as often as the father.

        December 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  2. richard in Texas

    Megan Kelley is "black" according to the ancestral human gene pool. But she and her cohorts at Fox are way too ignorant to know this because they can't read or study anything with more than a sound bit or two that has any meaning. Please America everybody vote in 2014 so we can shut down this low end of the gene pool. I am sick and tired of the unintelligible garbage that comes from some of these conservatives. This has been the biggest downside of cable TV.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  3. mosey

    Jesus wasn't white he was olive skinned with dark hair and dark eyes not the blonde blue eyed figure we are accustomed to seeing…. another fox news anchor with another ignorant statement that is clearly not factual.. nothing to see here.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  4. jeses

    If we want to get technical no one is "White" even your blond hair blue eyes "devil" is "light brown"... being "White" is having 0 pigmentation aka albino.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Fox

      Nobody really wanted to get technical, but thanks anyway.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  5. Bob

    Santa is Dutch and Jesus was of semitic origin. Both of those ethnic groups are considered white. Santa Claus is our variation of Sinterklaas, who I believe originally came about as part of a celebration of Saint Nicholas.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  6. UncleJohn

    If the historical Jesus walked into a conservative white Christian church today, they all mutter, "Oh, Christ. It's a Jew."

    December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  7. John

    Jesus was a semite, a Middle Easterner, and therefore dark complected, not Nordic as is often portrayed, but Jews, Arabs and Indians for that matter are all technically Caucasian and therefor "white". There is racism here, but it lies in saying that all Caucasians have to be fair skinned and blue eyed. As for Santa, he has only a tenuous connection to the historic Saint Nicholas so one can imagine him anyway one chooses.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  8. MrDifficult

    How is this any different from changing Nick Fury, comic book character, from white to black? It's all pointless, made-up stuff anyway. "But Jesus as a real person, we have proof whine, whine, whine,": NOT the Jesus YOU'RE talking about. That one is imaginary.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  9. UncleJohn

    "Fish don't see the water they swim in."

    The apostles didn't mention the color of the skin because it was the same as theirs – swarthy.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  10. 'Nother-Son-'O-Ursus

    Re: "And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white…but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa." {M.Kelly, Medieval Philosopher-Alchemist}

    …How utterly asinine, on Ms. Kelly’s part!

    In nearly 60 years, I’ve NEVER considered the (alleged) race of either the (alleged) Christian ‘Hominid-Deity-Hybrid’, nor the aphorism known, cross culturally, as ‘Santa Claus’!
    BTW: I immensely enjoyed the ‘Santa Klaus’, (of SouthPark)…who takes a shotgun to ‘Satan’s Christmas animals’ in an old episode…HILARIOUS!

    While possible…
    It would be a biological & statistical anomaly for a person from ancient/current Palestine to look like Marvel Commix Grp.’s 'Nordic', ('Thor- Like') Deity-character;
    Possible, but…as my dear old departed mum was wont to say: "The neighbors would talk"!

    Given the behavior(s) currently exhibited/aggravated by U.S. & other ‘foreign-corporate’ policies across the Middle East...
    Particularly all the (real & imaginary) N.W.M.D. – posturing initiated from the (allegedly) ‘prolife’ side of the ‘aisle’…
    And continued by N.Korea & Iran…
    These 'neighbors' LOVE to do a whole LOT worse than merely ‘snipe, disagreeably’, against each other!

    For a Fox ‘news’ caster to assert a mythical cultural-persona, (Santa Claus/all derivatives…), ‘race’ was / is white is the height of irrelevance, because…

    Unlike Fox, and/or, the Intolerant ‘God is on our side, exclusively’ theology ‘trial-ballooned’ by monotheist religions, as they continue experiencing ‘believers, lost’ & ‘clerical vocations, NEVER considered’, (…in the Western World), one cannot be surprised by increasingly ‘desperate’ measures;

    Desperate measures DID NOT help Dinosaurian Life, 65 million years past;
    It will NOT extinguish what I call the ‘Neo.Darwinian.Extinction.Event, (accelerating)’, which beckons the small-minded of today!

    Given the behaviore(s) exhibited in the current Middle East...
    These 'neighbors' LOVE to do a whole LOT worse than merely snipe, disagreeably, with each other!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • NickZadick

      ENGLISH!!!! Do you speak it?

      December 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  11. VladBudapest

    Jesus was a Jew as I am. I am European. Ethnically European peoples are white. Is not our fault if so many billions of people adore us.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • MrDifficult

      Tell it to Whoopi Goldberg.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • VladBudapest

        She converted into a religion that didn't accept converts for thousands of years, until the twentieth century.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
        • MrDifficult

          I think you're a confused jew: nobody WANTED to convert.

          December 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Dave

      Jesus was not European, he was middle-eastern (if he existed at all) and would have had an olive (light or dark) complexion.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      You're a European jew. There are many different types of jews seeing yall go back thousands of years. Don't act like all jews are white. That's ignorant

      December 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  12. michael

    I very much like Anonymous's definition better than mine, well put!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  13. palintwit

    Tea Party Patriots all over the country will become suicidal when they learn that the baby jeebus was more black than white. There will be a riot in every trailer park and Sarah Palin won't be able to keep them under control unless she buys them lots of Everclear.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • 'Nother-Son-'O-Ursus

      Re: "...and Sarah Palin won't be able to keep them under control unless she buys them lots of Everclear."

      What the hell...
      Vodka (allegedly) plays such a big role in Palin’s daughter's 'just-say-no' spokesperson-ship, and/or, birth-control-effort(s)...
      Maybe a fifth of Old Granddad’ll soothe the bewildered nerves of the (unChristian) far right…just as it may have, re the conflicted inhibitions of Ms. Palin & daughter/daughter's ‘stud-puppy’!

      December 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • tessie may

      Are you serious? If you think he is only a myth, then what difference does it make? You are determined to disregard facts to sustain your Christian beliefs. I don't even get how you think he could be black. I think it might have been mentioned if he was clearly not the same race/ethnic origin of his own religion-middle Eastern Judaism. And this will probably drive your blood pressure right off the charts but most Egyptians were not black. While there are clearly statues and paintings of African (Nubian) dynasties there are even more with Middle Eastern and Arabic dynasties. Go to a museum and have a look at he diversity of Egyptian representations. Or read a book or two.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  14. bong

    at least Megyn stood for what she believes rather than be swayed and pressured about being politically correct .
    Pls leave her alone you critics and full of negativity people.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  15. Time for Black Santa Claus

    Jesus was black and from Africa.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Al Sanchez

      I THINK NOT . . . . WISHFUL THINKING THERE, THOUGH.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • tessie may

      On what evidence or thought process would you come to that conclusion?

      December 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  16. Maria Martin

    The historical Jesus was probably just like any person would look like today from the Middle East. Mostly olive skin, dark hair, brown eyes, medium size stature. What is interesting about Jesus is not the color of his skin. What is interesting is the fact that he had the power of healing, he was a man of peace, he attracted crowds, he preached a gospel of peace and reconciliation, he denounced oppression, politics, he died in a horrible way, and hundreds of people witness seen him alive days after his death, though the concept of resurrection started to enter people's minds. Yes it was a life like none other out there. TV stations should really stop acting like little kids fighting, and be more realistic in presenting the historical Jesus.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • NickZadick

      You do realise that healing and raising from the dead are fictional embelishements....don't you?

      December 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
      • Diane

        There is nothing fictional about Jesus. History proves that He did live on earth. You need faith to realize the truth of Jesus.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • NickZadick

          Ya ...because you personnaly know the people who wrote the bible do you? Jesus may of existed..but he was a normal human like you and me! magic and miracles are fictional...even 8 year old kids know that! break free from your brainwashing!

          December 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Diane

      I agree with you. We have to realize the culture he lived in and what people looked like there, not here. If we had "LEADERS" in the world today that emulated Him, the world would be a better place.

      PEACE

      December 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  17. nonya

    Truth be told Jesus was Jewish, this is an indisputable fact. He also spent the majority of his time outdoors in the middle east, fact. Enough said.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  18. tbay

    Jesus was born in Bethlehem... which is in Israel. Therefore Jesus was an Israelite and was the same completion as all other Israelis... he was light brown. And since he spent most of his time out doors, he was probably darker due to his tanning.

    And he was a carpenter with no power tools, so that rules out all pictures of him as emaciated and weak.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Dave

      True, but just a little FYI, He may not have been a carpenter. The greek word tekton was used and meant craftsman. Stone masonry could very well have been his occupation as well as carpentry.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • jamesrechtet

      I've know plenty of emaciated carpenters, and plenty of fat slob carpenters. There's no telling what the god-boy really looked like since he never actually existed.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  19. michael aronson

    Jesus was born in Africa, and though depicted as white through the ages, there have been many bad translations from the Hebrew and Aramaic into first Latin and into other languages. Thus, any depiction of him is from man not God. My concept of a Messiah, whether it is Jesus or other, would be a mixed color to represent all of God's children and certainly if he was born in Africa most likely he would at least have been olive complexioned, if not darker than that. The depiction of Jesus as totally white is a religious not spiritual one. In any event, whether he came already or not, God would not send a representation of himself that would only represent a portion of all of the humans he ruled. Only my opinion, but then lol I also do not believe in a vengeful God, as has been many times portrayed.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Paladin Kight

      Mike, Jesus was born in Bethlehem which is in what is now Palestine. That is part of the Asian Continent,not Africa. His family fled to Egypt when notified by the Magi of their dream that they had that King Herod was planning on killing the first born sons in that region because he did not want to be overthrown by the Messiah. That is how Jesus came to be brought out of Africa. He was an Middle-easterner of Hebrew descent, not African.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  20. Mark

    The problem here isn't that people are saying that Santa Claus isn't white it's that they're trying to make him something he definitely isn't: black. Saint Nick being Greek or Armenian doesn't mean he's not "white enough" but it def means he's not black enough.... and that is a prob for the pc crowd

    December 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Paladin Kight

      Exactly correct. Same with Jesus. Hew was a Jew/Hebrew, He wasn't Egyptian or African. He was born in Bethlehem which is actually on the Arabian peninsula which is part of the Asian Continent, moved to Egypt to flee Herod, came back to what is now Israel and lived in Nazareth after a messenger from God told them that it was OK to return to Israel, which again is on the Arabian peninsula. Not only that, but Jesus was a descendant from the House of David which was Hebrew.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
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