home
RSS
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. the village idiot

    fact is they have based the whole story(myth) on hearsay anyway these people had no painting skills and materials, that arrived during the renessance.
    the wiped with twigs and then picked their teeth with the same twig, these were primitive ignorant people I'll never embrace their delusions.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  2. xirume

    Santa Claus is a Nordic tradition. Nordics are white, therefore S.C. has to be white. Jesus allegedly existed in the Middle East and middle easterners are predominantly dark skinned, so Jesus shouldn't be white, except in the delusions of white Christians who see everyone of "color" as inferior people.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Incorrect
      Santa Claus is based on St. Niklaus of Myra who was present at the Council of Nicea in 325CE.
      The original legend went that in the middle of the night, he secretly tossed a bag of gold into the home of a poor man so he could afford a proper dowry for his daughter.
      Myra was situated in what is now the Antalya province of Turkey – so Santa would be olive skinned, like Christ.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Mike in NYC

      Doc Vestibule is correct. St. Nikolaos of Myra was a the Greek Bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey so ... yes ... he would have been 'meditarranian' in his coloring. As for Jesus ... he was an Arab-Jew. So he would have been darker than Nikolaos but would not have been black.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  3. Steve

    If Jesus, a Jew, wasn't white, then why are almost all Israelis white?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • jb

      Good question. However oldest sect of Jews are the Falasha from Ethiopia and they are black. And the Hebrews which still exist today are black as well.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • JonathanL

      Back then they didn't have sun tan lotion.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Ted

      Because modern day Israelis are from Europe?

      December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  4. PNWjim

    We are all the same color, that is Human. We are just different shades of human.[Do we not all bleed red] In the end it is not important what color or even if Jesus was real. Only that we love ALL of humankind.The bible says 'let US create him in OUR image'. Maybe there was more than a single deity and they are of all shades of Human.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Al

      It's regional adaptations, it's not race.

      Anyway, I have it on good background that God is

      December 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Al

      Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died a Jew. I'm fine with that. I don't see him as some deity. He was just a guy that stood up and was knocked down.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  5. julie

    ........sorry to burst your bubble folks BUT Jesus is NOT white NOT white at all.................born in the mid
    east folks were of darker persuasion and NO his eyes are NOT blue and hair was not BLONDE –so stop looking at the picture you have hanging on your wall.......

    December 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Truth

      Never seen a blue eyed blond Jesus , your racism is showing
      Anyone who thinks Jesus was 'white' is way off base. Jesus was a human being.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Writingmomma63

      Amen! People are so worried about the outward appearance of others. They need to start looking at the hearts of an individual. There are good and bad in every single race of people. There was only one that committed no sin, but took sin upon himself, that WE may have a right to be forgiven of our sins and trespasses. That man was Jesus the Christ. He could not have been Caucasian and it didn't matter. His role was to give us a right to the tree of life and help us to correct our lives with understanding. There are serial killers of all racist. There are child molesters of all races. There are parents that abuse their children of all races. So, there is no perfect race! Stop looking others with a side eye and look in the mirror with a clear eye and mind!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Writingmomma63

      Amen! People are so worried about the outward appearance of others. They need to start looking at the hearts of an individual. There are good and bad in every single race of people. There was only one that committed no sin, but took sin upon himself, that WE may have a right to be forgiven of our sins and trespasses. That man was Jesus the Christ. He could not have been Caucasian and it didn't matter. His role was to give us a right to the tree of life and help us to correct our lives with understanding. There are serial killers of all races. There are child molesters of all races. There are parents that abuse their children of all races. So, there is no perfect race! Stop looking others with a side eye and look in the mirror with a clear eye and mind!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • asdrel

      Jesus was not Aryan with blond hair and blue eyes, but he was a semitic Hebrew. Aren't they considered to be Caucasion (aka "white") If a person has to have blond hair and blue eyes to be white then most of Europe is not white.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • me

      you don't have to have blonde hair blue eyes to be white just to let you know there are many blk haired blk eyes ppl that are white also and if jesus was a jew like it says, that would make his skin light and being jewish isn't a color. I coukd be irish Italian and be white as snow and I could be mixed n be white also. just saying

      December 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • me

      and all the jesus pictures ive seen he has darker hair and eyes not blonde hair blue eyes get ur head out of ur racial ways

      December 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
  6. Matthew

    Why should someone expect a fight for believing Jews are white?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • jb

      Feet of brass and hair like lambs wool. Which means his face was the color of brass probable darker.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  7. What color is God?

    God is the color-Love!

    December 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Can I get some of that stuff you're smoking?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  8. D

    I have always wondered. His name is Jesus Christ. So was his parents name Mary and Joseph Christ? Not sure if that name was around during those times and why doesn't anyone else have that last name?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • Tess

      Your an idiot...what you have listed are mere translations...Maria y Jose...Mariam wa Yousef...pick a set it doesn't matter...either way they were all Arabs...

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • ezb425

      Christ wasn't a family name – Christ comes from the Greek work 'kristos', meaning "anointed one". Being annointed with oil in those days was usually an important part in the ordination of priests and kings. So Jesus Christ essentially means "The Anointed Jesus" and basically equates to saying "Jesus, His Majesty" or "Jesus, His Grace"

      December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  9. Rita

    Jesus was Jewish, He was the color that every "Jewish man was in Jerusalem at that time. The real question is: Does the Son of God, who asked us to LOVE one another other, want us to fight over his skin color.
    I mean REALLY??

    December 13, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  10. xirume

    ..

    December 13, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  11. Not All Docs Play Golf

    "Jesus is pepperoni colored...because I saw the face Jesus in my pizza." Sarah Palin

    December 13, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Truth

      See the haters are here

      December 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  12. Joe in Vegas

    We in the tea party want you to to know just two dash blamned things!!

    A) Jesus was the son of god and god maid jesus AMERICA!
    2) Jesuas would never press 2 he'd would press #! for AMERICAN
    3) You libarels think your so Superior.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      I saw Jesus in Vegas on stage. Tickets were free, as long as you denounced science and reason at the door.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • Joe in Vegas

        You liberals with your fancy educations and fast trucks thank you're are soooo superior. Good luck with that...NOT??!! ha! Who says we int eh tea party have no sense of humor.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • james

      joe, do you not know how serious this is ? so why can I not stop laughing ? thanks, j

      December 13, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Andrew

      What on earth does This have to do with the skin color of the son of GOD! Librals or what not it doesnt matter.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • Al

        In if he had Kurdish or Armenian blood he could have had blue eyes. But if he was from Palestine, I'd expect he'd look like everyone else from his neighborhood.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  13. Goaty McCheese

    Well he was from the Levant, which has a big racial crossroads for millenia. I'd guess he was that Near Eastern olivey sort of color, whatever race that falls under, but who knows? Do people really even worry about this stuff?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  14. Katy

    Mary and Joseph were from Israel, so.....White? Not a chance.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • me

      where every and whatever u think he comes from he was here to save us! he was not blk or white maybe a darker toned color but not blk or white and if we are all created equal than maybe he was a mixed race????????????? everyone needs to read a bible instead of argueing color of skin

      December 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  15. jim jimson

    It is all a fiction anyway BUT Santa Claus was based on a real life WHITE EUROPEAN and that is why he is portrayed as white, because he WAS white.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Incorrect
      Santa Claus is based on St. Niklaus of Myra who was present at the Council of Nicea in 325CE.
      The original legend went that in the middle of the night, he secretly tossed a bag of gold into the home of a poor man so he could afford a proper dowry for his daughter.
      Myra was situated in what is now the Antalya province of Turkey – so Santa would be olive skinned, like Christ.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:16 am |
      • Steve

        the original legend does not give him credit as the gift giver for that bag of coin...
        he was reputed to be the gift giver, because he put coins in people's shoes at night when they left them out.
        he came to be known as the "secret gift giver".

        December 13, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  16. dgsfgsdffasdfasdfbggfdgfd

    NECESITAMOS UNA ACLARACION PUBLICA DE LA BASURA DEL GERENTE DEL FBI SOBRE ESTOS TEXTOS QUE SE PUBLICAN A CONTINUACION.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Steve in DC

      African? Where did you get that? Stop with the revisionist nonsense. He was clearly born in Palestine, and thus probably looked like the average person born there today (in what is today Israel or Jordan). Not that it should matter what color/ethnicity he was!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
      • jb

        Feet the color of brass and hair like lambs wool. Also oldest sect of Jews is the Falasha who are true Hebrews. So I wouldn't assume he would have looked like the people there of today.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  17. Grampa

    Blum's essay is worthless. All he does is recount the opinions of certain persons in the past and then conclude by claiming the color of Jesus' skin doesn't really matter anyway. But it does matter if the supposed whiteness of Jesus' skin is used as the basis for racism or claims of white supremacy. Blum treats the color of Jesus' skin as an unknowable, never mentioning the fact that Jesus was an African born to African parents. Why would any rational person conclude he was caucasian? Continuing to depict him as light-skinned and light-haired is just a foolish lie.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Steve in DC

      African? Where did you get that? Stop with the revisionist nonsense. He was clearly born in Palestine, and thus probably looked like the average person born there today (in what is today Israel or Jordan). Not that it should matter what color/ethnicity he was!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • DarylHark

      African? Are you high? He was a jew. Not white, not black. Get over yourself.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • IpseCogita

      African? Is Palestine in Africa? How do you call this a "fact"? You must mean you have some absolute proof that a man born in Palestine and revered first by Palestinian Jews, was something other than a Palestinian Jew himself.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  18. nepawoods

    What color skin, eyes, hair did his father have?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  19. mick

    I thought that he was Ethiopian. If that was the case, he would have been dark skinned, not "white".

    December 13, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Steve

      What's really disconcerting here, is that they say that Santa Claus should be white because Jesus was.... well, Santa Claus was not modeled after Jesus, he was modeled after Saint Nicholas, who was reputed to be the "secret gift giver".
      Skin color again in question, because some depictions are of a dark colored skin, and some of white skin. But in all honesty, does it really matter? Has our society become so disgusting and self absorbed? Have we reached the point where arguing about the race of a religious icon, who throughout the centuries has been modeled to bring children joy each year, or to give people faith and motivation to be kind to each other is the impression that we wish to pass on to our children? Do we not have anything better; anything more intelligent to do?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  20. EinNY

    Conservatives are always sure they are 100% right. It is part of the delusion...

    December 13, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      amen!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Steve

      liberals are always 100% sure they're right. Give them the chance and they'll strip away your rights, and then attempt to prove to you how right they are while you have no right to dispute it.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
      • Doug

        Hey Steve,

        Could recount to us a time when a liberal stripped you of your rights, and then afterwards attempted to prove to you how right they were while denying you the right to dispute it with him or her? That's quite a chain of events you said they are capable of, and I would be very interested to learn of how you know about such an odd and specific way of operating that these liberals have.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Truth

      Create by the our way no way liberals

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • IpseCogita

      You sound 100% sure you are right. Does that make you a conservative, or delusional?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:30 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156
Advertisement
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.