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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. Denny

    Very appropriate to discuss Santa and Jesus together, as they are both fictional.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Lew

      Jesus wasn't fiction; he is recorded in history and was crucified by the Romans. He was from the province of Judea and by traditional racial classification, would have been considered caucasian – certainly not American Indian, Black or Asian. I think there are two issues going here, his actual race and literally the color of his skin (which, if he avoided the sun, could very well have looked white as opposed to dark because of sun tan). He had looked or had been of a race anything different from the ordinary people of his area, say Chinese, blonde blue eyed nordic, or black, this certainly would have been mentioned by contemporary writers/historians, either Romans, Greeks, Jews, etc. Historically we know that it was not unusual to have blondish hair and/or blue eyes in many areas of Italy and the middle east at that time because of previous invaders from the north. However, anything unusual in Jesus' appearance, as stated above, would certainly have been noted in history.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  2. omeany

    Let's just hope that Megyn Kelly gets the mental help she so desperately needs.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      Amen.

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

      It's not likely as bleach on the head has been shown to kill brain cells.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  3. Barry

    He is white, now who wants to fight about it?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  4. charles

    Guys! Guys! Guys! Guys! Enough with al the Brohaha!!! It's official, FOX NEWS has completely lost it. If this is how they operate to instigate confusion because of ignorance, they are finished. I don't really care about FOX NEWS except the sports, now I might even move on too. ESPN I am coming back, FOX has completely lost it.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  5. Mrs. Claus

    I'm just here to set the record straight, Santa is in fact black... at least from the waist down... why else would I stay tucked away up here surrounded by a bunch of short elves? Why couldn't he leave me with Orlando Bloom instead of these midgets? Not even his massive North Pole can make him confident enough to leave me with any normal sized people...

    December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  6. Matt the King

    Santa is white. He's a a character, and he's white, just like Clifford the Big Red Dog is red dog is red, and Fat Albert is black. How is this even debatable (or newsworthy). Jesus, the person, assuming he existed, was Middle Eastern. We can't just arbitrarily start switching things up. If we can, than I want to claim Muhammad Ali for the whites.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • AticIcal

      Finally, someone with a rational comment....

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      Maybe because Santa is fiction and started out as a guy from Turkey, not the snowy north pole, and has been changed over the years into whatever those celebrating wanted him to be, thus he can be any color, any shade, any texture, any smell and any temperment you would like him or her, why not make Santa into Santarina? It makes no difference to a fictional character, they can be whatever we want them to be.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • Matt the King

        Of course it matters. Just like Snow White isn't a short Asian dude with a limp, and Fred Flinstone isn't a transgender person, characters are what they are.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Emma Goldman

        I vote that both of them are any color except the color that any racist wants them to be! forever. Amen.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
        • Matt the King

          So I'm guessing that the way you process information, it's that if someone prefers that a character who has traditionally been white (i.e. Santa, Prince Charming) continues as a white character, they are somehow racist? That's sound logic.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Adam Morgan

      Well, not really with Santa. Santa as we know him is a merger of the British Father Christmas (earliest reference 1430s) with the Greek Saint Nick (real person from 3rd Century Greece). So technically it goes back to Greece. And possibly earlier in the Scandinavian countries where it ties further back in to Norse mythology. Santa Claus is a mish-mash but the mythos predominantly goes back to Greece which would be a Mediterranean look which isn't traditional "white" at all.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
      • Matt the King

        That may be true, but "Santa," the character that has been well-know and popularized over the last 100-200 years is what he is. A fat white guy in a red suit with a white beard/stache combo, and white hair. That's all there is to it.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  7. OSA6311

    I'm not sure where she gets her information from, but anyone with any basic geography knowledge will understand that Christ was born in the middle east and therefore, it is highly UNLIKELY that he was white...seriously! Now, I understand where she was coming from about Santa, based on St. Nicholas, who was white, but what's wrong with people of different ethnicity wanting to make Santa (who is a FICTIONAL character) a little more like themselves...this whole thing is ludicrous.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • skarphace

      So what race do you consider Jews to be? This issue is still hotly debated. As for the race of the "Middle East", which is not a continent, there is no answer as people from all races live in the Middle East.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  8. looking for answers

    Jesus was from the ancient continent so this would not make him black or white.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • hz

      if you are talking about real history, he's from middle east, not some ancient land
      if we are talking about fiction, he's man from sky, not from ancient land either

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  9. Danielle

    Everywhere you look Jesus is white. However, Jesus was from the Middle East. Therefore, I think we can assume he had more olive toned skin. Frankly, I don't really care what color he was.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  10. bob

    Jesus and Santa are white. Jesus was invented by the Italians and Santa was invented by the Germans in their image therefor they are white. Just look at all the early paintings of the two.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • SBKGUY

      Since when are Italians white???

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

        If by "White" you mean Caucasian, then forever as ethnic Italians are Caucasian, not Asian or African. Like "Hispanic", "Italian" is a subset of "Caucasian".

        December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Charles

      Jesus was not invented. He roamed the earth, and was written about. He was Jewish not Italian. He certainly was not White in the sense that we consider to be White, which is basically the Anglo Saxons or Germanic peoples of the Germanic tribes. He was of the Semite peoples. Being a Semite, he was most likely dark with dark hair.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Ray

      So...the people who wrote the Gospels are Italian too?

      December 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  11. hz

    Santa never existed, call it white or black or yellow or purple makes no difference
    and Jesus was never white, he's from middle east

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  12. Emma Goldman

    One thing for sure: "Afrosheen" is WHITE and wants everyone to know, as many times as possible, day after day, 24/7. there is nothing more important to the white cretins than being WHITE.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • afrosheen

      say it loud, I'm White and I'm Proud. LOL!

      December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • skarphace

        Proud of what? You did not choose your race. You should only be proud of your accomplishments.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  13. skarphace

    Santa Claus is a mythological character. Sure, he was based on Saint Nick (who apparently was Greek - whatever race that is, Caucasian or Asian or African), but the legend of a "Santa Claus" from the North Pole is just that - legend. It is meaningless to argue over the race of a mythological creature.

    As for Jesus, I shouldn't really matter. Yes, ethnically he was from the Middle East, but that does not in itself determine what race he was (for example, are Jews Caucasian, Asian, African, or a mix? Are Jews a distinct race unto themselves?).

    Jesus represented all races, and therefore nobody should be able to claim him as their own. I am quite sure that if Jesus was confronted with the question, "What race are you?", he would reply, "I am of the human race." As we all are.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  14. eason

    I hope most of the people on here realize middle easterners consider themselves to be white. For example the word Iran is the Persian word for land/place of the Aryans. This is ridiculous and I can't believe some people are trying to cause racial strife where none exists. Santa Claus is a Nordic fairytale/legend. Tell me the last time you saw anything other then a lily white norse man. This country is way to PC. The problem with race relations in this country is the fact that idiotic debates like this go on.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      That all goes back to the pregnant Queen that Saul neglected to kill.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      ' Santa Claus is a Nordic fairytale/legend. Tell me the last time you saw anything other then a lily white norse man.'

      Er, St Nick, the guy he is based on, was from Turkey. Not sure why you claim Nordic.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • eason

        Fine Turkey. TURKS consider themselves to be white.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
        • skarphace

          You are still confused. To be a "Turk", you have to be a citizen of Turkey. This does not change your race. If a black man (and yes, there are blacks that live in Turkey) was to move from America to Turkey, he would not now be "White". His race would not magically change. There are people of all races that live in most countries, Turkey included.

          This is to ignore the fact that when Saint Nick lived he did not live in Turkey, but in Greece. That land was not called Turkey until well after the death of Saint Nick.

          December 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • skarphace

      I disagree completely. The original term "Middle East" referred to countries in western Asia, not Europe. Therefore, most Middle Easterners would consider themselves to be Asian, not Caucasian. However, the "Greater Middle East", as denoted in the late 1980s, refers to countries on all three continents, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Therefore, you will find some Middle Easterners from all three races, Asian, Caucasian, and African. This is why the debate rages: the Middle East is the first great melting pot (or, some would argue, the origin of all the races.)

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • eason

        Oh really. Straight from wikipedia:

        "The Middle East[note 1] is a region that roughly encompasses a majority of Western Asia (excluding the Caucasus) and Egypt. The term is used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East. The corresponding adjective is Middle-Eastern and the derived noun is Middle-Easterner. The largest ethnic group in the Middle East are Arabs,[1] with Turks, Turkomans, Persians, Kurds, Azeris, Copts, Jews, Assyrians, Maronites, Circassians, Somalis, Armenians, Druze and numerous additional minor ethnic groups forming other significant populations."

        Your argument is garbage. You make quasi educated comments that don't prove jack.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
        • skarphace

          "The Middle East[note 1] is a region that roughly encompasses a majority of Western Asia"

          That is exactly what I said. You are the one who said that those in the Middle East considered themselves Caucasian. You are the one who contradicted yourself. Like I said, most people from the original Middle East are Asian, not Caucasian.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Harlan. H.

      I was going to replay to the entire mess but you just said everything I intended to. Thank you!

      +1

      December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Charles

      Yes Arab peoples and other peoples of the middle east are classified as caucasion, but being caucasion does not make you White. White is a term used for specific caucasions and we all no that. You don't call an Arab person White.Some Jews you can call White, but some are very offended if you call them White, because of the whole German Hitler persecution. Don't try calling those Jews White. Basically the Aryans are White. The rest of the caucasions are not. Jesus was not an Aryan, so he was not White.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ray

      Aryan does not mean "white". It was racial group in Iran that spoke a specific language. Hitler used that term to denote Germans as the "pure" race. Also you said "most" not all of the Iranians consider themselves "white". However, Jesus was not Iranian but Jewish.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • Charles

        We are not talking about history here. We are talking about Aryan as it is used today. It is used to describe Whites as in the "Aryan Brotherhood". White as it is used today refers to Aryans as the term is used today. Those people from the nordic and germanic tribes. It excludes caucasion people such as Jews, Arabs or any of the other semites. It also excludes the people of Pakistan and those from Indian. Basically, there are many population groups that the term White excludes. Jesus was not from the Nordic Tribes or the Germanic Tribes. He was most definitely a Semite. He was not White and probably he was not Black. But if he were any race other than Semite, that race would probalby be Black. Blacks did exist in the region at the time. The Germanic tribes came down from the north way later in human history.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  15. Bernhard

    Somewhere on this planet...Richard Dawkins is drinking very heavily...

    December 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  16. Mike

    Santa is not real; therefore, it is moot to argue whether he is white or not, and could therefore be accorded any race. Jesus is a jew. White is to caucasian, jew is to semite, and ignorance is to Fox news.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  17. Shirley You Got To Be Kidding

    Jesus is not white! The Bible say's, He had hair of wool and bronze skin". Sound like a homie to me.

    Immjussaynnn

    December 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Jan

      THANK YOU!

      December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • eason

      Jews are considered white. Just cause a white guy gets a tan doesn't make him a homie.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • Charles

        Some Jews are considered White and some are not. It is a religion and not a race. There are actually African Jews that are Black. Some of those Jews are from North East Africa, and there is even a group in South Africa. Scientist can't even be sure if the original Jews were caucasion. The Bible teaches that Isrealites were slaves to the Egyptians. However Scholars find that Egyptians had Black slaves of conquered tribes from deeper inside Africa. This myth that there was a whole population group of caucasions enslaved by Egyptians is just more than likely a myth. The Isrealites were probably Black, and as they went north and mixed with caucasion population groups they became more of a mixed bag, and spread their religion of one all powerful God to those caucasion population groups. It is hard to say because we were not there to see exactly how things went. We just have writing taken originally from oral stories. And apparently in ancient times people discussed tribe rather than race. This racial tension thing, is fairly new to human history.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  18. cray820

    Guss what America. None of the biblical prophets and writers were white. They all lived either in africa or middle east.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  19. roger

    As long as Santa gives me presents and Jesus saves my soul I don't care what color they are.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Shirley You Got To Be Kidding

      I love you man!

      December 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  20. Alexander Mithcell Hoehn

    The POPE is white...SO Jesus must be white!!! I'm from Boston and if he wasn't white we wouldn't be so in to him. It's a Massachusetts thing!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      The Pope is from the line of Peter the poor man, while Jesus was born a prince of Israel with purchased Roman citizenship.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 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.