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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. Glenn

    This artilce makes no point. It touches on a select few quotes throughout recent history, but doesn't come around to some conclusion. Why is there a fear, among some in this country and parts of the christian world, of a Jesus who isn't white? Key point... He lived in the middle east. How could he have been white? In other words, why is this even a debate? I find it amusing that the article fails to include the one mention from the Bible which describes Jesus' physicle appearance. It describes his skin tone similar to color of copper, and his hair much like matted wool. I would say, case closed.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Science Works

      maybe this is why ?

      The decline of religion and the rise of the “nones”

      By Michael Shermer

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-god-dying

      December 13, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Truth Reader

      Glen,

      I totally agree with you! While reading the article I kept hoping, wishing and praying that it would state how the bible clearly described Jesus. Where he was born and raised was actually closer to Africa before an earthquake separated the land so there's very little doubt that Jesus was white! That continent was comprised of brown and black people before Anglos invaded the land and began to call it their own.... Jesus was/is definitely NOT a white man. White people just continue to wear blinders and would hate to admit that they have been worshiping a non white man for centuries.... Go figure.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:39 am |
      • tessie may

        Why do African Americans feel compelled to make up stuff to justify their position? He was clearly North African (Semitic) rather than South African (Nubian). They were quite different tribes. He was a practicing Jew-not a real inclusive group, particularly at that time.

        December 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  2. Dyslexic doG

    white, black or brown. we'll probably never know.

    The important things are more easily verifiable though. jesus was nothing more than a jewish temple rabble rouser put to death for rocking the boat. the virgin birth myth was copied from the legends of previous civilizations. the miracles myths were copied from the legends of previous civilizations. the resurrection myth was copied from the legends of previous civilizations.

    Jesus was just David Koresh 2000 years earlier. A sociopathic conman with a good story and lots of charisma. All this foolishness, without a shred of proof, has sprung up from there.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • lol??

      You still bullyin' Koresh?? The socies bullied him without mercy. Look it up schmart dog.

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

      Bingo!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  3. lolita from rhode island

    yes, Jesus was white and Mormon. His Salt lake city church had to incorporate Blacks to priesthood to avoid any possible lawsuits for discrimination. (that was a bloody joke) God created everyone equal. We humans, have created racism/discrimination, hatred, and division among each other. Damn humans!! I hate them

    December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  4. Amadoudiaz

    The Bible does describe Jesus as a black man. Anyone who believes otherwise is a fool.

    Read Revelation 1:14-15

    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.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      why post a quote from your story book?

      Using the words written by someone in the same cult as you, who is just as deluded as you, to prove your point is hilarious!

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

      How can you say he's a black man when in Revelations 1:14, the verse you just quoted, it says his HEAD and his HAIR were WHITE like wool? Wool is not always black, look at sheep!

      December 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • tessie may

      You don't really get symbolism, do you? If not, I think it's best not to even attempt to read the Bible Just ask your pastor what to think.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  5. Bob Ramos

    Kelly is a beautiful but dumb blonde. A few years back, Mechanix Illustrated undertook a project to rescontruct Jesus using all available evidence known from the 1st century including Mary and Joseph. They came up with a swarthy brown pleasant face that would have not been out of place in the 1st century. And that was what Jesus wanted – to blend in at least for the first 30 years of his life. Even Rev. Billy Graham agrees that Jesus was not white. In fact, he looked nothing like what we see in church today. What is important is what He taught and that He was the Son of God.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  6. Lisa Jain Thompson

    Well since Yeshua ben Mirriam was from the root of Jesse and descended from David ...

    December 13, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  7. rational63

    Given the total lack of historical evidence of Jesus' existence, this debate about his skin colour seems silly!

    December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      amen!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Mike in NYC

      Sorry but there is plenty of evidence that a man named Jesus DID exist and was in fact crucified ... Josephus, the first-century Romano-Jewish scholar/historian, who was born in Jerusalem, wrote about it. What IS under debate is the divinity of that person.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:36 am |
      • rational63

        The short paragraph you're referring to was probably forged by Eusebius several centuries after Josephus lived.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
      • Doug

        Josephus did not live at the same time Jesus was purported to have lived and had no first-hand evidence of Jesus' existence.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  8. Saved

    Should have written: "He died. For our sins. And he rose from the dead. And if we invite Christ into our hearts, we will be saved."

    It doesn't matter what color Christ's skin is. What matters is that HE is the way; no one gets to the Father but through HIM.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • shipwreck73

      HA! Wrong, but nice try

      December 13, 2013 at 10:34 am |
      • Loren

        Stuck with a literal reading of that passage, eh?

        December 13, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  9. Not All Docs Play Golf

    " I believe in a Christian America, inspired by the heart-warming stories Sarah Palin teaches us about how Paul Revere rode 4-wheeler all night to warn Abe Lincoln that gay Buddhist communists from Russia were coming to attack our statue of the 13 commandments on the white house lawn. Makes my chest swell with patriotism when she teaches us."
    (quote from the average Tea Party disciple).

    December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  10. Penar

    Does it matter if Jesus is black or not? If this truly isn't a battle whether the color of one's skin changes the way they are perceived by the public, why are we making a big public scene about it? There's so much controversy over futile and ridiculous arguments. Jesus loves everyone equally; it doesn't matter what the color of his skin was.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Dr.Doom

      Well i don't love or care for him. I had no part or say in his death and torture, yet I'm compelled to worship this fool for what reason again?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:32 am |
      • tessie may

        Who in the world led you to believe that you must worship a person or even believe in him? Believe or not-I don't care.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  11. kenny

    its pretty sad when you feel the need to argue over the skin color of fairy tale characters... pretty sad...

    December 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  12. Doc Vestibule

    Praise white Jesus!

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A32M0-KYTu0&w=640&h=390]

    December 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Shirley You Got To Be Kidding

      I love it!

      December 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  13. Zoey Kay

    It says in the Bible that Jesus had hair like wool, and skin of bronze. I've seen enough Olympic games to know that bronze is not white.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  14. This should be easy

    Since neither Jesus or Santa Claus are real, does it really matter?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Dr.Doom

      Jesus is as real as i am dead

      December 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • Loren

        Then I guess you've performed a miracle by speaking from the dead.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • Anti-Everything

          Guess so. Idiot.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • kenny

      some people take their fairy tales a bit too seriously...

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

        Why do you think the story of Jesus is a fairy tale? Don't mistake the gloss put on his story by subsequent generations for the truth of his life and what he said. There was a rabbi named Jesus and he offered hope to those without hope as he continues to do today. That he may not have been divine in the sense of how he is fashioned today does not mean he did not exist.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Penar

      Ignorance is bliss, big boy. You are very ignorant.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
      • shipwreck73

        Says the person talking to an imaginary friend

        December 13, 2013 at 10:36 am |
        • Fred

          Friend? How can any Christian classify Jesus as a friend? You're all slaves to him. More like a master

          December 13, 2013 at 10:39 am |
      • Loren

        Slaves in what way? He was a teacher of the way to live together in peace. If choosing a life of peace is to be a slave, then I gladly am a slave.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:42 am |
        • Donal

          Then you be happy in your life of religious hate and discrimination. I prefer the 'real' world as opposed to the world of 2000 yrs ago

          December 13, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Mike in NYC

      I hate to break the news to you but Jesus and Santa Clause WERE historical figures. The historical Jesus existed in Judea – Roman/Jewish historian Josephus wrote about his crucifiction. Whether he was divine – is a question for people to debate.

      As for Santa Clause ... he comes from 4th-century Bishop Nikolaos of Myra in Turkey. He was known for putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself a transliteration of "Saint Nikolaos".

      Soooo ... yeah. Perhaps you should pay a little more attention to history and worry a little less if people are believing in something that does no harm to you.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • Brandon

        Well said, Mike. Right on!

        December 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  15. CharlesBronson

    Not that I agree with the assertion that Jesus is white. But if someone said Jesus was Oriental or Hispanic, I doubt there would be such a great concern. It's the belief today, and we can all thank the merits of affirmative action, that whites owe something to other people. Making Santa Claus "not white" is less about Santa Claus and more about asserting that whites are not "diverse" and thus shouldn't be mentioned. It's ironic when people say that color of your skin shouldn't matter but then they turn around and say "Ooo white people aren't diverse and thus are undeserving. Let's make assessments indeed based on the color of their skin. That's called reverse racism." Such incredible hypocrisy. Make Santa Claus purple for all i care.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    why the concern? Everybody knows that FOX News just makes sh1t up as they go along. When have they ever been concerned about facts?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Mitch

      Well, Jesus was Arab; Arabs are considered to be Caucasian. I would call it a mistake to think Jesus was white, but he was Caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am |
      • Loren

        Sorry, but calling Jesus an Arab is mistaken. Jesus was from one of the tribes of Israel. You cannot use modern terms to describe people from two thousand years ago.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  17. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Color aside...the real truth is that the modern "Christian" church has failed its leader.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  18. Brandon

    Jesus was absolutely white-ish but a better description of his appearance would more along the lines of European-Mediterranean.

    During the time of Jesus the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean was inhabited by people that we would now identify as ethnic Europeans – this includes, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, etc...

    The people who now identify as Arab's did not even exist. Those people emerged in later years as a result of Mongolians pushing west and breeding with tribes in areas now known as Afghanistan, Iran, India, etc. As Islam took root, the more European looking people (who were Christians) were pushed out of these areas and moved further west into what is now Europe. This event is what later led to the Crusades, which was an attempt to take back the lands in the east which they had lost.

    None of this is debatable. It is history and fact.

    If a person were wanting to educate themselves on this subject rather than rely on conjecture and a misinterpretation of history, a great place to start would be the following book: The Crusades by Hilaire Belloc.

    Oh, and Merry Christmas everyone!

    December 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Gary

      What? Only speak when you know what you are talking about. Please...

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

        Gary,

        I don’t know what I'm talking about, huh? You are going to argue with the findings of Hilaire Belloc? This is one of the most preeminent scholars in the entire world on this subject. Don’t make yourself look any dumber than you already have. Try reading a book my rather than relying on your intellectual hubris.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      thanks for the information. very interesting to see facts such as these.

      what we don't know though, is that jesus was anything more than a jewish temple rabble rouser put to death for rocking the boat. the virgin birth myth was copied from the legends of previous civilizations. the miracles myths were copied from the legends of previous civilizations. the resurrection myth was copied from the legends of previous civilizations.

      Jesus was just David Koresh 2000 years earlier. A sociopathic conman with a good story and lots of charisma. All this foolishness, without a shred of proof, has sprung up from there.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:26 am |
      • Loren

        A rabble rouser? He never claimed to be more than a teacher and while he did things that may seem rabble rousing today, anyone who helps the poor and the dispossessed is seen that way as well. Read the words that have been agreed are attributed to his teachings and you will see that he showed the path to peace. That we choose not to follow is our loss.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  19. Donal

    I just shat and now my turd resembles the Virgin Mary knelt in front of a crucified Jesus! Is it a sign from god? I must show and ask my pastor......

    December 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Mitch

      Grow up please and only post things that actually stimulate discussion. Just be mature and act ur age.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • Donal

        No. Make me Jesus freak

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

        Jesus and all biblical narratives are fairy tales. Ancient ones at that. If you're too dumb or blind to see the forest through the trees that's you problem not mine. If true my virgin mary shaped dump must be some divine sign from above

        December 13, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  20. Mike

    Joseph was 91 and from Bethlehem, Mary was 13 and from Nazareth (not untypical then for Jews or now for some Muslim/Arab tribes). They and Jesus (and all the disciples) were all Arab Jews and were real people. Their skin likely was neither white nor black but moderately dark, and their hair was likely black. "So what?" JC would ask. "Treat all men like they're your brothers" – good advice then and now.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
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