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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. longfoot

    Since Jesus came from the middle east I'm going to guess that he was brown-ish. Santa on the other hand, is from the North Pole and I doubt very strongly that he spends the off season working on his tan. I bet Santa is as white as Ann Coulter. That's pretty white.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  2. sly

    I am black, and if Megan came on over, believe me she'd be seeing God all night long.

    Megan's god is Big and Black.

    Bring over Sister Sarah as well – she looks like she can spin some religious yarns also ....

    December 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  3. Learn to Fish

    Well, made I it to this point, "The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Fox News host would have none of it," before I realized I was reading nonsense written about nonsense... blah blah race, blah blah stir pot, blah blah race... wish I could get those seconds back.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • mfh1957

      +1

      December 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  4. lisa

    Sanat Claus is German where the orginal forklore of him began, so most likely white.
    As per Christ I would say he's black since the orginal forelore on him started back in the middle east.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Edward R. Murrow

      Santa Claus was based on a creepy Greek guy named Nikolaos of Myra.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • SEH

      Actually the original Saint Nicholas was from a part of ancient Greece that is now part of Turkey........maybe you don't have many Turkish people in your little world, but they do have a bit of pigment in their skin.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Inglourious

      Saint Nicholas was Greek, not German.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  5. Rick

    Um, there are plenty of obsessions about race in the Bible even if it was more centered on ethnicity or location of birth than skin color.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  6. Edward R. Murrow

    So Fox came up with a big stupid attention-getter, and CNN wants the same attention and does it here.

    There's a lesson in modern journalism here, and it ain't about thoughtful news reporting.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Huff Huff

      Christians do some CRAZY things !

      'Kidnapped For Christ,' Planned Doc-umentary, Aims To Expose 'Ex-Gay' Experiences In Christian Reform Schools

      Posted: 12/12/2013 10:52 am EST

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/12/kidnapped-for-christ_n_4427968.html

      December 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  7. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Jesus and God can be any color you want them to be...after all, you created them in your mind.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Mary

      Jesus did exist. Whether you believe he was the son of God is one thing, but there has been scentific proof that a man named Jesus did live during that time and did have a following.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  8. Colin

    Two characters who are largely based on mythology – pick your color.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  9. Donnie

    Why does it matter? Because Americans make it matter. Can't tell you how many times I have seen people troll a story based on the race of the subject. Perfect example....the story of the interpreter at Mandela's memorial service. I saw many people leave comments that the interpreter was signing Ebonics. Another example, I am an African-American and I am a registered Democrat. So in the last two Presidential elections, everyone assumes that I voted for Obama just because he is black. I voted for Obama because he represents the party that I am aligned with. Funny, but when Clinton won his elections, no one seemed to question who I voted for, so race seems to matter for some people.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • .

      Oh, plenty of people said Clinton was actually the first black President. Idiots will be idiots.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Erik

      half of white people voted for a white guy, half of white people voted for a black guy, but 99% of black people voted for a black guy.. blacks will almost UNANIMOUSLY vote for a black. they are a total racist voting block, and they will make whites become just as racist in their voting as a result.

      I'm white and I voted for obama TWICE..Now that I have seen the black behavior in the last six years, I will NEVER vote for a black person again.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  10. bigdicmcgee

    I am conservative as the day is long.... but I refuse to watch anything with Kelly in it... I watch Fox news often... but when Kelly had a 12 year old girl on there a few nights ago talking about a run in with law about raising money; I had my fill... Kelly, I am a Jew and if you think Jesus was white you really are a stupid wanna-be-blonde. I understand what you are trying to do but you come off as idiotic....

    December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The girl who tried to sell mistletoe at the Portland Saturday market perhaps?

      That was a non-story. That story deserved to stay on the local news where it started.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  11. Ricky Gibson

    It used to be that there were only two things that were certain: death and taxes.

    Add a third–that Fox will continually outdo itself trying to set the intellectual bar lower. . . and lower. . . and lower. . .

    December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  12. Just another Atheist

    This is what is bringing the downfall of America.

    Religious nuts fighting over nothing. Any excuse they can find to hate & exclude others.

    silly trolls.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  13. Newmalthus

    In both cases, all of the ethnic groups implicated by Santa or Jesus (Jews) are Anthropologically (physical) and genetically considered to be Caucasian, (A.K.A. "White"). So from a historical point of view, Megan is right, and the PC Media and liberals are in denial of reality, as usual.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Josh

      Yeah, let just forget that he originated from a geographic region where people were not white, and you might be onto something.

      *shakes head*

      December 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      You really want to argue that Megyn Kelly would call Arabs "white"?

      They are as equally Caucasian as ethnic Europeans.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  14. Jim

    Of course Jesus was white.....he was born and raised in the middle east what other color could he possibly be?

    December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  15. Mike

    Santa was/is white. He is Nordic. They are white.

    Jesus was in the middle east. He is not "white". But by no means black either.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • .

      What part of a Greek in Turkey don't you get? The real St. Nicholas was for there.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  16. Dan J

    Lets ignore the fact that the arab world is extremely diverse, and just stereotype arabs as brown skinned with dark features.
    EVEN THEN, according to the U.S. census bureau, arabs are classified as white. They have been for decades.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  17. Jay

    LOL...who gives a fugg about Santa Claus; ya'll can have him because he's made up. Her ignorance stating that Jesus is white shows she's never read the "historial" information she's trying to refer to.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  18. jimcolyer

    The Jewish-controlled media is always stirring up trouble.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • .

      Oh yes. That MUST be it.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • sly

      Very true – praise Allah.

      Allah Ackbar – God is great!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  19. Rene P

    Just in case CNN erases my comment. All you people are stupid. Jesus was not white Caucasian whatever you idiots want to call him. Jesus was from the middle east since when has it become a white man's world. Im sick and tired of CNN always instigating. So if JESUS the son of god was born in Jerusalem does that make him a "white god". You atheist really need a personal Jesus because you people just want to make other peoples life miserable. Since atheist don't have faith or god in their life's they want people to feel that same bitterness that they feel. Nah well not me.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The semitic peoples of the middle east are Caucasian!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      time for your meds. try taking a little nap.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Just another Atheist

      w t ... This argument is between religious nuts like yourself dolt. Don't bring me into it.

      Unicorns are pink, and since unicorns are real and jesus is not, that is the only thing that matters.

      PINK POWER!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Actually the comment came from Fox News.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  20. Sid Prejean

    Anybody insisting on defining the race Santa Claus, Jesus, or anyone else who is either mythical of historical is an idiot.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:36 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.