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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. Juan

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
    ★*˚°。°*。°*˚★*˚°。°*。°˚°★*˚°。°*。°*★*˚°。°*。°*★
    ˛ °_██_*˚°。°/ ♥ \*˚°。°*。°*★*˚°。°*。°*★*˚°。°*。°*★
    ,˛. (´• ̮•)*.。*/♫..♫\*˛.*˛_Π_____*˚°。*。°*❤*˚°。°*。°*★
    ,,.°( . • . ) ˛°./• ‘♫ ‘ •\.˛*./______/~\*˚°。°*。°*°*❤ ˚°*★
    ,,*(…’•’.. ) *˛╬╬╬╬╬˛°.|田田❤|門|╬╬╬╬╬*

    December 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Yolanda W.

      Merry Christmas!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • jim davis

      Watch it, that can be seen as racist by the liberal idiots.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
      • Satan Claws

        The only one crying 'racism' is you, trailer-boy.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ed G.

      Juan, Thank you for that picture. Merry Christmas.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  2. bribarian

    Jesus was Jewish. St. Nick is white.

    Libs are real life trolls, when you realize that, you stop taking them seriously and giving them a stage to cry on.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Alias

      Fox news and libs /
      Really?

      December 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • sly

      ... and God is black. Jesus, being His son, is a half-black. (See: Adam/Eve palmtree 43:a9@ pg.3 para 4).

      It's ok – all's good in the world today. Not much war. The TeaBillies climbed back down into their cave while their daddy Bohner blasts them.

      Enjoy the holidays folks. Allah Ackbar. God is Great. (and for me, a black man, it's gonna be a white christmas, just like the last 2, where I spent the night rollin' with a gorgeous white girl).

      December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Hubris

      You should follow your own advice and stop bleeding like a c_nt.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  3. tet1953

    There can be little doubt that the fat jolly one is white. Jesus, on the other hand...

    December 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  4. Truthzilla

    Why does the author of this article skip over the actual beginning of this current issue. Instead, it starts that poor Megyn Kelly is being ridiculed unfairly for her beliefs. And that blogs are now attacking her. Her entire FOX piece was attacking someone else – a blogger! And THAT person's words, thoughts and beliefs! That's where this starts. So how is Megyn an innocent victim? Exactly why should we feel bad for HER in this? Because she got called out on it????

    December 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      In the old days the definition of troll was: changing the subject to what you want to talk about.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • lol??

      Feelings are left behind, too.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Stilonius Waterus

      She's being ridiculed for being ridiculously stupid.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    The article seems to say that Santa and Jesus are on equal ground with regard to existence – past or present. They are certainly colorful, just insubstantial.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  6. Who F-ing cares?

    Seriously, who cares? Ron Paul 2012!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  7. sly

    The Wicked Witch of the West was white.

    Actually, so was Glinda, the good witch.

    This is ALL true: it's in a book.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  8. George

    The egyptians certaintly were black people. I am speaking of the old and middle kingdom. Look up the description Heroditus gives of egyptians as well as how the other ancients describe them. We must discuss fact. The reliefs you describe are just an artists depiction and remember there are black people in the USA that are extremely well educated. If you want a resource check out "The Africans who wrote the bible" by Nana Darkwah or "The African origin of civilization" by Diop. The essenes of the bible were hebrews that brought judaism and christianity to europe, not the other way around and they all carried the names of west african people that have been altered over time. Some european jews carry these names. The hebrews were a combination of several african groups who left egypt migrated to parts of africa. The europeans who enslaved africans along with african kings knew this and caused a mass deportation of these people to the americas and the West Indies during slavery. These people today are descended from the hebrew people.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  9. Bob

    If Jesus is modeled in the image of his believers, then why isn't he a fat guy at a McDonalds booth?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Excess is a sin.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • sharon

      Hysterical!!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  10. Teddy

    Well we are talking Megyn Kelly here. She's one of FOX clueless line-up of blonde former beauty queen contestants.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Do you think tis sort of discussion upsets black Jesus?

      December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  11. Richard Aberdeen

    According to the Bible, Jesus was of mixed ethnicity, primarily Jewish. There is no such thing as race according to modern genetic evidence and the Bible, often agreeing with modern science evidence, never mentions race, except in a disputed translation in Zachariah, which may or may not refer to race. Historians overwhelmingly agree that Jesus was probably dark skinned and short by today's averages, with black and probably curly hair. He was also very likely of shaggy haggard appearance, rather than the white-robed Nordic guy with a neatly trimmed Hollywood beard. According to Isaiah, the Messiah would be "without form or comeliness", indicating he was downright plain if not ugly. Fox Noise has long been full of it and, everybody knows it except apparently viewers of such obvious blatant propaganda, as if the rest of the media isn't bad enough.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  12. Jack

    Jesus was born in Palestine–probably looked like present day Palestinians/Lebanese. Any idiot knows he probably was olive/dark skin, probably black eyes and curly hair. There weren't many Swedes hangin out in Palestine then. Oh, and by the way, he was Jewish as were all his followers then.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Vanessa

      Thank you! If Jesus were white the bible would have talked about sunburns constantly...trust me as a super white irish girl no way you could live in israel and not have a constant lobster tan lmao

      December 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  13. Sheila

    About Santa – why is it so wrong to have a Northern European myth appear with Northern European features?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Patrick

      St. Nicolas, the historical figure most associated with Santa Clause, was from what is modern day Turkey. That is not exactly "northern Europe".

      December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  14. john

    david i for get the verse but it said hair as whit as lambs wool and feet like burnt brass. what group of people does this describe. duh!!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  15. christopherjsmith

    Hey Megyn, is it also a fact that the Easter Bunny is a 5ft tall pink rabbit that walks on two feet while wearing a sweater vest? Been meaning to confirm that one two. Thanks!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • lol??

      You mockin' Hugh's daughter, a leader amongst men??

      December 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  16. Stilonius Waterus

    FOX: because idiot yokels are best controlled with by inciting rage.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • Russ

      certainly looks like CNN is jumping on that train...
      3000 comments? i'd expect another one of these articles in the future.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
      • Stilonius Waterus

        I will happily agree that there is no serious news source available. News is an entertainment product now.

        December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  17. The Truth

    I find it outrageously funny that anyone would think Jesus was WHITE.. Like Say Conan O'Brien lol... until people from Europe came down there wasnt ANY one that looked like that in that area... a white person couldnt go there now and NOT come back many shades darker... Whites have been fooled by the Old White We Are The Best Mentality... when all it really was, was lies and deceit lol...

    December 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  18. Juan

    There's one and only one who stands over 2000 years: God with a simple name JESUS. The rest are aging and becoming nothing. He who comes to him must suffer and he'll come thing time not for salvation but to save the souls who trusted in him.

    There's NONE of the gods that perform miracle but JESUS.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • Doug

      I performed miracles. Also, ur gey.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  19. SJ

    Santa Claus or Sinterklaas was a real person. He was dutch, and as history has recorded it, he was white. His tradition started back in WWII when he would deliever gifts to children. Gifts like chocolate letters. He did have a black companion Zwarte Piet. If we're talking about race, bring back Zwarte and everyone will be happy.

    Jesus, it is believed was white. Only because as history has recorded, Jesus took the shape of those he walked among. In Jerusalem, in early biblical times, 98% of the population was white.

    The national anthem, our countries traditions, our beliefs, should not be rediculed by those outside or immigrants comming to Northern America. We dont move to your country to change your laws, change your culture, and change your beliefs and way of life. Do not come to our country and demand that we change the things that built this country.

    Do you see our wives going to the middle east in bikini's? No, we are respectful of everyones cultures. Maybe we have been too leniant. But it is time we stand up and demand enough is enough and we will not change the traditions of our country.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS (as it should be said).

    December 13, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • Stilonius Waterus

      Sinterklaas was a real person? Are you really that stupid?

      Try googling it to find that "real person."

      December 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
      • tony111

        check out the first paragraph of Wikipedia.

        December 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Harvey the Rabbit

      "as history has recorded"?

      No recorded history of Jesus whatsoever. Just heresay that came later.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • sharon

      Jesus white? You are delusional ....... WOW!! Just WOW!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • JC

      What planet do you come from? In Jesus' time in Jerusalem, there were no white people. Get a brain.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Jill

      "Sinterklaas," is a variation of, "Saint Nicholas," who was a Greek bishop, and recognized as patron saint of children.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • Keith

      Not to burst your bubble, but there was the little matter of us white folk invading North America, stealing land, enslaving others, and forcing our culture and version of history on both the "Native" American Indians and the African we "imported" over here.

      ......just sayin'

      December 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  20. Chris

    Hilarious, a European created religion now has every race wanting to slap their races face on the fictional messiah.

    There are far more uneducated and outright ignorant people than I thought, not to mention the very low intelligence I am seeing on this left wing website.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • Keith

      Your right. If there is one thing the "Right" is known for, it is it's intelligence ....lol.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:04 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.