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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. ryanwin

    Genesis 1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Theseus

      What part in Genesis has the dinosaurs?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
      • Tom

        The good part.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
        • Theseus

          And what's "the good part", because I can't find them in there. I just see some nonsense about man from dirt and woman from a rib.... where's the hundreds of millions of years before the whales and birds in the sky? Oh, hundreds of millions of years... my bad... says here it just took 6 days.... that clarifies that.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
      • Tom

        Genesis 2:19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.

        As I remember, dinosaurs were pretty wild.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
        • Theseus

          So, it's just that none of them made it to the ark?

          December 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
      • ryanwin

        Dinosaurs apparently existed prior to man, during one of the creative "day" periods. That is my guess, though. The answer wouldn't deter my faith.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
        • Theseus

          The answer wouldn't deter your faith, no matter what the answer is? That means your faith betrays you from the truth.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
        • ryanwin

          Quite the contrary. If I know something to be true, another truth revealed would not contradict the other truth. Kinda like if you know 1+1=2, then you learn that the volume of a sphere with radius r is \tfrac43\pi r^3, which does not negate that truth. I don't have to worry about what new formulas I learn, because they will not negate what I have learned to be true.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  2. ryanwin

    Jesus father was God, so you have only half of his lineage pegged down.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Are you some kind of Mormon?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • oo oo

      When u girls tire, I'm glad to educate u exactly how he looked.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • One one

      What color is god ?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  3. Brad

    How about Frosty the snowman? Why does snow have to be white. Stupid racist snow. Wait, Rudolph's nose is red...does that mean he is communist? Why do we ask for a white christmas? Bing Crosby was apparently racist too.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      We just need more coal fired power plants.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Cassidy S

    Santa IS white. pretty sure Jesus was BROWN.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Jesus was blacker than Obama.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  5. Theseus

    Why would anyone half educated about other countries assume Jesus was white in the first place? As for Santa Clause, I'm not sure of the lineage of the residing citizens of the North Pole.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • jake t

      Half educated female fox news caster? About as real as santa

      December 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  6. Kelly

    Either of these people can be whatever color you want them to be since they are both fictional characters that were created in the minds of men.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • oo oo

      And u support that statement with what evidence, exactly? Lol

      December 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
      • Basically

        Supported by the total lack of evidence.

        Jesus is heresay. No actual evidence.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
        • oo oo

          Pretty quick on that delete button dodo.

          Prove there's a complete lack of evidence.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
        • Josh

          Your comment actually entertained me for a minute, then I realized that you actually trust your ignorance. Most Biblical scholars agree on the existence of Jesus, such as Roman senator Tacitus in Annals, plus the depictions of Jesus in 1st century morals. Simply look up the Historicity of Jesus, and actually become open to the indisputable truth that Jesus did exist, instead of your atheist propaganda. Bart Erhman described not believing that Christ lived is "amateurish."

          January 14, 2014 at 7:10 pm |
      • Basically

        Supported by the total lack of evidence.

        Jesus is pure heresay. No actual evidence.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
        • oo oo

          Pretty good dodo. Now, prove it.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
        • Basically

          Prove there s a lack of evidence? Oh that's really wonderful! You are quite the genius.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
        • oo oo

          I no.

          Don't lie then. If you can't present your evidence, simply be quiet

          December 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  7. Steel On Target

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSQczYEeB2w&w=640&h=390]

    December 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  8. guzhead

    First of all Jesus is a Jew so of course he is white and secondly Santa Claus is from northern European folklore so guess what, he's white too!

    December 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Theseus

      A first century Jew from middle east heritage... NOT WHITE.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • Reasoner

      Jesus was an Asian as he is from Israel. If you know Geography, Israel is part of Asia.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • JustSayin

      guzhead, which ethnic Jew would that be? Remember there are several types of Jews within the Jewish people. So was Jesus a Sphardi Jew? Mizrahi Jew? Ashkanazi Jew There are several ethnic Jews too. So which ethic or tribal Jew was Jesus?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • happy holidays

      All jews are white? Tell me more about that

      December 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  9. Steel On Target

    "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."

    Great way to shoot yourself in your own foot there blondie. Jesus is as real as Santa in your own words.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Ferd Derfinator

      She's not a real blonde. She had to dye her hair to make people think she was as smart as a blonde.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Saint Nicolas is a big deal among Catholics.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  10. JustSayin

    Well, Santa is also fake. So that means Jesus is a fake too.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  11. cmechilln

    Thanks right.... who gives a f**ck!

    December 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • oo oo

      Lol. What a jerk

      December 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
      • oo oo

        Sam, go bloviate someplace else. Were u happy to hear about that suicide? I bet!

        December 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
      • Roger that

        So it is important to you that both Santa and Jesus are white?

        December 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  12. Brent

    Jesus looked like an Arab. His skin was most likely was light in complexion at birth, but was tanned like Arabs, Middle Easterners, Native Americans and Hispanics. His was naturally wavy, not curly like Blacks or very straight like Whites. Whites try to idealize him as White; Blacks idealize him as Black; but he really looked like an Arab.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • CET

      Yep, Jesus was a Bedoin Jew, and Bedoin Jews were dark skinned Arabs. Not olive, not Caucasian, but dark skinned. Megyn doesn't know history and she's elevating Santa to what? A historical, factual figure? What else can we expect from Fox-Ignorance on a grand scale. The usual stuff.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  13. oo oo

    I no exactly how he looked.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • oo oo

      Not one is even close.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
      • Ferd Derfinator

        Well that's what happens when you abruptly stop taking your meds, oo.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
        • oo oo

          U should no, samba

          December 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
        • oo oo

          Now Sam Bo, would u stop crushing my feelings! I'm gonna have a hissy fit!

          December 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
        • Ferd Derfinator

          Samba? I'm a festive Brazillian dance?

          December 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Bernardo

    A few things here, the person writing this article sounds like he misses the old days when there was white only restaurants and "the good ol days", very sad. As far as the reporter, how incredibly ignorant

    December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Reading between the lines

    Why would FOX go for such a stupid approach? Because their audience loves idiotic blow-hard comments.

    Why would CNN repeat it? Because they love to chum up anti-FOX sentiments.

    And both make money.

    Oh yeah, and it's easier than actually doing news.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  16. blackjesuscom

    If my color doesn't matter,
    why has the truth been hidden
    and denied? What does this lie have
    to do with Sunday being the most
    segregated day of the week?
    We are all our brother's keeper.
    The Truth Will Set Us Free.
    http://bit.ly/IIkpoW

    December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  17. John

    Odin was white, so was Thor. What's the problem? Christmas was their stolen holiday, damn you LOKI !!!

    December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  18. witeman10

    Santa's reaction to this entire debate...

    December 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  19. Kt

    SANTA CLAUS IS NOT WHITE because he is a fictional character. Whether the person this folklore is based upon is white or not is irrelevant.

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

    I think the coca-cola christmas polar bear should be changed to a black bear...

    December 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      I like the albino.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Tariq

      Polar Bears skin is actually black, their fur is white

      December 13, 2013 at 5:13 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.