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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. Jon

    Jesus was a middle-Eastern Jew, not a European! Unless he looked different than all his neighbors, he would have had olive/brown skin and black hair. Incredible ignorance by Fox. No surprise.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      WRONG.

      jewsa are white goto isreal and look at the jews there.

      william shatner is white

      leonard nemoy is white

      both are jews

      the jewish dna has not changed in 4000 years

      it takes close to 40,000 years for skin color to change through evolution

      December 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
      • Uhhh

        Whoopi Goldberg? Sammy Davis, Jr?

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

          uhhh, converted? Or are you just playing?

          December 16, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
      • Michael

        There's a huge diversity among the Jewish population. You're obviously talking about Ashkenazi Jews who moved to Europe after the Diaspora. The Jews of Ancient Israel pre-Diaspora almost certainly looked more like Mizrahi Jews.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
      • pa jesseson

        i'm a jew and i'm not white. so, what's the deal? am i not a jew? am I not not-white? wake up and smell the bagels and lox, buddy. you are dreaming big time.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
      • Azzman

        Are Arabs white too?

        December 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • mark myword

      Sorry but jews are white ...... so is santa >> it's a Dutch story and Holland was white. You lose libbies.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • Oh dear

        Maybe you should google it so you can find out that it isn't of Dutch origin.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
      • pa jesseson

        you say jews are white in my house and we'll beat the crap out of your ignorant hide.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
      • tessie may

        Although he is a very popular saint in the Netherlands, with several churches named after him, he was born on the area of Turkey and Greece. Another interesting fact is that he was present at the Council of Nicea c.325. Thus he helped decide which writings would be included (or not) in the official version of the New Testament. As well as helping to create the Nicene creed which spells out the basics of Christian belief.

        December 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  2. Logicman

    Of course Santa was white. He snuck into peoples' homes and put things IN, he didn't take them OUT.

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

      Shhh...Santa's not real.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • bob

      thats classic!

      December 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • John P

      And the GOP wonders why they can't get the minority vote! lol

      December 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  3. One one

    Actually, since they are both myths, they can be what ever color you want them to be.

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

      umm read a history book on st nick a real person , sorry but Im sure you were not taught facts in public schools. Just liberal trash

      December 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Saint Nick may have been real but he didn't live at the North Pole and fly around distributing gifts transported by flying reindeer.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  4. bostontola

    Almost 50 years ago Buckminster Fuller predicted:

    “a worldwide technological revolution will take place quite independently of politics or ideology; it will be carried out by comprehensive designers, who will coordinate resources and technology on a world scale for the benefit of all mankind, and will constantly anticipate future needs while they find ever-better ways of providing more and more from less and less."

    So while politicians, media, and religious leaders argued about things, scientists and technologists changed the world.

    It is sad to me that news media is failing in the role of helping people focus on what matters. Stories like this show how media has transformed into a form of entertainment, instead of a vital organ of societal self awareness.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  5. theemptyone1

    "Jesus was a historical figure and he was white, that's a fact." No, it isn't. There have never been any remains of "Jesus" found and what history we have of him is exclusively through the claims made in the Bible, which was written on rumor and third generation "witnesses" which means, no living witness ever reported anything. The two passages in Josephus have been shown to be forgeries made in the 2nd century. But on the question of what race Jesus would have been, the answer is simple; as a Hebrew and a Jew, he would have had similar genetics to anyone that lived in the same region in the first century. The analysis of dna of that period has been done and the phenotype is for a short, wiry haired man with heavy features. Christians that claim that Jews are not white cannot then claim that Jesus was white. As for Santa; as much evidence exists that proves that Santa is as real as Jesus is/was. But the historical records indicate that Santa Claus was originally an old white man of white, European background. If we conduct similar dna tests on Europeans of that period in the place where the story had it origin, then we can know that Santa is/was white. Silly, silly, silly....

    December 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  6. Francisco

    Jesus is obviously since he was born around the middle east. Are there white people in the Middle East? Yes, but very, VERY little and the odds are that Jesus was not white. At least Jesus is real, however, Santa, well, how can we fight about an imaginary person's color? That's gotta one of the dumbest things I heard this week. But since the topic is here, Santa could be white like the people from Greenland. On the other hand, Santa could be from an Eskimo family, which means that he could be dark. But anyways, I am done talking about a person's color even though he does not exist.

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

      Santa is modeled after St Nick the real person who was given saint hood for giving gifts to children, he was and never has been anything but white

      December 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  7. Magister

    JESUS AND SANTA????? BOTH WHTE!!!! LMAO HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! NO JESUS OR SANTA FOR YOU OTHER-THANS!!!!! JESUS AND SANTA!!!! BOTH MINE!!!! CHRISTMAS AND SALVATION ARE MINE MINE MINE!!!! LMAO

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

      This is not a direct reply to the person above, but can anyone honestly say they can take solace in anything that comes out of the pieholes of talking heads or politicians today. Do yourself a favor believe what you wish to believe, do good in the world, help the helpless, and live every single day as if every single aspect of the apocalypse is coming down the pike sooner rather than later. Live for those you love and understand that the same may not be returned. Take solace in this holiday season that when you lie your head to rest, that you have done something better than the day before.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  8. Janey

    Small wonder the response was fast with the internet. Small wonder Stewart would criticize – his own show ratings are in the pits compared with Kelly's. The only physical description of Jesus – aside from artwork throughout the ages – was in "HIstory of the Jews" by Josephus, who states he was tall, had an aquiline nose, reddish brown hair and blue eyes.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Stanley Hudson

    I’ve been here 18 years and have suffered through some weird thematic Christmases. A Honolulu Christmas, a Pulp Fiction Christmas, a Muslim Christmas, Moroccan Christmas — Mo Rocca Christmas. I don’t want it. Christmas is Christmas is Christmas is Christmas. I don’t want no Kwanza wreath. I don’t need no dreidle in my face. That’s its own thing. And who’s that black Santa for? I don’t care. I know Santa ain’t black. I could care less. I want Christmas. Just give me plain Baby Jesus lyin’ in a manger Christmas!

    December 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  10. oo oo

    I am accurate 100% of the time

    December 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  11. Curt

    It seems kind of silly to argue about somehting like this. Jesus was Jewish. Whatever Jewish people looked like 2000 years ago is probably what he looked like. Santa is fictional. If you want to create pictures of him you have to choose things like age and skin color. So whoever invented the character has the right to create the image. But other people can also create their own images. So if someone wants to create their own image of a black Santa or a latino Santa go ahead. But I'll stick with the fat, white guy with the white beard because that's the tradition. There is nothing racist about it, but there is definitely something wrong with calling it racist or suggesting that we all need to change our vision of what Santa looks like. The common perception of Santa has been white for a long time. There is nothing wrong with being white. Leave it alone. Anyone who says there is something wrong with being white is a racist.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  12. My two-cents

    Ones skin color does not make one less human; this is a fact, based on science and reason. On the other hand, I would like to think that modern-day humans are much more educated than the folks who created this Jesus is God story. To the non-white folks, stop believing in myths, Jesus, Santa Claus, false history books, religion, etc. You need to stop allowing this type of garbage affect you; move beyond it. Get out of the game of arguing about superior races, and concentrate on self, family, and community development; educate yourself and the ones (relatives, Fox News, etc) around you.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  13. Julie Labrouste

    It's amazing/pathetic that so much time should be spent arguing over two imaginary people.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      liberals are very concerned about skin color, they have alot in common witht he kkk

      December 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
      • Dylan

        You are calling Megan Kelly a liberal....hahaha

        December 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
      • Julie Labrouste

        Yet another example of a reply that is entirely irrelevant to the comment replied-to.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • julio shwartz

      When I was a heathen, I knew god existed but all my pagan friends like Sam bo stoned thrrtened to donkey punch me if I left their faith.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  14. t2vodka

    Ha, christians can't even agree on the color of their savior, as if that would even be important if the whole story was true. What a bunch of morons. Every day they help destroy religion with their stupidity. Science may not be perfect, but at least it tries to find the pure truth.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Curt

      Pay attention. It is not Christians who are arguing about it. Everyone likes to put down Christians but at least we know what we believe. We don't put our faith in something that changes every day. And I'm not criticizing science. Science should change every day because people make new discoveries and anyone with intelligence will be open to new information. I'm just saying it isn't intelligent to base your faitn on it.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  15. Roger Mike

    CNN trying to create controversy out of nothing?

    the image of santa created by cocacola was a fat jolly white man = santa is white.

    jewish people are white so yes jesus would of been white. it takes longer than 2000 years for skin color to change color through evolution, it takes about 40,000 years.

    jewish DNA has remained unchanged for 4,000 years.

    rossanne bar is white
    larry david is white
    jerry seinfeld is white
    william shatner is white

    if you got o israel you will notice that jews are white.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • KellyP

      Were any of those Jews born in Palestine 2000 odd years ago, before most jews were dispelled all over the world to intermarry with locals?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Nick

      Since when are Jewish people white, dumdum? Israelis are Middle Eastern, as was Jesus, and last time I check, Middle Easterners are Middle Eastern, not white. Thinking Jesus was white is both stupid AND racist.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
      • Roger Mike

        people in the middle east are caucasians.

        jews are white

        December 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
        • Satan Claws

          Iraqis and Iranians are Caucasian, too. How 'white' would you describe them? Idiot.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Nick

      As evidence, your statement about going to Israel and seeing all the white people is just plain old false. My aunt is Israeli, and she is most decidedly not white.

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

      That honestly sounds like an answer from a person with two first names...

      December 13, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  16. Jess Sayin

    Well, if one of the interchangeable bleach blond Fox bimbos declares it, it must be true.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      she was correct.

      are you calling blonds dumb?

      are you a mysongynist?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • Teaching Roger to read

        "bleach blond"

        December 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
      • Say wha?

        "mysongynist"?

        December 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
      • John P

        Roger, don't be so coy (and ignorant, for that matter). Whether this woman is blonde, brunette or redhead, it's what's between her ears that's lacking. She just wants what every red-blooded RINO wants, a white-washed society. Just admit it! lol

        December 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  17. Rhinnrhinn

    The Jesus I saw in my vision was not white, he looked middle-eastern.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  18. diggitle

    Why does it matter? It's just skin. Big whoop

    December 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      it matters to liberals.

      liberals are hung up on skin color

      December 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • John P

        Seriously?? lol

        December 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  19. Samuel

    I used to be an athiest until my heart attack and near death experience- my advice to everyone is the God of the Bible is real and if you keep using science or lack of proof as an excuse, you will come face to face with demons as you die. Please open your hearts and look around you, another school shooting today-evil is real.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Liar-spotting 101

      Bull.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Colin

      I used to be a believer until I noticed that God hates amputees.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Albinos did it for me. God is white, of course, but amputation of colour is necessary to make people truly in its image.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
      • Fact

        God loves amputees.

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

          THat's why he makes so many.

          Loves cancer too.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Jeff

      Doesn't sound like you were an atheist then...

      December 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Michael

      How are school shootings proof that an all-powerful and all-loving being exists?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • tessie may

        Why do you believe God has anything to do with what sinful people choose to do?

        December 16, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
  20. jerry

    It's all mythology anyway. However, Jesus was from the middleeast. not many white folk there way back then.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:24 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.