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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. Positivist Nullifidian

    Caucasian and "white" are not synonymous. South Asian Indians and Pakistanis, for example, are Caucasians.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • crakkka

      But they're not black...

      December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Yawar

      South Asians are mixed Aryan (white) and Dravidian (black). The further east and south you go in South Asia the more Dravidian you get.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  2. Mark

    What kind of nonsensical asshatt even poses a question like this. Jesus was middle-eastern and jewish, therefore…not white, not black, but in-between. Besides that, what does it matter….

    December 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  3. Kyle

    "Afro-Centrists" will often quote Revelations were it says Jesus had "hair like white wool" to PROVE Jesus was black. Two things- The passage actually says it was WHITE like wool, not like wool. Secondly, ever seen a "Jew-fro"?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Eliyah Yisrael

      And feet the looked like brass that had been burned in a oven...black right?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  4. Roderick

    Santa is white, always has been, always will be. Jesus is deemed white, always has been, always will be. Please don't screw around with HISTORICAL FACT! Shall CNN now be known as the Crap News Network. I deem it shall. There, I just altered history. Please stop letting other nationalities change WHITE and CHRISTIAN values! We've had enough!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Kyle

      Yeah, seriously, get your own Jesus and Santa. They've been ours for a quite awhile.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • The Arguest

      Even though St. Nicholas was originally Greek and possibly Caucasian, Santa Claus is a fictional character and thus can be portrayed as any race. Also, seeing as how Jesus of Nazareth lived in the Middle East, it is extremely likely that he looked like a dark-skinned Middle-Eastern person. This is scientific consensus, and it's also known that cultures tend to depict Jesus as their race; Mexican nativity scenes depict a very Hispanic Mary, and there are many Asian depictions of Jesus that make him look Asian.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  5. From The Beginning

    NOTE: I am a white male scientist.

    In the scientific communities we have known for THOUSANDS OF YEARS
    that the human race ALL stemmed from the black race. Myself along with many others
    continue to keep this fact hidden. As old age falls upon me I realize that I was wrong.

    I see some misinformed individual said in this thread that jews were white. The original jews were
    of african decent. The moors (who we call african americans) the arabs (who were berbers) etc. all related to the moors or africans.

    Was Jesus black, I could not say for a fact. However we all know in the scientific community that he was not white as you so lovingly continue to say.

    Santa being white, the christmas holiday, all nothing more than a scam. Anyone with any education knows that Jesus was not born on December 25th (or at least I would like to think so).

    Sorry for rambling!

    Either way Megan should not be held responsible for her ignorance she is only regurgitating what she was taught by another ignorant person.

    A bit of advice: Stop listening to ignorant people and do your own research. The truth is out there. We live in the digital age. The day of hiding the truth is over.

    Thanks you for reading this, and I would like to apologize for my part in propitiating the ignorance that so many take as truth.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Alexander

      Well said.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • History Bear

      Some scientist. Not black race. African race. There is NO physical evidence as to skin tone. Most likely was brownish. You should know skin tone is a result of skins reaction to sunlight and temperature.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • JJ

      Are you using the PC term "African-Americans" that whites are supposed to say when speaking about anyone with black skin? You are saying they are descendants of the Moors?! Really?

      December 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Self-Proclaimed Sane Muslim

      I have further bad news – before we were all black and running around the jungle floor naked, we we scurrying around on all fours with our tails between our legs trying not to become dinosaur brunch.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • I'm a real white maile scientist

      ... and you clearly are not. Because you don't know what you're talking about.

      FACT: The knowledge that we all started from Africa, and therefore are all ultimately descended from blacks, has NOT been known for "thousands of years". It's a relatively new discovery. Fossils suggested the idea a couple of generations ago, and DNA only very recently confirmed it.

      FACT: This discovery has NOT been suppressed or denied, anywhere. It was published in the scientific literature as soon as it was known. Nobody kept it secret, absolutely nobody.

      You have engaged in SLANDER against the scientific community by pretending to be one of us, and from your pretended position as an insider, FALSELY accusing us of suppressing truth. As it happens, this particular truth, although it has no bearing on present-day social dysfunction, is a very popular one, so far from being suppressed, it has been disseminated far and wide.

      As to Jesus and St Nicholas - all available historical evidence indicates that they were Mediterranean Caucasiods, who probably looked a lot like modern Greeks.. They were almost certainly not blond Nordics, but they were white enough to be targeted for the knockout game if they walked down the wrong street today. If Italians count as "white" on the streets of New York, so would they.

      BTW I wouldn't recommend trying the knockout game on old St. Nick. St. Nicholas is reported to have thrown a mean punch, at the heretic Arius in the Council of Nicea.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  6. timelord7202

    Jesus was a guy who started Christianity. People believed what he said and did and spread the word.

    Buddha did the same thing with Buddhism.

    The funny part is, some creators of religions and cults are smart or humble enough to not use their own names as the names of their created religions. And the funniest part is, some creators of religions disavow their own and revert to a different one (usually the one they grew up with) before dying...

    December 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • History Bear

      Jesus did not found Christianity. That was done by Paul of Tarsus and some of the diciples of jesus. Also he was not know as Christ when named. That comes from the Greek. Jesus sought to reform and improve judism from all appearances. All this is based on FAITH. You accept it or you don't, please quit speaking as if it's carved in stone, its words from humans.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  7. dc

    jesus was taken as a child, to what is now egypt, so he could blend in with the people there.
    a few minutes of research can show you what sort of people lived there at that time. stop being ignorant people.
    not every great person is white.. it's ok that jesus did not look like you thought he did. just know the truth.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  8. Deserttrek

    first one must believe in jesus to think he was any color. I seriously doubt the people who are critical of kelly believe in jesus anyway. typical lib knee jerk bs.

    grow up world

    December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Mirror Mirror

      Interesting that a guy who says something childish like "typical lib knee jerk bs" thinks others need to grow up.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • timelord7202

      Does it matter what color Jesus is? Nope. Questioning the truth and reality behind His life and His teachings and any hypocrisy He may have committed seem are more important.

      Simple.

      And, really, "lib bs"? Nothing better to do on a Friday, sir?

      December 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
      • Stilllearning

        The book is The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

        December 14, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • The Arguest

      There's lots of historical precedent showing that it's likely that a person named "Jesus of Nazareth" actually existed; the dispute is whether he was the son of God or if he was just a regular person.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  9. Ryan in Texas

    Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.
    Not much sun there.
    So no need for extra melanin.
    The closer to the poles you get, the whiter people are.
    And at the North Pole, well you do the math.
    As for Jesus, he was Jewish. There were not many black Jews there. No record of him being black.
    I don't imagine he was Nordic white.
    I would imagine he was tan. There are many Jewish people who are descended from the area who would be considered white. I'm guessing he would have had dark hair. As others have mentioned, he might look more Middle Eastern to us. But that isn't black.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Deserttrek

      sanity in a sea of ignorance ... thanks Ryan

      December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  10. John

    Since when are Middle Eastern Jews not white? There are three derivative races recognized by anthropologists. If you're not black or Asian, you're white. And let's face it: we're all from Africa anyway, so get over all of this race crap and love your neighbor. It really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  11. Laura Pinyan

    I am a Christian who is half Jewish genetically. It is obvious from reading the Bible that Jesus' mother was genetically Jewish. Since there is n

    December 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Laura Pinyan

      The evidence is that Jesus looked like Jewish people do. Are Jews white? Genetically they are distinct and related to Arabs, but they are considered white in the US today as opposed to members of some other race. To those who want to exclude Jews because they are not white like Jesus, good luck with that. And to those who believe he was black, sorry there is no evidence for that either.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • SandyVC

      I am with you. I do not believe that Jesus was trying to create a religion with him at the centre. I believe he was a reformer like Martin Luther. There is no indication in the Bible he was anything other than a practicing Jew. Martin Luther did not intend to start an entirely new Church. I don't believe Jesus did either. It is very unlikely there were many Caucasians living in Palestine other than those related to the Roman Empire. So, was Jesus a Roman, a Greek, a Celt or a German, all in the Roman culture and army.? Maybe a few traders made it down from South Eastern Europe. No Americans yet. 🙂

      It is ludicrous beyond belief that people who claim to worship Jesus know almost nothing about him, the Bible or the times he lived in.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  12. Carolyn

    Ladies and Gentlemen, (I use this term lightly with a few of you!) Most images of Jesus were painted 600 + years ago and done in Europe. Do you really think the Christians from the Middle Ages would think Christ was anything but white with light hair and skin. Just because these images are classic/old does not make them accurate! Since there were NO cameras 2000 years ago, I guess we will all just have hold in our hearts & minds the image of Christ that we choose. If you choose to look at him as a white man then good for you, if you choose to be realistic and accept that he may look different then you and me, good for you too.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  13. Robert

    Who the f%4k cares????

    December 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  14. dlabrie

    I don't really care what color she was, peace and love for each other trump all.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  15. lagergeld

    So what group doesn't depict religious figures in some manner that appear as themselves, unless they worship a dragon?

    And why do only whites get yelled at for doing so?

    I smell racism.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      You smell stupidity, and it follows you everywhere.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      Keep searching for persecution. It's there. Dig deep.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
      • SteveInMA

        Yes, Cheryl, there's some right there in what you wrote. It's mingled in with the condescension and disdain of the rest of your comment.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  16. dc

    WHY WOULD A WHITE MAN GO TO EGYPT TO BLEND IN?
    HOW DOES A WHITE MAN HAVE SHORT HAIR LIKE A SHEEPS WOOL?
    HOW DOES A WHITE MAN HAVE BROWN FEET?

    IT'S IN THE BIBLE YOU READ. STOP BEING IN DENIAL LIKE THE PEOPLE WHO FEED YOU THESE LIES ARE.
    IMAGINE WHAT IT WOULD DO TO THE WHITE RACE IF PEOPLE FOUND OUT THEIR BELOVED JESUS CHRIST WAS ACTUALLY NOT WHITE. HE LOOKS NOTHING LIKE WHAT HE IS DEPICTED AS.. HE LOOKED AT A MAN HAVING LONG HAIR AS FORBIDDEN. HE HAD BROWN EYES. HE WAS NOT WHITE. RACISTS, YOUR BIBLE HAS BETRAYED YOU.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • CWMessenger

      Just for reference, there were many J-ewish families that escaped to Egypt at the time. In fact, there was a sub-culture of J-ewish people who lived there (in Egypt) for quite some time as a result of the persecution that came from the Roman soldiers, and also prior to that, when Babylon persecuted them. As such, many families from I-srael had family members living in Egypt. Google it, you will see reference to this.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  17. lagergeld

    St. Nick is a result of European folk lore. What do you think he's going to be? Bantu? D'oh.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • CWMessenger

      I have also heard legendary stories of a great Saint Nicholas who lived in Turkey. Wikipedia tells it that way, instead of the European version. Look up Saint Nicholas on Wikipedia, it has a good discussion about him.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  18. IReason

    Amazing that Fox can make even CNN look good.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  19. Scott

    Then suddenly, a mighty angel picked up a boulder shaped like a huge Mill
    Stone, and threw it into The
    *Atlantic Ocean,*
    and cried mightily with a loud voice saying!!
    Just as I have thrown away this stone, the great city of Babylon will be thrown down with violence , and shall never be found again!!!
    The Book Of Revelation, Chapter 18 verse 21

    December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      Harry Potter did some cool stuff too.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  20. Justin Cider

    Is anyone that spells their name "Megyn" white?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
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