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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. Brian

    Ask and you shall receive right?

    Ask Jesus what color he is. He will answer you immediately according to followers.

    :0

    December 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  2. L

    It would be ridiculous to be believe Jesus was white – he was from the Middle East. Santa, well the history is European which is general associated with "white" when this story was created. As for Santa, he can be whoever you associate with, it's not that important. This actually another racist debate that doesn't need to happen.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      Then the idiots at Fox shouldn't have made it into one, the fools.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Fossilhund

      Folks from the Middle East are olive skinned.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  3. Ghostonefour

    Will it be racist in the future to say all the founding fathers were white? Will it be racists in the future to say that all the men who walked on the moon were white? Will it be racist in the future to say that the Generals who won the Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican American War, Civil War and the Spainish American War, WW1 and WW2, Korea, were all White? Maybe its like the firemen on 9-11 who raised the flag at ground zero, all of them were white and the liberals were offended by that. Perhaps the truth is offensive to liberals, and thats the problem.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      So tell me, who won the War of 1812 again?

      I'll grant you they were white, but if *anyone* won, a lot of them spoke French.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
      • Ghostonefour

        Who cares who won... were the Generals White? Would it make black people feel better to know that some of them are going to be re-written as black? Would that help their egos at all? Whats the point of turning Santa black, or Jesus when historically it doesn't make sense.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      But then the generals and admirals who really won the revolutionary war spoke French too!

      December 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
      • Ghostonefour

        How many were black? Is it racist to say none of the French Generals were black?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Fossilhund

      Likely (sigh)

      December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  4. Atheist Forever!

    My invisible friend has multiple colors. He is mostly black, but has cyan spots all over, and purple ears. And I am NOT going to accept any other description of him. I know my imaginary friend better than anyone else, and he talks to me every day!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Firsto

      Bitter and contemptuous. This is the REAL path of truth, says the only one who knows he's right.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
      • Atheist Forever!

        Says the scared, bitter, repressed, delusional christian who talks to invisible spirits....

        December 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
        • Firsto

          I am atheist. Just not arrogant and mean. YOU are the fake – YOU believe that you know, when you cannot accept that you are just as clueless as christians! YOU ARE JUST AS ATTACHED AND DESPERATE.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
        • Firsto

          Signing off, now, Athiest Forever – Try to be nicer and more reasonable to they will listen to you, please.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
        • "Internet Atheist"

          http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=internet%20atheist

          "Not to be mistaken for an atheist who merely uses the internet, an internet atheist is someone who is ubiquitous when it comes to websites or forum threads related to religion. They will often poke fun at religion and religious people, especially Christians and Muslims, but they have a sort of "search and refute" thing going on with Christians, whereas the Muslims usually only fall prey to internet atheists when they happen to come across them. Of course many internet atheists have the habit of searching for Muslims, too."

          December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  5. The Thenkare

    "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." Very true but I think you forgot about that part where he rose again from the dead giving us all access to eternal life if only we could be humble enough to say Thank You.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • That guy

      Thank You Jesus for starting a religion that now is outdated and is used as a pyramid scheme.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  6. That guy

    Joseph had to be mad taking care of his half black step son who could do miracles and other types of illness.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  7. Does the Easter Bunny have Furry Nuts?

    Imaginary creatures can be whatever you want them to be.

    Jeebus is actually purple. He just told me.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • joe

      Exactly.

      What an absurd article.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  8. Atheist Forever!

    "My invisible friend is black!"

    "Well, my invisible friend is WHITE! So there!"

    (People arguing about what color their mythological creatures are – utterly insane)

    December 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Firsto

      Your acrimonious disposition, sir, does NOT DO ANYTHING TO COMMUNICATE WITH PEOPLE – you are only further entrenching theists into their illusions by BEING A D*CK. It is more an indication of your own character than any "truth" you believe you know. Which you don't. Your silly illusions of truth are have no more intrinsic validity than christians'.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
      • Firsto

        "Your silly illusions of truth are have no more intrinsic validity than christians'."

        Syntactic chaos! :^)

        December 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
      • Atheist Forever!

        Don't try to come in here as a christian on the "DL" and pretend you are neutral or worse yet that you speak for atheists, as a means of criticizing me. I challenge you right here, right now, to tell me you are an atheist. I know you won't do it, because you aren't one, and because you think some invisible spirit is going to send you to an invisible fire pit to be poked by an invisible demon for eternity if you deny your invisible friend.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
        • Firsto

          I am an atheist; just not a mean one. You are not doing any good here behaving so meanly.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  9. brian

    Depends what you mean by "white." People from that area have an attractive dark olive type complexion. Jesus was likely very dark.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  10. bizmarks12

    No. He is not white. He ain't black neither.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • Atheist Forever!

      Imaginary is the word that comes to mind.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  11. bigdoglv

    What is CNN's infatuation with Fox. Your jealousy of their ratings is showing.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      3,533 posts and counting.

      More money to CNN's website from their advertisers, courtesy of Ms. Kelly!

      They're laughing all the way to the bank. This one will pay the bills for lots of slow religious news days when we get 'yet another' Pope Francis story.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • russ

      Because Murdoch, ailes, and the rest of the company are giving "news" a bad name. It is not a news network, and has no desire to be anything more than an anti-liberal, anti-elitist mouthpiece. There is a segment of America that enjoys watching that, ans so Murdoch (having learned from Rush Limbaugh) gives it to them. But it most certainly is not news.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  12. Nate

    JC and Santa are fictional.
    Their color is a moot point

    December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  13. Atheist Forever!

    Your imaginary spirit is black, mine can be another color. We can all imagine our imaginary spirit to be whatever color we want him or her to be. That's the beauty of imaginary friends.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • juanmoretime

      When the time comes for me to die, I will have the consolation and hope of another life and you will have nothing. A soul is
      supernatural and God is supernatural, so if you don't believe in God then, you dont believe in the soul.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
      • Firsto

        This is correct: atheists (and Buddhists) do not believe in a soul: It is a construct of the ego.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
      • Atheist Forever!

        NO, when you die, you will return to dust, like every other living creature, and you are too weak to accept reality, so you believe instead in fantasies. There are NO INVISIBLE FAIRIES, SPIRITS, SOULS, GHOSTS, DEMONS, ETC.! Get that through your deranged brain!

        December 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
        • Firsto

          You're getting better: Now just remove the juvenile insults, which disclose your personality flaws and you will start having some people actually pay attention to you instead of getting ready to JUST ARGUE. Being so arrogant and vitriolic just makes people dig in, NOT THINK.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
        • Firsto

          I am atheist, by the way. Buddhist, which defines itself as "the scientific exploration of the mind". You may find it worth checking out to assuage some of that anger! 🙂

          December 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  14. Margaret tabor

    What difference does it make? This man preached love and caring for one another. For that reason I am a Christian.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Atheist Forever!

      So you pray to invisible friends because you were told that this guy who lived thousands of years ago was a good guy?

      When you talk to the invisible god creature, does he talk back? How many different voices have you heard, just one?

      Do you hear voices at other times in your life? Just wondering.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
      • Firsto

        You are setting a very, very bad example for atheists everywhere by being so condescending and mean. That is NOT what the enlightened do.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
        • Atheist Forever!

          Pointing out the absurd through sarcasm works quite well, and I will continue to do so. Telling the truth, whether through sarcasm or any other means, does not "set a bad example".

          Now religion, THAT sets a horrid example for mankind, and holds everyone back. Focus on the root of the problem.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
        • Um

          You are just as bad as the religious people you claim to be better than.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
        • Atheist Forever!

          So firsto and um, are you both admitting that you are atheists? No, you aren't and you won't, because you both believe in invisible sky fairies, and only try to suggest that you might speak for atheists because you think that is an effective way to criticize me. But go ahead, admit you are atheist. Let's see you do it. I know you can't, because you think your invisible spirit will get you if you do.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
        • Um

          I don't believe in invisible sky fairies. That is something that you are imagining in your head.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
      • Um

        Q. So you pray to invisible friends because you were told that this guy who lived thousands of years ago was a good guy?

        A. No. That is a hostile atheist's understanding.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
        • Atheist Forever!

          OK, so let's break this down:

          God is invisible isn't he? Yes? Ok then.

          Do Christians talk to this invisible creature? By their own admission, yes, they do.

          Is he said to talk back to them? Again, yes, he is said to do that.

          It amazes me how offended people get by my approach when what is really offensive is that people in 2013 go on and on about invisible friends. THAT is absurd, and disgusting. I think the reality check that I give people like that angers them because they are FORCED to realize the utter absurdity of what they believe and espouse.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
        • Um

          These people aren't as absurd and disgusting as you are trying to convince me. They demonstrate they are just as reasonable, logical and intelligent as people who do not believe in God/gods/supernatural. They teach in universities, fly complicated aircraft, contribute to scientific discoveries and some lead social revolutions that free groups of people from discrimination and inequality.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
      • Margaret tabor

        I admire sarcasm; it makes me laugh because I am a Christian with a sense of humor. However it does not deterrer me from my faith. I know this will irritate you but I will pray for you, just because.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jesus is real?

      That's because you read the new testament that was created to paint Jesus as a really nice man. In the old testament he wasn't very nice. Still want to be a Christian?

      December 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
      • Margaret Tabor

        Yup

        December 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  15. crakkka

    Guess who isn't white? The fraud interpreter from south Africa ..

    December 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Margaret Tabor

      What does that have to do with anything?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  16. Revelation 1:13-15

    Really? Jesus was not White. Hair of white wool and feet the color of bronze. What you see in the Vatican and paintings around the world is false. Unplug Your Television

    December 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Mike

      Hey Dumbotron,

      You do realize that when you quote revelations to ascribe an ethnicity to Jesus you are actually describing the post-mortal right? So that whole hair and bronze thing has no equivalent to mortals. That means; he ain't black or white.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  17. jppcasey

    As white as snow. And, that will never change.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Krishna

      I thought he was pink

      December 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  18. LWZRGHT

    I would like to point out that Megan is spelled M-E-G-A-N, or M-E-G-H-A-N. There is no "Y". There just isn't!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  19. ElreyJones

    Get the word "Jew" out of this conversation. Why most people think of "Jew" they think of supremacism, bolshevism, people like Yagoda, Kaganovich, Trotsky, Marx, moguls, banksters, the most ruthless capitalists, etc. They think of Israel, Zionism, etc, etc. Even though Im Christian, I am extremely sensitive to the racism, murder, genocide, and deceit, and poorly written Bible. The Catholic Magesterium is much better written and explanatory. Im Christian but the Jesus in the Bible doesn't have a well developed character and leaves much to be desired due to the poorly written Gospels. Still his message as relayed by the writers of the New Testament is fairly clear – peace, love, forgiveness and so forth.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      "Why most people think of "Jew" they think of supremacism, bolshevism, people like Yagoda, Kaganovich, Trotsky, Marx, moguls, banksters, the most ruthless capitalists, etc. They think of Israel, Zionism, etc, etc."

      Wow.

      Yeah, "Trotsky", that's the first thing I think of when I hear the word "Jew".

      Not my coworkers or relatives by marriage, but Karl Marx. Incredible.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • People think "JEW" because Jeebus WAS A JEW

      It's really sad that atheists know your "faith" better than you Christurds.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Margaret Tabor

      Jesus was a Jew. Why is it a bad thing to mention that in this conversation?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  20. TJ

    I remember a few years ago there was a uproar when somebody did a play about Jesus being portrayed by a black man. But there was no uproar when Judas was portrayed by a black man in the movie "Jesus Christ, Superstar". Let's face it, anything negative is black. It's been that way for centuries and unfortunately, it's in our psyche. As for Ms. Kelly – just like most closed minded white Americans – are afraid that the world they always have known is slowly but surely changing. She knows her viewers are mainly old, white men that won't accept change so she must accommodate them so she can keep her job. The only reason why she addressed this issue is because some of her viewers told her about the story. She has to please them to keep her ratings up.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
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