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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. mbc85

    I keep seeing this "fox kicks cnn's ratings ass" all over..... well, the sheep follow, and my goodness they follow main stream news. YIKES.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Hulksmash

      And yet here you are commenting on a "mainstream news" site. Do you get your information from Before It's New and Infowars or are you just hipster trash?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • troll Spotter

      Here is a REALLY big mental midget.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
      • midwest rail

        A really big midget ?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
        • troll Spotter

          Go back to your hole Troll.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Trolling is exactly what you are doing now. Carry on.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
      • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

        Is this your contribution? Just going around saying "Here is another one". You obviously are the intellectual midget in this thread....

        December 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • oO Oo

      cnn is finished. look at this dump for proof

      glad jane fonda found the lord. bless her heart

      December 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • middle america man

      And Ke$ha outsells the Beatles so that proves she's better, because popularity with dimwits is the only measure of success and quality.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  2. Mopery

    We should be focusing on the real reason for the season, the profit! Let us prey...

    December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      A Christmas Carol:

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtZR3lJobjw&w=640&h=390]

      December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      This is timeless.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  3. michele

    jesus was a brown arab jew. simple. he was never a man~

    December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  4. emailmanage

    So its finally sunk to this. Let's make Santa's face plaid – perhaps that will shut every whiner up for a change.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Reader

    Who cares what color Santa was? It's irrelevant. I'm black. Who cares what color Jesus was? He's no longer in human flesh. God is a spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Also, thank you Jon. Focus on what Jesus did for all humankind. I really could care less what color he was, he changed my life!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  6. WonderingOutLoud

    What difference does it make what color Santa or Jesus – as in the son of god – are? They are fictional and irrelevant.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  7. dyhoerium

    Santa and Jesus are both fictional so it matters little.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  8. GGsandiego

    Caucasian is a very U.S. term. In Europe it means you are from the Caucasus Mountain area, and the people there are mostly dark or olive-toned skinned. Depicting Jesus as lily white is very misleading. All you have to do is travel to the middle east and it is very evident he couldn't have been as white as he is normally shown to be. Of course, if you believe in miracles and sky gods, yes, then all things are possible.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      "Caucasian is a very U.S. term."

      Yes it is. And it is not the term Ms. Kelly used. She used "white", I doubt very much that she would describe Arabs or other Semitic peoples as "white".

      December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • jim davis

      Jesus wouldn't have had such a huge following if he looked like George Jefferson's brother.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • emailmanage

      My grandparents immigrated through ellis island from that region. They were light-skinned not olive skinned. My grandmother had blue eyes. So I question your description.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  9. jim davis

    Do black people think chickens are racist because they only hatch WHITE eggs?

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

      You've obviously never seen a brown or spotted egg hatched.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
      • emailmanage

        What a relief to know there are primarily white eggs but occasionally multi-colored eggs. Now maybe we can continue on with our lives .....

        December 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Athensguy

      Actually, dear, chickens can lay eggs in many colors. It depends on what they are fed. Since our supermarket eggs come from huge, industrialized, farms, the ration fed to the chickens causes the eggs to be white. If any comes out a different color, it is discarded.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  10. Hassan

    Jesus (peace be upon him) was neither black nor white, he was somewhere in between like middle east people.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • jim davis

      He was like Eric Clapton (you wouldn't know who he is), he could change his appearance like a chameleon.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  11. MM

    "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."

    Are we comparing the 1950s, when social media didn't exist, to the current times when it's so prevalent? I don't care whether Jesus was black or white because in reality, skin color DOES NOT matter. It's what He did that carries all the weight. Santa's symbolism as well. Why can't they just be to each person what that person feels most related to?

    I can't get past the suggestion in this article that Megan Kelly's backlash is a result of our change in mentality in America because we have a black president. There isn't much of a change. Racism is still very real in America. Megan Kelly did a good job showcasing that.

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

      I'm beginning to wonder if blacks see racism in almost everything.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  12. troll Spotter

    Some of you peoples comments on here are SO stupid. Get lives and GROW the F–k up.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  13. jim davis

    Have you heard? Scientists are scrambling to find a way to create BLACK snow so that non-white children can make non-white snowmen and not develop an inferiority complex.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  14. NorthVanCan

    Only in America; could people take seriously such an absurd question.
    Just so you know, the rest of the developed world really doesn't think the Bible is a true story.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • emailmanage

      Really? Europeans "don't think the Bible is a true story"?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  15. Atheist Forever!

    God Is Love:

    "Worship me or I will banish you to a fire pit where you will be tortured by demons with pitchforks for eternity"

    -god

    Isn't love grand?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • troll Spotter

      Here is a sh-t starting angry troll.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • troll Spotter

      It is one thing to deny him totally, it is another to say HUMMMM maybe there is a God. Wouldn't want to be you. Then again would anyone want to be you ? I doubt it.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • "Internet Atheist"

      "Worship me or I will banish you to a fire pit where you will be tortured by demons with pitchforks for eternity"

      -an "internet atheist" understanding of God.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  16. jamison

    All pictures of Him that I have seen have been white.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • jim davis

      Can we still call Clint Eastwood white?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • wilf

      I do not believe cameras where around in Jesus time

      December 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Eliyah Yisrael

      Try looking for pictures of him before the renaissance era...all black!!! White washing of history really does exist!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  17. God

    Jesus is not white, he is golden.

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

      LOL. Amen! Precious indeed.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • wilf

      uh no he is dust , that is probly not white.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  18. vinster76

    I like Megyn, but she should have stayed out of this. There is nothing to be gained by discussing race in this country till the current president is history.....He is the biggest race baiter in this country. Race relations will not be normal till he is outta there.......then people can begin to have respect for each other again.......

    December 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Sid Prejean

      Do you ever read your comments before you his Send?

      December 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
      • vinster76

        " his Send" ?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
        • Sid Prejean

          Hit. Sorry for the typo. To bad your drivel was on purpose.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I presume you mean he's guilty of "Presiding while black" then?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
      • vinster76

        what I mean to say, and think I said well enough to be correctly understood is: there is no good reason to have a discussion of race in this country that is civil, till the current president is outta there....He is a bigot, and a racist, a divider, and not a unifier....When he is no longer in office, race relations in this country can begin to heal again.....I thought I was pretty clear the first time.......

        December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
        • wilf

          Hate blacks much

          December 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        "He is a bigot, and a racist"

        Nonsense.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  19. jim davis

    How can brown/black skinned people be shocked to hear somebody say Santa is white? In my 50 years of living I have NEVER, EVER seen Santa depicted as a black man, well, perhaps in some stupid, low-brow, Eddie Murphy movie and I've NEVER seen a black Santa at the mall, EVER. You people are CrAzY!

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

      Too much free time with nothing better to worry about. There's the real problem.

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

    Can anyone find me a son of Abraham today that isn't white?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      So long as Megyn Kelly routinely calls Arabs or other Semitic peoples "white" then I'll accept that premise.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • wilf

      Abrahams first son was the father of mohamid

      December 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • Stewart Wolpin

      Actually, there is a large community of Ethiopian (black African) Jews, around 120,000 in Israel as well as concentrations in the U.S. And don't forget Sammy Davis Jr. There also are around 5,000 Jews in India, ethnically Indian, not transplanted, and have been for around 3,000 years. There also seems to be a small but vibrant Chinese Jewish community. All can be found with simple Google searches.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:18 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.