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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. phazon

    Just use common sense his parents lived in Bethlehem they was decedents of King David a Hebrew take into the account Jesus was a carpenter and he also traveled outside a lot so he definitely wouldn't have been white looking to any of his contemporaries he was a probably more of an olive skinned person muscular and the physical appearance of someone that was a hard worker hardly what the Vatican or Protestants have pictured him out to be which is a sickly skinny weak looking person. Once the Vatican took over Christianity it has only spread lies and corruption of the truth but the truth is there you just have to ask yourself one question are these churches doing the will of God? The answer to that is an obvious no.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • jim davis

      ///"sickly, skinny, weak looking"?/////

      Huh? Well, excuse the fact that Jesus wasn't a dumb bodybuilding thug like your hero The Rock.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
      • tessie may

        In reality, the fact that he was poor and physically not robust is what doomed him. Judas was a zealot who felt the messiah was to be a warrior king, like David. Zealots wanted to reclaim Judea from the Romans. He was bitterly disappointed in Jesus' teachings of peace and compassion. "be not overcome by evil-overcome evil with good". Judas thought Jesus was selling out.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • TXJew

      50 generations after David, with his seven wives and uncounted children and his son Solomon, with hundreds of wives and concubines, and the hundreds of children that sprang from him, statistically virtually every Jew the 1st Century world was a descendant of David.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  2. Hutch

    Get a life, CNN!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • One one

      Hold on now ! This is a really entertaining article to discus.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  3. One one

    I don't care about skin color. What's important to me is, which of these two characters, Jesus or Santa, will send me to hell for not believing in him.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • DDay

      Neither. One will save you from hell, if hell to you is living in a just and holy world.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
      • One one

        "Just and holy" world according to who's authority ?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • JJ

      One will give you coal and one will ignite the coal and toss you gleefully into the flames.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  4. jim davis

    Jesus only looked black because color photography wasn't around back in those days.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • tessie may

      Yeah, we were all orange back in the 1970s, Dang Polaroids.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  5. Scott

    The US govt deems ALL Semitic people to be "white". That includes Jewish and Arab peoples along with the obvious European and Mediterranean peoples. This is a ridiculous discussion. CNN would NEVER have raised this issue if it had come up on their station.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • JT

      Arabs are white? I thought they were grouped with Asians

      December 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        You're kidding right?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
        • tessie may

          Most Americans I know think of only Far Eastern people as Asian. If you tried to tell them about Indians as Asians, they would be skeptical.

          December 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • R

      The 'government' also designates middle-eastern which Jesus was and not white.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • JohnBoySV

      Thanks Scott – but it would never have come up on their station. They don't hire fringe lunatics to provoke responses. They report the news. Only Fox Snooze could force this into a news story.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  6. heroicslugtest

    People arguing over the appearance of their culture's favorite fictional characters? This is basically a Star Trek Convention.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • heroicslugtest

      I say he was sort of light brown. You know, terrorist color. A Middle Easterner, after all.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  7. nuclear mike

    Jesus was and has always been a white man always...get over it!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • JT

      Yeah...the kind of white guy you would keep at camp gitmo.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • tessie may

      No. A middle eastern Jew. Do you honestly think that hokey picture of Jesus knocking at the door, holding up his lamp by William Hunt (an English Victorian) is an historical depiction? Right.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  8. BushCheney

    SIMPLE LOGIC:
    Whites are Europeans and Jesus is NOT a European, so Jesus is NOT white.
    As for Satan Clause, YES he is white because we whites created him in our own image.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • jim davis

      What were whites supposed to do create Santa as a Chinese man? Should he have been called, St. Chong? Should he circle the globe bringing children toys that were made in China. Seems like a lot un unnecessary work.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
      • tessie may

        Santa Claus morphed from a saint called Nicholas into a commercial character. Although stories of Santa were popular in many countries, he only became what he is today by the Clement Moore poem of early Victorian times. Thomas Nast, an influential magazine publisher, added to the image of red suit, rotund, and jolly who gave out presents. Coca Cola took over in the 1930s by making him their holiday ad symbol. As he is represented, he no longer has anything in common with the actual St Nicholas so I don't guess it matters what color he is-he is indeed a myth.

        December 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  9. vinster76

    Sid Prejean: you need spell check....badly......before you come at me with your poor literacy skills, read what you write. Oh wait, that is the PROBLEM.....never mind, just keep blathering.......

    December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  10. Chad

    Generally, as news anchors and the news itself, more and more become the products of popular culture and consumers' desire to see the handsome and the beautiful, and the dramatic and alluring, television viewers will suffer more and more from inaccurate reporting, inane and nearly meaningless stories, outright stupidity, and a complete decline in journalistic integrity (of which this story on CNN is a part). Turn off television news and listen to NPR instead. Even their mistakes are more interesting than these televised blunders and the silly games these networks play in attacking one another. Stupid. I'm getting off this website right now! Bye!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  11. jim davis

    If Obama had a father he would look just like Santa.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • BushCheney

      You misspelt Santa Clause, it is Satan Claus

      December 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • porichkid

      hey you wanna be black but your two daddies wont let you hhmmmmm

      December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  12. American Citizen

    My prayer is simple..For all those who are trying to identify my Lord and Savior by race...I pray if for some reason they do get to reach heaven....THAT JESUS IS THE OPPOSITE RACE OF THEMSELVES....then they must either except that or walk away......

    December 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Ghostonefour

      Whats the opposite of Asian?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
      • Olaf Big

        Abrasion.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  13. Olaf Big

    Now to really important question: what color were dinosaurs?

    December 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      And did they have feathers?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • BushCheney

      White!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
      • porichkid

        if you mixed white and black it becomes a gray area just like this stupid discussion .

        December 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

      Or more importantly, what colour are unicorns?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
      • troll Spotter

        Really? That is your input to the conversation?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
        • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

          Yep. If CNN is going to post an article about myths, I'm going to discuss myths.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  14. BushCheney

    No; Jesus is NOT white. Follow my logical statement below:

    Whites are European, and Jesus is NOT a European, so Jesus is NOT white.
    If light skin is used to describe whites, then Kim Ill Jung is white and Eskimo tribes and other native Americans are white.

    As for Santa Clause, ABSOLUTELY YES, he is white because whites created him in their own image.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  15. Jim

    REALLY?!?!?!?! Who cares.....If jesus were green, would it make a difference? Let people worship as they will.....NO MORE STEREOTYPES....

    December 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Chuck

      I really dont understand the question in the first place
      its well written who the people of Israel are, and where they
      originated from, and it sure as hell wasnt Africa

      December 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
      • Jim

        Like I said before.....

        "REALLY?!?!?!?! Who cares.....If jesus were green or from the Moon, would it make a difference? Let people worship as they will.....NO MORE STEREOTYPES....!!!!!!!!

        December 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
      • Solitaire

        It's clear that Jesus was a Jew of middle eastern descent, not white in the European sense of the term. It is also clear that we all came out of Africa, at different times and perhaps from different locations in Africa. We were probably all black skinned immigrants and when we settled the land in Europe that was occupied by Neanderthal, we mixed with them and lost our melatonin. How's that for turnabout? Ha!

        December 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
        • Jim

          Actually.....I can live with that. Well put!!!

          December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
        • tessie may

          It's fine by me. But then I don't really concern myself with things that happened so long ago. Of course, I enjoy reading history as well as numerous other subjects. But then I have to remind myself that things were what they were. It's a whole new world every day and none of us can go into the past and change anything. I also have an understanding that the time and place that history occurred are not as they are the 21st century, Western world..

          December 14, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
      • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

        Where did they originate from, then? Was it some of your Jesus magic?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
        • troll Spotter

          Here it is again.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  16. Ghostonefour

    Maybe we stole Jesus and Santa from the black cultures who obviously still have these historical figures in their cultures back in Africa... Maybe we stole George Washington from them too. I bet if you could travel back in time, you would find that every single pope who didn't have a color photo taken of him, was black too. I bet that the tooth fairy is black, and so is the founder of every major TV Network. I bet Davy Crockett was Black too. And so was Daniel Boon. Maybe even Charles Linburg! This is the biggest white thievery consipriacy in history! No white man was ever a historical figure ever ever. They were all black. I bet Buddah was black too, and so were the Hindu gods. I bet All the greek gods and roman gods were black, and the only white gods were the ones worshiped in africa.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Eliyah Yisrael

      Umm..no only white people steal other peoples history...we're just trying to get our back.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Solitaire

      I suspect your heart is black.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • BushCheney

      Jesus from Africa, possibly, but Satan Claus No. We whites created Satan Claus in our own image.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  17. Chuck

    The HEBREWS came from Mesepotamia and Eastern Syria
    The Mesepotamians migrated from the Caucusus Mountains

    So Jesus was Caucasian

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

      Still laughing! Thanks!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • 3

      well if we're going that far BACK we all originally migrated from africa so we're all BLACK
      check yo facts

      December 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  18. OO oO

    Just as there were many who were appalled at him - his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness–

    he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  19. Joe

    We have to listen to what Black America wants now or we will all be considered racist's . That is there cry for everything that they disagree with, it is to play the race card and liberals will always go along with it for the fear that they will loose the black vote and be labeled Racist.

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

      "their" and "lose"

      December 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  20. Jmac

    Just the fact that this article can get over three thousand people arguing about such a topic is amazing enough,especially when everyone knows he was really an ancient alien.....so he is green.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • troll Spotter

      Her is a really dumb one.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
      • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

        You don't seem to get the fact that this is a stupid, ridiculous article about fairy tales.....

        December 13, 2013 at 9:33 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.