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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. Joe Mamma

    YOU FOOLS! Jesus was invisible as he never existed just like Santa Claus. Time to wake up people, there is NO GOD and the WAS NO JESUS. They are all made up stories!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Al

      Read "Constantine's Sword" to see how the myth built up around him. The book is mostly about Catholics and the Jews, but the writer gives background behind the split between the Christians and Jews. It's a good book.

      I don't believe in his divinity, or any divine being, but am open to believing a person by that name existed. The myths of divinity and miracles were constructed by his partisans after he got whacked by tribal opponents.

      Much of early Christian teachings can also be found by studying the teachings of Zarathustra. Christianity owes a lot to that prophet.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Pam H

      You are wrong...both are have non religious historical writings surround their lives. Jesus and much about his life was written by a historian named, Josepheus. Santa originates from stories surrounding St. Nicholas and only became Santa do to advertising by the Coke a Cola company in the 1950s.
      Jesus was probably tan and probably so was St. Nicholas. Jesus was a Jew and from Israel and St Nicholas was from the town of Patara which was a Greek area at the time in the southern region of Turkey. And depth of skin tones vary in both these areas. But really is this the most important thing going on in our society today.
      There is no reason to act like they didn't exist just. No one is trying to force you to follow either one.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        Pam,

        Josephus is a pretty unreliable source. He also wrote about Hercules as if he was real too.

        But I won't argue that Jesus didn't exist. There's just no evidence that he is God.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  2. james neeley

    To say that Jesus and/or Santa are black or white is definitely race oriented but hardly in the sense that the word “racist” is used today. Christmas is the time of year when people celebrate with gifts to family and friends, especially children. When I was a child my parents always hung stockings filled with oranges, apples candy, and nuts so we would find them when we awakened on Christmas morning. Toys and other gifts were placed under the Christmas tree; we were told that Santa had delivered them during the night while we were asleep. To us Santa was definitely white and every picture I ever say of Jesus in church was that of a white man. Of course that was because the church we went to was all white since there were no colored families living in our neighborhood. I am quite sure that for those people and churches in colored neighborhoods thought of (and displayed) their Santa and Jesus as colored. This is perfectly normal and nothing racist was intended in either instance.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  3. ruth

    I was raised in the 50's and 60's ,Catholic and Jesus was white in all our prayer books,in our schools and in our thoughts.if someone wants to think he was black go for it,I will not change for anyone ,so to each his own

    December 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • tony

      So describe what god really looks like. . . .

      December 13, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
      • troll Spotter

        You and me. God created man in his own image.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Franky

      It doesn't matter if you change or not. YOu'd simply be wrong and that's fine.

      The fact is Jesus was born in the middle of the ancestoral homeland of Jews 2000 years ago, where in the story does it describe him coming from the CAucus mountains or some Germanic state?

      He's ethinically Jewish ... this is not something debatable. "White" nor "Black" are actually ethnicities they are social constructs that really know definitive meaning and certainly not on a biological sense.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  4. MaryM

    Stewart said to Kelly, you know Jesus was not born in Bethlehem Pennsylvania

    December 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  5. heyheyheyy

    assuming that Jesus ever existed,he was from the middle east and he looked just like other people from that area.he was not black or European.how hard is that to understand.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  6. KingJeferson

    Jesus never answers my prayers, so he's fake, but Santa comes every year so he's real. Really!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  7. Chris

    megan k is a secret non white but is white . You just cannot see her non whiteness. It is hidden .. So is fox.. It is nonwhite....relax.. They are from a alternate universe where colors are reversed.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  8. MrJohn

    I guess no one ever told her that there is no Santa and I'm pretty sure that Jesus might not have been black but that he did have dark skin and what difference does it make what COLOR he was, it is what he is that counts .

    December 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  9. David Rutledge

    Jesus was part of the Tea Party caucus and a member of the NRA.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  10. william

    I often wonder is Jesus turned out to be black would most white people throw there bibles in the trash & say i'am done.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Franky

      He's not black either? His ethnicity is Jewish, although, there were Jews that look black or white, but their ethnicity is Jewish....

      December 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • David Rutledge

      yes

      December 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • mark

      They would say their loyalty to him should be justification for slavery and such, then commence to rewrite history

      December 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
      • emailmanage

        Slavery was 140 years ago. What does slavery have to do with this topic.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  11. mark

    Is Jesus even real? Has anyone here seen Jesus? If he is everywhere, does my dog crap in the floor just to teach me humility?

    December 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  12. Franky

    Uhmmm ... Jesus was a Sephardic Jew, unless, the Nazi's got their "racial" definitions wrong no Jew and certainly not Jews who were born and bred in the middle east would qualify as white. I'm just saying.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • tony

      Jesus Who?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
  13. MDaniels

    Wait, so Santa is real after all? Someone told me about 40 years ago that he wasn't real. But he actually is? I *knew* it! Thanks, Fox News! =D

    December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  14. truthduke

    2000 years from now I hope my ancestors aruge that nelson mandella and MLK were white.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • mark

      Aruge? Stick to what is easy for ya

      December 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • .

      We have these weird little things called photographic evidence to show who NM and MLK were. Moron.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • emailmanage

      Hopefully 2000 years from now they will finally have moved past this insufferable race obsession.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  15. Bryan

    Corrections:
    Victor's comment got cut from this post.
    "This is the best thing I've heard regardless of the this debate. So if we can't see wind, radio waves, etc, that we use daily, how can we doubt the existance of God around us? He and his good angers could has well be around guiding and protecting us from danger and trouble."
    The word "understand" in the last paragraph should be "understanding".

    December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  16. Fehan

    Fact: Jesus was born from a Jewish mom in an Aramic area and we now how they look like. for sure not 'white'. any claim that he is a Caucasian is BS. HE can be spiritually be any tribe by faith only (white, black, yellow, brown, blue, red etc.). For me anybody can find how HE look like as how their spiritual life goes. But claim that HE is in fact is a white Caucasian is BS.
    Let us all say: he is the Son of God to finalize this matter.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  17. Crystal

    Santa is white. I'm not too sure about Jesus. He was a jew, that doesn't necessarily mean he was ethnic.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  18. e4productions

    Jesus is a black man
    Rev. 1:13-15 feet as brass burnt in fire!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  19. JesterMarcus

    Even if Jesus was real (which is debatable), he wasn't white. There is no discussion, no debate to be had. Simple as that.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Franky

      FOX News and irrefutable facts, don't bother.

      Even the bible states he was Jewish, not even Ashkenazi. HE wasn't from the Caucas mountains, he wasn't germanic, he wasn't Aryan, it' pretty clear here ... on this one.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • Iain

      actually, you can debate about him being the son of god and even his skin color, but he most certainly existed – there is actual written evidence from various sources of the time who were not "christians" (didn't exist yet) or Jews. He has been written about in tablets of the time from Kings, Philosophers, and others whom had the means to write (or chisel) it down for posterity. These were not fanatics or even "believers", and some were in fact enemies to his 'cause' of a single deity. Jesus, the human being, existed. I mean no disrespect to your comments, nor am I trying to prostheletize here.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  20. Mark

    Well, one will not prove Jesus is any color until we collect some of his DNA- so have fun with that argument. Santa...if one talks about the real figure he was fashioned after is what that person was. The fictional Santa comes in any color ink or pixel color. I find no problem with either woman's statements and view them as two people having a difference of opinion. No problem except for racists.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Chuck

      Pretty easy to figure out Jesus race, its the most well covered family tree in history
      Jews look the Same Today as they did 2000 years ago, they are Caucasian

      December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
      • sam stone

        not the sephardic jews, chucky

        December 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
        • troll Spotter

          Here is a BIG sarcastic, cussing know it all one.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
        • troll Spotter

          Come out and play Sam!!!! Sissy………...

          December 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
      • Iain

        of course, because ALL Jews are white. what a ridiculous statement. For instance – Whoopi Goldberg is Jewish. Racist much? or just speak from ignorance as a hobby.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • emailmanage

      Wow. An adult reply. Thank you.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:49 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.