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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. southerngent

    Fox didn't make it a top priority story!

    December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • .

      Are you that din that you don't know Fox does this crap every year? And this is a blog, dolt.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
      • troll Spotter

        Here is a giant D–k one. Congrats . Midwest is one too.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Still trolling ? I hope you're not as boring as your trolling is.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Then why did Ms. Kelly have three guests on air to debate the issue ? Because it was unimportant ? Good grief.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
      • troll Spotter

        Don't like when i spot you stupid F–ks do you ?

        December 13, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
        • midwest rail

          You haven't spotted anything. You have identified yourself as a quite boring troll, though. Carry on.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
        • troll Spotter

          I have. I have Spotted you as a TROLL.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Wrong again, but I'm quite sure you're used to that.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
      • troll Spotter

        BTW i spot Trolls not follow.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  2. Carolyn VanderMale

    My thought – WHO CARES!!!!!!! Why is this even an issue – make your Jesus/Santa whatever you want him to be.... we don't all have to be the same to get along – UGGGG! Really!!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  3. Talk to me, snake, talk to me...

    Santa is now greater than Jesus, which isn't hard given that Jesus is long dead and rotted away.

    And the spirit of giving is better represented by Santa than the Jesus of the Christian tales, since an omnipotent being sacrifices nothing by giving away or "dying". Love those talking snakes, though.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Jesus is alive.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  4. Renato Lutz

    I have been all over the Middle East many times and if Jesus was real, he was definetly an Arab type. The only caucasian type people in that area are imported. Period!
    As for Santa Claus, it is a pagan concept, derived in Germany, when there were almost no Blacks. So all you colored people, get over it, that's the way it is, and stop making race an issue every time you think you can get away with something. If anyone is racist look in the mirror!

    December 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Curious George

      You all are missing something. Jesus was a Jew and from the Middle East, Nazareth. Back then there were no cameras. Eventually society used paint to capture still life and human portraits. This movement was widely populor in Europe with some of he greatest early artist originating from Spain. Jesus being a fame historical being was the subject of many great artist. Not knowing how he looked he was painted in Hollywood image during that time of a beautiful, handsome, perfect man/model; an expression of the artist. No crime in that. What is sad is society's belief that these early paintings are true eye witness images of Jesus, making him a European God. We should know better now and not try to make him reflective of us but try to reflect what we know of him through the Bible. We know he was poor, he did not spend his time in covered palaces and shaded areas. He was a traveler and spent hours and days preaching in public spaces, hillsides, by the river, on the mountain, in the desert. I am pretty sure he was as scruffy and dark as his disciples and the poor people he loved and traveled with.

      In terms of changing traditions.... Oh my gosh..most of the holidays we get soooo excited about are religious holidays that have been so perverted by society it is saddening. So it is wrong to see Jesus as an expression of a black man but okay for someone to replace the rememberance of the resurrection with an animal with pointed ears and eggs? As a society we are seriously okay with that? Or pervert the birth of The Holy One with flying reindeers and a white old man that has the ability to boost retail sales galore. Some say Santa is connected to Christ Kingle but Chris delivers his goodies in early December. No problem we will just change it to the 25th. Well if Santa is all about delivering toys to children, and often it is children related to him, why not at least have him look like a distant cousin to dad who works hard to make the holiday special. It is not like people are trying to turn Santa into an animal with pointed ears, or change his suit to green, or give him red wings ( oh those poor saints).

      December 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Terrible_Ted

    White Santa comes down the chimney with your presents....Black Santa goes up the chimney with your presents

    December 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • .

      Lovely. Another racist ass. Haven't seen that at all today.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Fehan

      Ted, you fit your own fake name 'terrible'...hahahahahahahahaha. I found it funny though.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  6. tony

    Thinking that the CNN belief blog is worth reading is a sign you are already an unlucky person.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  7. Matthew

    For those of you who have never read the bible, here is the deal. Think of the play Fiddler on the Roof, the Jews in that community were all about marrying within the covenant. That means that they would only marry another Jew. A huge part of why Mary and Joseph married was for the same reason. It was part of the Law of Moses which started during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. They only married within the family. It of course does not matter whether or not Christ is Black or White, but to utilize him as some sort of way to start a fight about race, that is not appropriate. He didn't have black skin, nor was it purely white. People who claim different are speaking out of ignorance.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • tony

      Describing Jesus as a real proven person is also ignorance.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Franky

      Who has "black skin"??

      Albinos are more of translucent pink.

      Note there is no such thing as "white pigment" .or a "black pigment"..

      There are only 2 predimonently "brown" and "red" ... most all humans produce predominately brown pigment, people, with lighter skin produce less but also produce brown pigment called eumelanin, red heads tend to produce not only eumelanin , but large amounts of phenomelanin, hence why they will end up with red hair and freckles .... note all humans have the same number of melonacytes.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • John

      Matthew, that was a very elegant and succinct explanation. It is very refreshing to read a pragmatic point of view.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • roosevelt rugless

      If it didn't matter why did the lie last sooOOO long?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  8. Jonas Grumby

    I am so glad I live in a land where conservatives can turn on the radio or television every day and get find what their opinions are. If they didn't have that, the poor little darlings wouldn't have an opinion beyond :I think I like toast," and even then they wouldn't be sure.

    It's things like this that make America a great land.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • brokenpinata

      As long as that toast isn't too dark...

      December 13, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  9. captaintriumph

    When a video starts off mid-word, cut-off, you know 100% it's done to make sure things are out of context. More CNN propaganda. Everyone with a brain knows Megyn Kelly is talking about taking Jesus out of the Middle East and putting him in Africa.

    Hey CNN, I thought race-baiting was supposed to stop after Obama got elected.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • .

      I saw the whole interview. Look it up yourself, lazy ass.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
      • politimom2

        U idiot bigot she brought up jesus in a discussion about santa and said "I mean jesus was a white man too but you know its like we have he was a historical figure I mean thats a verifiable fact..." I watched the whole interview too if u like her so much why didnt u listen to her "just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean you can just change it..." she did say those words so edited or not she proposed a lie as the truth jesus was as white as any middle eastern person is

        December 13, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • politimom2

      CNN didn't make her say that no matter how u slice it she tried to imply that a lie was the truth.... she said jesus was white it is verifiable.....that is called a bold faced lie... jesus was arabic that is common sense

      December 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  10. Weston

    Okay. Let' see. I am a Pagan. IE I worship Thor, Epona, Odin, Loki, etc. 'Claus' is a Germanic name. St. Nicholas, was Greek. Santa Claus, being Germanic/Nordic (if depictions of the Holly King mean anything) would make him white. Jesus was not white. Nor was he black. He was arabic. Middle. Eastern. Why don't we teach children the truth behind legends instead of making up our own backgrounds so we all feel comfortable?

    December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  11. Sean

    There's no such thing as "white" or "non white" where people are concerned. These divisions don't exist, biologically. We are one species with a range of variability in the amount of pigmentation in our skin, and the extent to which sun exposure has darkened it. A continuum – like the continuum between tall people and short people, who are also simply people. A person who is ethnically Jewish, or Greek or Roman is just a person who lives in a certain geography, and whose ancestors did the same. Genetically, there is no basis for saying you or I, or mythical figures like Santa or Jesus, are white, black, brown, green or anything else. We've just become so hung up on race as an identifier in the US that we think these are meaningful differences. My white dog and my black dog never thought any less of each other for it, and of course what color they were didn't matter to them or anyone else. We should try doing the same thing because this thing has become an obsession, especially for the Fox News types. We should snap out of it.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • JoAnn

      Well said, thanks!

      December 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  12. politimom2

    Jesus could not have been white nor could anyone else be... there is only one group of white people they are called albinos last I checked

    December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Franky

      Albinos are more of translucent pink.

      Note there is no such thing as "white pigment" ...

      There are only 2 predimonently "brown" and "red" ... most all humans produce predominately produce brown pigment, people, with lighter skin produce less but also produce brown pigment called eumelanin, red heads tend to produce not only eumelanin , but large amounts of phenomelanin, hence why they will end up with red hair and freckles .... note all humans have the same number of melonacytes.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  13. Mark*

    Exactly what tone of skin do I have to sport to be considered " white ". ?

    December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Franky

      LOL, I'm still trying to get the definition of "white?"

      Is it skin color, ethnicity, social standing, birth place ... I mean what????

      December 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Paris Hilton, famed sociologist

      Pink is the new white.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  14. Char Savoie

    Oh for godsake, Jesus lived in Israel, so he was middle eastern. So what??? It doesn't matter where he was from, BUT he really was middle eastern and did not have blonde hair or blue eyes like so many movies portray him to have. Get over it people!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  15. MockingBirdKiller

    Jesus was Semitic. He wasn't white or black. Santa is an anagram for Satan and I really think we should cut Santa out of Christmas. Actually, why not get rid of Christmas altogether? Its a pagan holiday for the winter solstice and has everything to do with sun worship and nothing to do with Jesus.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  16. southerngent

    My GOD or no god, depending on your belief, CNN give it a rest! POLITICAL BAITING yesterday and RACE BAITING today.

    No matter how hard you try you can not keep hidding Obama's failure as a president, but this is getting BEYOND BAD!

    I. HOPE YOU REALIZE THE PUBLIC IS LOSING RESPECT FOR YOUR @#$% S✖✳✴!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • midwest rail

      You do realize this topic was instigated by Fox, right ?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • .

      Oh my goodness ! The outrage! FOX BROADCAST IT, you bozo !

      December 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  17. Franky

    Can someone please define for me "white"?

    December 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  18. One one

    I commend CNN for posting an article that provided me an hour of entertainment and hopefully worthwhile ratings for them !

    December 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  19. PDBHDK

    This is "political correctness" at it's most RIDICULOUS!!!! It not racist to refer as Jesus as Caucasian. He was Jewish, so he probably was slightly darker skinned. Santa is a MADE UP FIGURE BY THE GUY WHO WROTE THE BOOK "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS"!!!!!!!! Maybe people should actually research how Santa came about. This is beyond RIDICULOUS!!!! And the "schalar" that said Jesus changed races, like Jesus was Chinese in China, black in Africa or white in England or something is just stupid. Jesus was a real person, Santa was fiction. Jesus was Jewish and most likely darker skinned. PERIOD.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Franky

      So, you mean Hitler was mistaken? Jews are "white" ... oops ...

      December 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • amy

      Lol, this is zero historical proof that Jesus was a real person, and not just a fairy tale myth. Also, since he would have hailed from Palestine, he would not have been remotely white. He would have looked a lot more like Osama Bin Laden than Greg Allman.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Shepherdmoon

      "Santa Claus" is based off the alleged real person, Saint Nicholas, who is considered by some to be one-and-the-same. Since he was Greek I presume he would look like a typical Greek. I'm not sure why it all matters, anyway. Both Jesus and Santa, if even ever real int he past, are long dead. Currently their memory fulfills the main purpose of bringing comfort/joy to some people. Why nitpick over the details?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  20. Robert

    I don't know if this will help this fine forensic investigation, but, according to my Daddy Jesus' middle initial was "H".

    December 13, 2013 at 7:56 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.