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. Mopery

    I think Megyn Kelly is right on this one, especially considering that Jesus tacitly endorses slavery, and that Santa Claus is master to a horde of Elven slaves.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  2. Andal1

    I wonder if in 1000 years whether folks will wonder what Martin Luther King looked like?

    (hopefully ALL the gods of Man will be gone by them, so tiresome still entertaining such simplistic notions of the Universe and Existence.)

    December 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Answer

      The core of any person is one of fear. Thus the stories spread like the disease that are created out of that initial fear.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Mopery

      Well if they see the statue from the memorial, they'll think he's white. What idiot designed that thing, anyhow? It should have been made of obsidian or something, not white marble.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  3. VEW2012

    Does anyone actually know what color Mithra was? He was an Indo- Iranian/Persian/Greek/Roman deity. Isn't that the ancient deity that the story of Christ is based?

    December 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Andal2

      (sighs) one of many...

      December 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Mopery

      Mithra, Krishna, Perseus, Osiris, Hercules, Apollonius, etc, etc, ad nasuem...

      December 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
      • VEW2012

        Correct one of many because some of the parts of each made up the whole. Saturn and Saturnalia..

        December 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • steve

      No. The only connection is the December 25th to the Mithriac religion. It was used by the Politicians to convert people to Christianity quicker.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
      • VEW2012

        Mithra is depicted with a lamb on his shoulders, was born of a virgin, had disciples, and was crucified. and arose from the dead on the third day.

        December 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  4. Lana


    December 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Vic

      There is no singing in that video!

      December 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  5. Andy

    If only the media spent this much time and effort trying to get to the bottom of at least a few of the real stories out there over the last couple years instead of crap like this. The only reason they are covering it is because it was said by someone on Fox. Get over it, this is a non story.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  6. AndyMx71

    The women on Fox are smoking hot. The women on MSNBC look like Ed Schultz. The women on CNN look like Wolf Blitzer. No wonder Fox has 80 times more viewers than MSNBCNN combined.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Andy

      Can't argue with that observation.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • YeahBuddy

      I worked with Eddie Schultz many years ago. He is the ugliest woman I have ever met. Thank God he never wore a dress to work. Not much of a conversationalist, either.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  7. wasserball


    December 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  8. Bubba

    Jesus was as white as the rest of the people of His region. Thus, he was Middle Eastern Tan. But I still get a laugh when I see the Texas style blond blue eyed Jesus, with the perfect southern rock feathered long hair, depicted in the American media.
    Pious American Christians have difficulty praising a tan Jesus, thus, I hope when He does return; that he look like Blond Jesus, and not Mexican Hey-Seus. The Moral Majority could not handle a tan Jesus.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • YeahBuddy

      I grew up in a conservative southern (Texas) white Baptist church. To my knowledge, I was never taught that Jesus was white. The pictures of Jesus on the walls (that I saw in numerous Baptist churches) were the same, with Jesus having long dark hair and and dark (dare I say middle-eastern) features. Since most of the stories of the Bible took place in that region, I have never had any reason to believe that Jesus didn't look like all other people of that region.
      I don't doubt that there are people who can only be comfortable if Jesus or Santa Claus or the Man on the Moon look just like them, but I am OK with the fact that people are who they are... it's their actions that they should be judged by.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  9. Rick777

    The Apostle Paul was mistaken for am egyptian . In the Bible Acts 21:38

    December 14, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • kb13

      When Herod was killing all baby boys after he heard Jesus was born, where did God send Mary and Joseph hide their son? Egypt. Case closed.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  10. Junk Yard Dor

    This whole argument is about the silliest I've ever heard. Here's the bottom line - If you want your black Jesus or black Santa Claus you can keep them period; if you wnat your white Jesus or white Santa Claus you can keep them too period. Of course the only caveat is, if the Comunity-Organizer-In-Chief espouses this too - beware.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • M

      What a ignorant post.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
      • Junk Yard Dor

        Yeah, maybe, but you sound pretty ingnorant yourself - most people can understand wit and sarcasm. Alas, obvious you're intellectually challenged in that regard.

        December 14, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  11. Larry38363

    Leave it to the uneducated extreme right wing bible bangers to not even know their god was a Jew of dark skin! It shows you how sick these fools are.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  12. alfonds

    Jesus was Jewish. Jewish people are dark skin. Problem solved.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • WL Lewis

      Jewish people are light and dark skinned numbnuts. Some have brown eyes and some have blue eyes.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Andy

      My wife is Jewish and very light skinned. If I didn't know better I'd even call her caucasian.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • ShannonCT

      The question is quite muddled by the fact that people who identify as Jewish have been interbreeding with Europeans, Africans, and Asians for the past two thousand years. So if we want to pin a color on the Jesus character, we want to know what color Jews WERE.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
      • Smuker

        Well, we all came from Africa. Now tell me what color we all originally were?

        December 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
        • ShannonCT

          Looking at the Khoisan people would give you a decent guess.

          December 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • steve

      Jesus was most likely olive-oil skinned. Not black, not brown, but most likely not as white as many northern Europeans.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  13. Jib76

    Jesus the Christ looks like this:

    December 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • Answer


      "My opinion is that he looks like this."

      December 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Answer

      You delusional tools don't even know how to separate out real facts from your own opinions.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Vic

      That is really astonishing. I cannot help but reflect on it; God communicates with us in so many ways that we can understand. It is my belief that God poured out such an enormous talent into such a young person along with the inspirations (note that God can inspire an image of Jesus in the flesh that is demographic) just to connect with us.


      December 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Answer

      Ya sure Vic.. the person's talents are always derived from god.

      The same way my gift to knock your god delusions are a gift from a god. It couldn't be from a proper education.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Grego

      Jesus built my hotrod.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
      • Mopery

        Ding-a-ding dang, my dang-a-long ling-long.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  14. Verimius

    I can see it now: Christ comes back to Earth from the heavens with his brown eyes, black hair, and olive skin. Customs and Immigration detains Him and deports Him because He doesn't have the right papers.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Answer

      Nazis figured on the master race as having blue eyes.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  15. ShannonCT

    Mostly because they spread out from the Middle East, interbred with populations in Europe and Africa, and then moved back.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  16. nuclear mike

    ...and btw, Santa Claus is white too!!!

    December 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  17. Sunflower

    Jesus was purple like you see in alien movies.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  18. Mopery

    Did I miss Fox News' "Two-Minutes Hate" this week?

    December 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • WL Lewis

      White is an American invention to separate the races to band whites together to fight Indians and keep blacks as slaves. Caucasians are many different colors. How about British-American, Italian- American, Jewish- American, slavik-American. There is no such thing as a white race unless you are a racist and trying to keep the races separate.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  19. jonp

    What are the merits of even asking such a question?

    December 14, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Dan

      To get Fox viewers up in arms over nothing. Rid the season

      December 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
      • Dan

        S/B TIS the season.

        December 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Mopery

      To prepare Fox viewers for the Two Minutes Hate, where they put up a picture of Obama and encourage the audience to scream obscenities at their televisions.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  20. leah1026

    This article is disingenuous. Was Jesus white? Of course not! He was a Middle Easterner and looked like any other person from the Middle East (read: not white). He also healed the sick for FREE (hear that republicans?) and advocate for the poor and against the rich (you listening republicans?).

    December 14, 2013 at 4:55 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.