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. Evert van Vliet

    Christianity is plagiarism as it is, as is the jewish verzion a copy of the godly hierarchy depicted by even more ancient (and thus primitive) folks.

    Sometimes reality just isn't nice, Bambi however is real.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  2. dreamhunk

    Race des not matter I want to add this here too

    Jesus Halloween Costume Leads To Illinois Teen's Removal From Classroom, Mom Says


    December 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  3. 52pan

    A lot of pages of responses here. I believe that if there is a God, that in his omnipotence, would have made man in all the colors we are. I also believe that Jesus is all colors to all men as he spoke all languages to all men. If you want to think of God as black, white or whatever, so be it. If you want to think of Christ as white, black or whatever, so be it. If you want to think of Santa Claus as what ever, white or black it is your right.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Child of God

      I agree with you about the races. There is a God, one true God, and you can read all about him in the Bible. I hope you'll accept his gift of Jesus. He loves you.

      December 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
      • igaftr

        Nogomain is more powerful. Not only did he create everything, but he also created himself from nothing....very impressive.

        December 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
      • Evert van Vliet

        I'm pretty sure you'll be able to share with us what the true meaning of christmas is?

        Moral isn't biblical you know?

        December 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Bob

      As Stephen Hawking rightly said, if there is a God he hasn't done anything since the Big Bang. There is zero evidence of a supreme being. You may think it is wonderful to have faith in something with no evidence, but would you feel the same way about a homeless man talking to himself and collecting cans and bits of string because he has faith that the voices telling him to do such things is "God"? Why is it when a rich, white Christian (like Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry) say God told them to run for President, many people think "that's awesome. They must be special people" but if a non-white, poor, Muslim said the same thing those same people would scream "Psycho!" or "Terrorist!". In fact, if God did tell both Perry and Bachmann to run for President, he neglected to tell them they would lose AND that he told the other person to run as well and waste millions of dollars and make themselves look like morons on national tv. God sounds like a total jerk, doesn't he?

      December 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • Evert van Vliet

        Careful what you say there, I hear he makes angels like that.

        December 16, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
      • neved

        Stephen Hawkings is a brillant scientist ,but the biological complexity of his brain is limited to our era or period like ours today,since in the theory of complexity ,brain circuitry is a factor in the development of human intelligence and conciousness knowing and understanding the true reality especially God is not absolute,We are evolving ,just as the animist faithful sometime 10,000 years ago,worshiped trees,boulders,rivers,animals hundreds of them ,was not as wrong or right than the Greeks and Romans in venerating Zeus or Venus,thousand of years later,or when the Jews came only one God,and do you exactly know whats next.?it depends on how fast our future brain complexity evolved ,But what is inspiring,is that its all Gods will and direction,no one was wrong.

        December 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          What am I, the English police today? People who write by 'stream of consciousness' with little regard for whether other people can actually follow or understand what you are saying ... suck.

          December 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Except that there is no evidence that it is "all Gods will and direction"; in fact the evidence points away from a personal god. It's exactly as Hawking said – any god is pre-Big Bang.

          December 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          I guess Dippy is away for the holidays.

          December 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          "I guess Dippy is away for the holidays." What? Festivus isn't until next week... that must be nice...

          December 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
        • dev

          the evidence is in history,what has happened after thousands of years is it,history is his will,but that has happened and completed beyond our lifetime.so if we connect all the events from the past to the present there is direction and change and an improvement.thats what science call evolution.it could not have happened if he did not give direction. we cannot comprehend his influence if our mind is not open to explaination because most of us is already biased for anything scientific

          December 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
        • igaftr

          " we cannot comprehend his influence if our mind is not open to explaination because most of us is already biased for anything scientific"

          Or...He does not exist making it impossible to comprehend "Him"

          December 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
        • neved

          why for example Jesus as Jew contradicts the original doctrines of his church,prompting the jew pharises to convince the governor to give them the authority to crucify him,later why did the ecunomical councils declare him God,then why did Emperor Constantine decreed christianity as the official Roman empire religion,and to fast foreward today,why Pope Francis with a revolutionary mission implements his historic pronouncement.thats is what we call Divine guidance or will

          December 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • mzh

      You sounds like you are fooling yourself...

      Jesus was Jesus where he was born and whatever the language his community spoke...

      Why it is so difficult for ppl to accept who and what he was?

      December 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        "You sounds like you are fooling yourself" You have got to be kidding... This article must be a Fox news, illiterate christian magnet...

        December 16, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  4. Name*noname

    You peaple are so stuped to fight about black or white jesus .you all are resist
    And i dont think you bilive in god

    December 16, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • S

      Is English not your first language? I'm sorry.

      December 16, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Your course in Ebonics has served you well...

      December 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  5. dreamhunk

    Classical Greek historians, including Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Herodotus were pretty clear that black people ruled the middle east and africa. The ancient Hebrews who were black people married women from the sons of ham.

    The ancient Hebrews had dreadlocks Google "ancient Hebrews" or" ancient Hebrew dreadlocks." then click images and see what what you get.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  6. Mike,Albany

    Jesus was olive skinned, and Santa doesn't exist, so it doesn't matter how he's depicted. Megyn Kelly and all of the other idi0ts at FNC have no idea what they are talking about.... ever.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  7. oo oo

    Or talked with him

    December 16, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  8. dreamhunk


    December 16, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  9. dreamhunk

    The Greek and Romans were mixed and there was black Greeks and black Romans! Like st maurice the moor who was black!


    December 16, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  10. dreamhunk

    show me where are all these white people or just tanned people in Genesis 10? Even moses who was lighted skinned black man married a very black Ethiopian woman!

    ancient Egyptians are black people

    December 16, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  11. dreamhunk

    Classical Greek historians, including Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Herodotus were pretty clear that black people ruled the middle east. The anceint hebrews who were black people married women from the sons of ham.

    December 16, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • Al

      True, but Jesus was from Stockholm. They left that part out because they didn't think anyone would believe it.

      December 16, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • Sandy

        He's got the Stockholm Syndrome down pat.

        December 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  12. dreamhunk

    Black people lied in the North africa and the horn of africa ( middle east) long before any white man or just tanned skin Arab!

    'In summary Sub-Saharan Africans have been in North Africa for the past 40ky- not 1.2ky [1,3] as claimed by Henn et al. These Sub-Saharan Africans carried haplogroup L3(M,N)[2,10]. The fact these populations crossed into Iberia across the Straits of Gibraltar make it clear that Sub-Saharan Africans were already in North Africa before this exit into Europe this makes Sub-Saharan Africans indigenous to North Africa.'

    'The North Africans who carry Levantine and European genome probably result from the Vandal invasion of North Africa, and Greco-Roman colonies established in North Africa over the past 2ky. Most European females entered during the Vandal period and Ottoman slave trade. The Ottoman Turks mainly imported European females into North Africa—not Sub-Saharan females. This would mean that they introduced these genes to North Africa'

    you ever hear about the battle of kadesh?

    December 16, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Opposing View

      Dreamhunk... The earth didn't even exist 40,000 years ago. Which only proves your information is false. Try again….

      December 16, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • In Santa we trust

        Actually, OV, it shows that your information is not correct – the earth is around 4 billion years old. Plenty of evidence to support that.

        December 16, 2013 at 11:44 am |
      • Ernest T Bass

        OV..... how completely ignorant of you to make a statement like that...... wow!

        December 16, 2013 at 11:58 am |
      • Buddha

        LMAO! Good one, OV. You probably think the world is flat too.

        December 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  13. dreamhunk

    When there is a lack of historians it means they were NOT educated did not know how to write. This also means that Arabs civilizations did not mean the criteria for great civilizations of the time. Funny last time I checked there is lack of surviving Arab historians' accounts of that era. as for Islam research TomHolland according to him Islam is a myth

    December 16, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  14. oo oo

    They criticize bush.

    December 16, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Sandy

      He's above reproach, is he?

      December 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  15. dreamhunk

    The Greeks knew how to read and write. The romans knew how to read and
    write. the Nubains( kingdom of cush) knew how to read and write.
    Ethiopians knew how to read and write. The Egyptains knew how to read
    and write. Where are the Arabs historians?

    December 16, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  16. dreamhunk

    The middle east use to be known as the horn of africa. As for Olives they come only in 3 colors Green, Very dark brown and black! Black people come in dark brown and black!

    By the way the Romans and Greeks who were mixed were just tanned. By the way their was black Romans and Greeks for example st Maurice the Moor.

    also the roman and Greeks never talked about any just tanned people living in the middle east or north africa

    December 16, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Lily

      I don't quite understand what you're talking about. Tanned Romans???? Re Arabic writers, my two favorites are Ibn Fadlan (11th century) and Ibn Fadlan (14th century).

      December 16, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • dreamhunk

        The Romans and Greeks were just tanned looking people. Really Arabs have ancient written texts? really how come the Romans and Greeks spoke very little of them?

        December 16, 2013 at 11:13 am |
      • dreamhunk

        Notice that he is from the 11 century and It's not AD, not Arabs BC people!

        December 16, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  17. Lily

    If people here want to find out what those who lived back in the first century looked like, take a look at the Fayum mummy portraits. The people are mostly dark-skinned, with dark eyes and dark hair. They're beautiful and clearly Middle Eastern. If this is what Jesus looked like, then I've no clue what his race was; those people were very clearly a mix of every race in the region. All you can say with any certainty is that his odds of being a ginger European are low.

    That's immaterial, however. If you're religious, you can depict Santa and Jesus any way you want. The only problem would be your claiming that YOUR Jesus (or Santa) is more correct than another person's Jesus or Santa.

    December 16, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      But isn't that the basis of any religion – they each my god is the only true one.

      December 16, 2013 at 11:47 am |
      • Lily

        Very late, but "the one true god" thing is recent. I don't believe that the Romans thought Jupiter was true, while Isis was false.

        December 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  18. dev

    in countries like the phillipines where racism does not exist ,the color of God is irrelevant,The profound understanding and awareness of a supreme being does not at all relates to any skin or physical fixation,The black Nazarene in Manila,the " Virgin of Regla in Lapulapu city and Sto.Nino of Cebu City ,inspires and have have profound faith in the Filipino people,its not the color or form that is the foundation of our faith,but the historical reality of history,even the worst natural disaster ,typhoon,eartquake or economic hardships can not shake the peoples faith in God.

    December 16, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "phillipines where racism does not exist" You're as smart as a box of rocks...

      December 16, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • devent

        Yes the Filipino people's faith in God is hard as rock,the hardest in the whole world and possibly the whole universe.The latest survey conducted by a U.S. agency,theism or belief in God is highest in the Phillipines,among all the countries of the world ,when people were ask and interviewed 94 percent of Filipinos believed in God,followed by Chile,90 percent,third is the U.S.at 84 percent.,Eastern Europe is lowest at 15 percent.you can inquire or research on the veracity of this report,and compare your country to ours,I think in the near future ,the Phillipines will be the center of the movement of the worlds Re-evangalization.mark my word.

        December 16, 2013 at 11:00 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          I like Filipinos (nice people, good food)... one of my good friends is married to a Filipino and she is an awesome person, but belief in the supernatural is the definition of stupid... and racism is unfortunately a part of the human condition... so to announce that the Philippines does not have racism is dumb and/or wishful thinking on your part...

          December 16, 2013 at 12:48 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.