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. dreamhunk


    December 22, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  2. dreamhunk


    December 22, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  3. dreamhunk

    more proof Arabs meeting black people

    December 22, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  4. dreamhunk

    Arabs meet black people ruling the middle east and africa

    December 22, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  5. dreamhunk

    there were no such thing as arabs in those land arabs are a AD people NOT a BC people. please stop telling garbage there was no such thing as Arabs at that time!there is NO Arabs recorded in history they are an AD people.this back up by hard science DNA etc! show me proof ancient historians, or ancient text that says Arabs lived in that time frame in that area of land.

    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.

    December 22, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  6. dreamhunk


    December 22, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  7. dreamhunk

    Cesar Borgias aka White Jesus

    December 22, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  8. Winston5

    What a buffoon, she must have meant "white kids at home". My stars, the times we live in.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:26 am |
  9. MLegendre

    Santa is white, lives at the North Pole, plays with reindeer and elves and will be visiting a house near you soon. Jesus was a Jew...what does that make him, beige? Olive? Whatever...

    December 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  10. Rob

    Jesus was gay, why else would he want to hang around 12 men

    December 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Copenshaw

      You mom?

      December 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
  11. David

    Not sure why any of this really matters. But I have often wondered how Jesus became a European looking man when he was born in the Middle East. That would more than likely make him an olive complected man that possibly came from one of several ethic backgrounds. Therefore his facial features should be more Middle Eastern. St Nick is Greek. So, again an olive complected man with more of a European type facial feature. Caucasian is not uniquely a white European even though it seems that is where we have put these days.

    December 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • dromichete52

      The image of Jesus, from the line od King David, as a blond handsome man, has its origin in 1 Samuel 17 where David is described by Goliath as a fair handsome child. Not having any other description of Jesus it was normal to think that He would look like his ancestor, King David (nothing racist here). For Nazi a blond was not necessary a white. They killed thousands of blond Jews, Russians, Pols, etc. On the other hand Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and so on, were not "olive" in color. They got that hue after more than 500 years of Arab "influence" in the Mediterranean basin.

      December 22, 2013 at 5:53 am |
    • dromichete52

      The image of Jesus, from the line of King David, as a blond handsome man, has its origin in 1 Samuel 17 where David is described by Goliath as a fair handsome child. Not having any other description of Jesus it was normal to think that He would look like his ancestor, King David (nothing racist here). For Nazi a blond was not necessary a white. They killed thousands of blond Jews, Russians, Pols, etc. On the other hand Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and so on, were not "olive" in color. They got that hue after more than 500 years of Arab "influence" in the Mediterranean basin.

      December 22, 2013 at 6:03 am |
  12. Lana


    December 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  13. His panic

    In the better Tradition of the 3 Magi or wise men. One is black one yellow and the 3rd. is white. 😀 😀 😀 So you see people you are all flustered about nothing. You must be all blondes like her! 😀 😀 😀

    December 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  14. Ricky Gibson

    To add a little science to this, Jesus would have had African ancestry–just as every other living human being does. We are ALL descended from the same African woman, who is not surprisingly given the nickname "Eve".

    Santa Claus, if we do a little research, is based on the Turkish Saint Nicholas who would be–you guessed it, descended from the same African woman Jesus was.

    New slogan–FOX - for when the truth just isn't good enough.

    December 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • His panic

      Really! You call that gibberish "science", you must be smoking something!

      December 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Antony van Cleave

      Do you know anything about the history of Anatolia? St Nicholas was certainly not Turkish. It wasn't until the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 that the Turkish people entered Anatolia.

      St Nicholas was born in 270. Back then, the Turkic peoples were just Nomadic tribes in Northern China. Modern day Xinjiang. Theres little chance St Nick was anything BUT Greek. The native Anatolian tribes had already been assimilated for hundreds of years.

      Maybe he wasn't Greek. Maybe he was Roman? Maybe he was Coptic. He could have been anything BUT Turkish. Please freshen up on your history of the world. Study up on the Turks, the Byzantine Empire, and St Nick.

      December 22, 2013 at 12:34 am |
  15. black

    Martin Luther King was white.

    December 21, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  16. Dr Tod Policandriotes

    Really, does it matter in the big picture? I know a lot of Jewish that look at Jesus in many different ways and they are not always good. Funny thing about humans and history, we do not always learn from it and many people fill in between the lines that are missing. It would be nice to actually know the exact truth about Jesus. Wish we had some of his DNA to test, oh wait, there are bloody cloth pieces right, so let's test it and see how his compares to our current DNA. So what happened to his body, did it just dematerialize. If he was that important, you would think that his remains are well preserved. God should have made sure to leave something behind for us in the future to examine since he is all knowing and all seeing and in all places all the time.

    December 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  17. TurtleToes

    So, is it safe to say Frosty the snowman is White?

    December 21, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  18. Pablo

    Is it acceptable to sing "Dreaming of a Whte Christmas" In today's society? I think white is color neutral isn't it?

    December 21, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  19. John Dalberg-Acton

    Well...MLK was not actually a Black man...he was mostly white...had just a little bit of African race in him possibly. Why do those picture portray him so "black" you might ask? Well he just tanned really well and all. Anyway it makes me uncomfortable that he is portrayed as a black person. So if you are Black and do not accept that MLK was really a white guy...then you are a racist.

    Jesus was biologically born a Jew. Jews in his day, in that location, by all historical and Biblical accounts were not sub Saharan African, Indian or Eastern Asian, they had the same skin and features Semitic peoples have today. In addition, according to a passage in the New Testament...Jesus was of fair complexion as Jews go. And so what? Why does that offend someone? It would be as ridiculous as a white guy being offended MLK was black.

    December 21, 2013 at 5:31 am |
    • dreamhunk

      The Romans and Greeks where just tanned

      December 21, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • dreamhunk


      December 21, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Saraswati

      By calling MLK "a white guy" you sound even sillier than you think are those that call him black. Genetically he is obviously mixed race, and unless you have a sample of his genes you have very little grounds for arguing percents. However, on two grounds he is rightly considered Black more than White. First is the old souther policy by which even on drop of black blood made one black. Second is his cultural heritage being raised in a black community. So while I have no problems referring to MLK as mixed race, if one label is to be used 'black' is certainly more accurate based on what information we do have.

      December 21, 2013 at 8:41 am |
      • dreamhunk

        Genesis 10 black people ruled the the middle east


        December 21, 2013 at 8:51 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 8:56 am |
      • dreamhunk

        Black people ruled the horn of africa that is now the middle east

        December 21, 2013 at 8:58 am |
      • dreamhunk

        link did not work putting this here

        December 21, 2013 at 9:00 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 9:04 am |
      • 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.
        Go read genesis ten and then show me where white people in are genesis 10

        December 21, 2013 at 9:11 am |
      • dreamhunk

        "Tacitus,the Roman historian of 90 A.D., says that the Romans of his day
        popularly believed that the Jews, which then abounded in Europe, came
        from Ethiopia, the land of the Blacks
        Zephaniah 3 :10
        From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings.
        From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants,[even] the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
        Lamentations 4:8
        visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their
        skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a
        stick.Lamentations 5:10
        Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
        Exd 2:19
        And they said, An Egyptian(speakin of Moses) delivered us out of the
        hand of the shepherds, and also drew [water] enough for us, and watered
        the flock.
        Explain how an ISRAELITE is mistaken as a son of HAM if they didn't look alike?
        Then 2000+ years later Acts 21:37-38 Shaul(Paul) a Hebrew mistaken as an Egyptian... So explain how SHEM's seed and HAM's didn't look alike?
        Google ancient Hebrews or ancient Hebrew dreadlocks click images

        December 21, 2013 at 9:12 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 9:15 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 9:17 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 9:40 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 9:46 am |
      • dreamhunk


        December 21, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • dreamhunk

      Here is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus' description of Christ: “At that time also there appeared a certain man... [whose name is Jesus]...he was a man of simple appearance, mature age, black-skinned, short growth, three cubits tall, hunchbacked, with a long face, a long nose, eyebrows meeting above the nose, that the spectators could take fright, with scanty [curly] hair, but having a line in the middle of the head after the fashion of the Nazaraeans, with an undeveloped beard."

      December 21, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • dreamhunk

      better link here basically the battle of kadesh

      December 21, 2013 at 9:02 am |
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About this blog

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.