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. Greek

    I'm Greek- so if santa is based on a Greek person let me solve this problem. The Us census worker says I am white.
    Since I was a child here in the U.S. the school system calls me white. We Greeks when we stay indoors get very
    light skinned to the point we are caucasion white. So maybe St Nicholas spent a lot of time studying in the monastery
    and therefore his depiction is of a light skinned Greek guy? Who knows, but if Santa was based on a greek he is considered white in America..

    January 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
    • Tired of the Cray Cray

      What does a middle-eastern Jewish man born 2,00 years ago have to do with pasty-white Greeks presumably living in....Greece?

      January 13, 2014 at 2:44 pm |
      • Charles

        You can answer your own question by reading the article again. Apparently, you did not understand the debate that the article despites.

        January 13, 2014 at 6:02 pm |
  2. 00 00

    more pharisee spam

    January 12, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
  3. Al Sanchez


    January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am |
    • Rose

      Exactly right Al Sanchez. Exactly right.

      January 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
    • dreamhunk

      really? I never knew cush was in europe!
      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.


      January 8, 2014 at 6:45 pm |
    • dreamhunk


      January 8, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
    • Barcs

      Are you trying to tell me that in South America, Santa does not speak Spanish and isn't portrayed as a Hispanic person? I very much doubt that. Santa is an imaginary guy made up for kids. He can be whatever you want him to be. Jesus was an arab semite (Back then they were darker as well).

      January 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm |
      • FSMpriestess

        Jess is just as imaginary as Santa.

        January 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm |
        • Josh

          Explain that to Tacitus or the dozens of evidential proofs of Jesus.

          January 14, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
  4. Jesus was a schizo

    There i said it

    January 8, 2014 at 11:13 am |
  5. Rose

    It's heresy to claim Jesus & the bible don't discuss His race/ethnicity. It's clearly stated and repeated that Jesus is a direct bloodline of David the Arab Jews who descends from Abraham the Iraqi and father of the Semitic Tribe of Israel. Israel is the mystical name for the People of God and Heaven, not an actual plot of land on earth that white murdering Europeans claim through Imperialism.

    This author is a joke , he's obviously not versed or educated on Jesus, Christianity, the bible or history which makes him the norm among the blathering American false Christians who base their belief system of falsehoods, lies and snake oil salesman.

    January 8, 2014 at 9:14 am |
  6. Willis Fitnurbut

    It's so funny how people will argue to the point of fighting over the skin color of a dead 2,000 year old cult leader and a fictional home invading pedophile. As a white person, I hope neither of them are in my race!

    January 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
    • Rose

      What you talking about Willis? There is no such thing as a white race Willis, only white skin. The Caucasion race includes Arabians & Europeans including Spaniards. You should really embrace facts and education. None the less, I encourage you to stay with 'white people' since no other people will have you or want you.

      January 8, 2014 at 9:41 am |
  7. be kind and love oneanother

    If god did indeed create us in his own image maybe we all see jesus in a likeness to ourselves.

    January 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm |
    • Doodeleedoo Simpson

      Horus was brown.

      January 7, 2014 at 9:19 pm |
      • Tim

        No....Black....everything was black in the beginning ...including the real Israelites, even Osiris is depicted as black and real Kemet/ Egypt was black too...including your ancestors ....and deep beneath your sorry-ass DNA.....melanin is constantly getting deficient on human DNA as we modernize into the future due to genetic engineering and modifications of food and manufactured goods.

        January 8, 2014 at 12:32 am |
        • dlindie

          or evolve?

          January 8, 2014 at 10:36 am |
    • Rose

      Right Jesus race is irrelevant because He's not white/caucasion/european. He is an Arabian Man born to Arabian Jewish Parents in Palestine. And in fact He does refer to His ethnicity repeatedly in the gospels.

      Most disturbing but least surprising is the heresy & ignorance in this article by the author who claims that Jesus & the bible never spoke of Jesus ethnicity which is utterly STUNNING a false statement.

      Jesus ethnicity is not only repeatedly discussed and mentioned in the bible & gospel's, His ethnicity/lineage/genealogy is one of the single most important portents in proving He is the Messiah.

      It's clearly stated and repeated that Jesus is of the Line of David (Arab-Jewish), defended from Abraham (An Iraqi man), this is the singular way of know Jesus is the Messiah.

      But this ignorance & 'Truthiness' is what we've come to expect from too many America 'Christians'. Jesus is an Arabian-Jew born in Palestine to Palestinian parents. Someone should inform Blume that in fact the Christian text state this clearly and repeatedly contrary to his weak, offensive article.

      January 8, 2014 at 9:07 am |
      • dlindie

        I thought Jesus was a God... That a god came to earth to be his own son to sacrifice himself to himself then resurrected to have himself join himself. So now he was a real human of human parents? Not too godlike...

        January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am |
  8. joldham

    All of this arguing is not going to chnage the fact the JESUS came to this earth to die for our sins (black, white, asian, greek, arab, all races). We look on JESUS as a diety not a man with color.

    January 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  9. dreamhunk

    Jesus was a Jew and had ancestors who came from Egypt where brown-skinned and
    black-skinned people with roots in the Sudan lived [before you say “he was
    white” just because you were taught that, please read up on the original people
    of the Nile and the various invasions of the area that became pre-Christ Egypt
    by light-brown-skinned (Alexander the Great) as well as dark-skinned people
    (Nubia) groups]. Even the Bible's limited descriptions of Jesus describe him as
    a man with hair that was "white like wool" and feet that were
    "burnt like brass." [Sounds much more like a wooly-haired black than
    straight-haired, white-skinned person to me, my friends]. Certain whites now
    accuse blacks of "rewriting history" but it was, indeed, people of
    European descent who rewrote history and, wrongly, promoted an image of a red-haired,
    blue-eyed Jesus Christ throughout the world.

    January 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  10. Rosslaw

    Let's get to the real issue. What color is the Easter Bunny?

    January 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
    • Barcs

      Same color as the tooth fairy, duh.

      January 14, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
  11. dreamhunk


    January 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm |
  12. dreamhunk


    January 7, 2014 at 11:57 am |
  13. dreamhunk


    January 7, 2014 at 8:23 am |
  14. dreamhunk


    January 7, 2014 at 7:50 am |
    • igaftr

      You don't really think ANYONE is going to go through the spam videos you keep posting on this idiotic topic do you?

      Give it a rest....page after page of moronic BS.

      January 7, 2014 at 8:13 am |
      • dreamhunk

        really? you calling my opinions and other people opinions spam? last time I check it about Jesus being black!

        January 7, 2014 at 8:19 am |
      • dreamhunk

        last ti checked I was giving tons of proof of how non white Jesus and how racist Arabs and white people are when comes to the subject what is the matter/ you can't take the heat.

        January 7, 2014 at 8:21 am |
        • Rose

          Dude, you're the only racist here. You're also delusional which is what all racists are : mentally ill. Jesus is not black. Jesus is an Arabic man. Get yourself some help.

          January 9, 2014 at 11:55 am |
      • dreamhunk

        you think you can take me on if I was to wright ? where you from the NSA? Do you even know what spam is? I am presenting proof that Jesus was black or came from a black culture. These are other people opinions and facts that I agree with! so I am going to ask where is your?

        January 7, 2014 at 8:25 am |
        • Rose

          Jesus is not black. Black people are part of God's family but Jesus is not black.

          January 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
      • dreamhunk

        I am ready to tear you apart on this subject!

        January 7, 2014 at 8:55 am |
        • Mr.Right

          Honestly, who the cares what color his skin was? Doesn't change what he did for mankind, he loves us no matter what race we are. Also he's white lol.

          January 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm |
  15. dreamhunk


    January 7, 2014 at 7:31 am |
  16. jen

    I don't need to present anything, considering the phaorahs were my ancestors on my fathers side, I am sick and tired of you all claiming my ancestors, and so is everyone else, they did not swing off trees or live in huts, nor were they primitive, the sub sahara were pagans till a few hundreds years ago, so stop as it is insulting and it is offensive

    January 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm |
    • dreamhunk


      January 7, 2014 at 7:30 am |
    • dreamhunk


      January 7, 2014 at 7:32 am |
    • dreamhunk


      January 7, 2014 at 7:34 am |
    • dreamhunk


      January 7, 2014 at 7:34 am |
    • dreamhunk


      January 7, 2014 at 7:35 am |
    • dreamhunk

      Arabs do not predate black people it is NOT your history! I M GOING TO STICK NICE LINK HERE.


      January 7, 2014 at 7:40 am |
    • dreamhunk


      January 7, 2014 at 7:43 am |
    • 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.

      Where are the Arabs historians?

      January 7, 2014 at 9:10 am |
  17. KimKim

    Jesus was olive skinned like the some of the Arabs and Jews in the area. Not the Jews that came from East Europe.

    January 6, 2014 at 3:51 pm |
  18. davidi

    Good grief grow up, we have more important things to worry about in mankind's path. Small minded problems for small minded people.

    January 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm |
  19. Remove the Veil

    Since none of us have seen Him we should stop trying to elevate one race over another by attempting to force a whole planet to believe He was White. The self appointed importance has gotten horribly old. You would think it would wear off after a few centuries but clearly not.

    January 6, 2014 at 12:08 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.