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. Dale

    Arguments like these is why racism will never end.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  2. One American Voice

    I love Megyn Kelly – HOWEVER she is wrong! Jesus was not causation, he was a Nazarene and that makes him middle eastern.
    HE WAS NOT WHITE skinned – it is very sad to see someone like Megyn miss this she is very intelligent.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Brian

      Just because she is intelligent doesn't mean she isn't racist.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Z_2k

      It wouldn't surprise me if Jesus looked like Yasser Arafat. A typical, olive-skinned middle-Easterner. Roman Christianity twisted the image of Jesus to meet their ideal, and Northern European Christians further modified him. I think American Christians came up with the blond, blue eyed Jesus. George Carlin did an hilarious bit on the Buddy Christ.....look it up on Youtube.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  3. what1ever

    You could make the argument that Jesus was black, as there were large populations of Africans and Egyptians in the period at that time; you could make the argument that he was Arab, as the populations of Arabs were very present, even at that period; you could make the argument that he was Greek, as there were large numbers of Greeks there left over as decedents from the conquests of Alexander the Great (Cleopatra herself was Greek;) you could make the argument that he looked like modern Jews as many are descendants of the Jews that were scattered all over the Roman Empire after the Jewish Rebellion against Roman rule. However, there was no chance that he was blonde. It's just as likely that he was Chinese.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  4. nik green

    If Jesus existed as is told then Miss Kelly is without a doubt, talking nonsense. JC would have been a native middle eastern Jew, who are, and were – as we know – dark skinned.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Dee

    She is just stupid what a waste of air time.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  6. Guy

    ALL of you do err because you DO NOT know the scriptures.
    NO ONE knows what Yoshuah Messiah (Jesus Christ) looks like. PERIOD!! The so-called "shroud of Turin" is a fake!!
    First try reading the WORD of YAHWEH(GOD) by 1) Humbling yourself before YAHWEH and asking for Heavenly Father's
    knowledge and understanding by the HOLY SPIRIT.
    2) Read the First Two Commandments (Exodus 20:2-6)
    3) Read the Gospel of John 14:15
    4 Read Acts 17:24-26 the "one blood" spoken of is Adam (all humanity is descended from Adam & Eve the latest research into the human genome has proven this Biblical FACT)
    5) Read 1st Corinthians the entire 15th chapter.. Saul (Paul in the greek) clearly states by the HOLYSPIRIT that
    "...Flesh and Blood CANNOT inherit (i.e. to enter) the Kingdom of YAHWEH (i.e. Heaven)
    The false and satanic concept of race is designed to keep humans from understanding their true nature, we are created in the image of YAHWEH (GOD) ...Now YAHWEH is the Supreme Spirit of all creation. humans therefore are spirit images of '
    YAHWEH that is our TRUE nature.
    The flesh we live in belongs to the earth (From dust ye came and to dust ye shall return) Our soul (individual intellect) and our spirit enter into eternity. The question for every human is; Where will you spend eternity (time does not exist)
    In the presence of YAHWEH our Heavenly Father, OR cut off from YAHWEH for all eternity to suffer the lies of the flesh without any relief i.e. always desiring fleshy things but NEVER being able to realize them nor fulfill the lust thereof.
    That my friends is HELL.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • PattyCake

      You mean read this fiction and come up with truth? Uh uhhh.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Tags

      There is a biblical reference to the color of Christ. Given that the transfiguration was recognizable.... He couldn't have been too white

      -a white guy

      December 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  7. JMG

    Jesus was jewish. All of the illiterate criminal racists need to get over it and focus on what the whites have done for them.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • crakkka

      Gee, are Jews white???

      Why don't you ask one and see what he says. Lol

      December 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  8. Keith

    What's going on in America? We have to protect what we believe in. If you don't like it don't look at it. If you want a black Santa get one who really care. As far as taken the cross down at our cemeteries this is unbelievable. Also taken Christmas naivety seen down come on REALLY. If you don't like it don't LOOK at it. Have respect for other who do like it. Our government needs to wake up and keep God and Jesus open. Our military is fighting for our country and some die for our rights. Lord knows we need all the help we can get cause the way the world is heading it's crazy. Merry Christmas everyone and may God Bless Our Country.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Kurt

      The military fights for our rights and people like Keith continue to fight to establish a government religion.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  9. Gloria

    Kelly said that Jesus was depicted in all pictures, statues, etc. as white. He is, and you can't change history, and art, unless you order all of it burned. If you want him to match your race then paint some pictures, manufacture statues, etc., as some companies have already. Santa Claus tradition came from Scandinavia, Europe, he was always white. Kelly is right, children have a concept of what Santa looks like, and doesn't need him to have an animals face on his red suit to please all children. He is fine as is. Now what else can be taken out of context about Fox's people?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • webman6

      It's a fact that Fox News is biased, racist, stupid and ignorant.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Kurt

      St. Nicholas, a real person, was Turkish or Greek, not a Scandinavian. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • crakkka

      I'm dreaming of a "White Christmas"

      December 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Katie

      There is art of Jesus being dark and not at all white. Tons of it. In fact various works of art aside from Jesus have pretty much cropped out people of color. This is nothing new. Society is just choosing to ignore this, so don't claim we can just shower you with works of art that feature people of color and suddenly it will be presented. It's a fact that society today, everything you see is pretty much WHITE or converted to that. Even models on magazines are being whitened from their natural colors. Don't be so ignorant.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
      • Mike

        Michael Jackson wanted to be white.

        December 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  10. onassis

    Morning of December 9, 1531.
    Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Speaking to him in Nahuatl.
    It was the Virgin Mary mother of Jesus.
    Look all at this photo very well and see her Image and all that she's expressing.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  11. highplainsparson

    This mistake illustrates the danger in attempting to make pictorial representations of Jesus Christ. There's a reason why no true image has been handed down to us. The images that God intended for us to use to picture Jesus are the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper and the water of baptism. We ought to be content with those pictures he gave us.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  12. ivekyl

    Love how the article bounces between "Santa" and St. Nick in order to validate points. Are we really writing articles about imaginary beings, then associating them with real people, then bringing in a religious leader and comparing the religious leader, the imaginary person, and a real person associated with an imaginary all in the same article just so people fight over it?


    December 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • highplainsparson

      The real historical figure of Saint Nicolas has been mythologized into the Santa Claus stories. "Santa Claus" is simply short for Saint Niklaus.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  13. firemkelley

    She needs to be fired NOW and other issues need to be focused on during the news segment.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Danielle

      She needs to be fired because you don't like what she said? You sound like a child.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • Danielle

        I'll bet you didn't even watch the show she was on. You would never have known her opinion if not for this article.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  14. JerryPhiloSurfer

    Jesus was not European Caucasian PERIOD! Any notion that these historical figures were Western-European Caucasian is absurd.. It's likely that, if Jesus even really existed, he would have looked similar to the native inhabitants living there now but even darker as he would have lived prior to Whites from Europe expanding south to the region and infiltrating the gene pool, one example being the Crusades. The Bible even says Jesus had bronze skin and hair like wool. So maybe Jesus wasn't black-black but he certainly was not white in a western European Caucasin way.

    Santa historically is/was Greek, but Greek of those times.. He would have probably had darker olive skin and would not have been white-white either. But considering there are historical records and paintings of St. Nick during his life (12AD) you can go see for yourself that he was not white-white nor black-black.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  15. yellows2k

    you people are immature and ignorant. First off Jesus exist if you dont believe well you will when you are in hell. Second Jesus was a jew are jews white? he was born in Nazareth, if they are than that means that Jesus is white. Santa does not exist.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Renee

      Thank You for saying those words. People better get with the program.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Robert Tillinman

      I love the immature responses from the peanut gallery. Instead of worrying about the color of his skin, since there is NO REAL picture of him, let us believe he was of all colors. As far as Santa goes, he came from a real person who was Greek, so olive skin, not exactly white. Why white people feel the need to have everything there way is stupid. Stop worrying about the color of Jesus and focus on what he says. A true Christian would do that.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  16. Lateris

    He was Jewish, end of issue. And yes there were all colors in the Jewish tribes back then, just like to day...who cares, we are all human.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  17. Joe

    To assert that a Jew born in Nazareth, amongst the Tribes of Israel, over 2,000 years ago had blonde hair and blue eyes is simply ludicrous. Want to know what Jesus probably looked like? Go find yourself a Yemenite Jew.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Jeff

      Seen a lot of depictions of Jesus..White, Back, Yellow even saw a crimson red one...But never blond hair and blue eyes..where would I see that?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  18. PattyCake

    The bubble headed bleach blonde comes on at 5.........

    December 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  19. Felsey

    Isn't it normal for all cultures to depict mythical figures in their own likeness? Although I do think there was a real Jesus think about the location and face the truth folks. I don't know why this has to be an argument EVERY year. Enjoy the season, be nice to your neighbors and get a life! I wish people would actually just follow the teachings of the bible I don't think Jesus or God cares about race and a good true Christian wouldn't either.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  20. gary

    American Bible scholar claims ancient 'confessions' prove story of Jesus Christ was entirely fabricated by Roman aristocrats.


    December 13, 2013 at 12:27 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.