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. TomP

    Jesus was born in the Middle East and was Jewish. This would make Him look(by the way, He wasn't here for appearances) like the someone from the Middle East. Wow, I must be a rocket scientist. Also, it's not just FOX News and their crazy panelists, they're all of the same mold, simply leaning in one direction or the other.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • John P. Tarver


      December 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  2. TeeJay

    While I think Megan Kelly is wrong, the writer from Slate (Aisha Harris) is a black liberal... should anyone expect less from a racist black person? I mean does it REALLY matter what color Jesus was, just so long as "He was"?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  3. SeriousBlacque

    His hair was like wool (White peoples hairs not like wool t's curly not straight the waitpeople with curly hair has some other ethnic piece to them) his feet were like burned brass (brass is already dark and anything that has been burned will tend to be darker) what region was Jesus from?That alone speaks volumes in addition to the fact that he walked in the sun everywhere would also darken his skin.Please get a grip. I understand most white people hate the president but don't skew my saviour. He had Dark skin period.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  4. afrosheen

    who cares if a bunch of white sell outs believe santa is black, they're the ones getting the checks from obama anyway.....

    December 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • TeeJay

      Spoken like a true idiot.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • afrosheen

        i agree, slate only hires idiots

        December 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  5. glenview0818

    Well, of course Jesus and Santa are white, they are a white invention, what idiot would think white people would invent a black santa. Give me a break, what are people thinking about. Black mythical cultural invented people are black, would you think they should be white?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  6. paouser70

    @Jack – sure kelly is on film, but CNN made it all up. You're a blind nut job..

    December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  7. Kevin

    The truth hurts sometimes! Get over it!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  8. GuessWho

    It's always the black folks making all the fuzz about racism........let it rest peopele...slavery is no longer among us. Hold your heads up and stop being such babies when others talk about who is white and who is black......

    December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  9. Roger

    In the Bible Jesus Says " I am what I am " if he was black he would have said "I Is What I Is" ok was that racist Now grow up people who cares........ if Santa is black no big deal we will just have to teach our kids the proper ethnic treat to set out with a drink for the guy.. but that changes every thing his name will probably sound a little different as the name santa isnt of ethnic background and all the songs the kids have grown up to love will have to change oh and the color scheme will be different and the reindeer will all have new names.. sounds like alot of work to just feel EQUAL.... HMMMMM.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  10. Sadly

    I just hate that one race or the other tries to claim Jesus by saying he was of my race. It's meant to be exclusionary and separatist, even racist. Jesus was the light of the world, and his teachings are beautiful. We should try to embrace that and learn to love one another more. My two cents anyway.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  11. Bravo

    Have you been to the middle east Adolf? If Jesus existed at all he was definitely not white,...not to mention, where does one find people like Mark, Matthew, Luke or John in the middle east? The entire debacle is a ruse and a laughing stock. Why are we arguing over delusioned sheep herders that lived 2000 years ago.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  12. frederick

    why do i keep clicking on these articles?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  13. Billy Shears

    On my college application iI had mark White or African American or Hispanic or Asian. "Jewish" wasnt on their so Jews, according to our government are "white". Whats the big deal?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Jews are specifically and intentionally not identified in government statistics as a separate class by request out of very real and understandable concerns following WWII.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  14. derp

    Jesus was neither and this is an objective fact considering the time period and location. *rolls eyes*

    December 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  15. Raynor

    Santa was Greek? Does this mean we need to replace all Christmas music with Eurotrash EDM versions?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  16. DAB

    It doesn't matter...doesn't matter...doesn't matter...don't care...don't care...don't care. My 5 years old could careless where Santa and Jesus are from. He just loves the lights, the songs and he knows he will be getting that big $100 Lego set if he behaves well until the 25th -oh that is working for us so we'll and we are milking every bit of it. So he was ok when I told him that Jesus and Santa are two old nice Muslim men from my home country Jordan.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Thats just great

      HA! Thats the best answer yet

      December 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  17. No Gods Exist. Period.

    This has to be the height of American insanity, people arguing over a fictional characters skin color. BTW, to call something verifiable the thing being called verifiable must have been verified to be called such. Neither jesus or santa are able to be called verifiable anything as neither of them have ever been verified to have ever existed. And the idiot parade goes on and on. . .

    December 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Walter Pinkman


      December 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Jess No

      Santa is fictional and was white. Jesus is a historical figure whose existence is verifiiable. No amount of personal bias or denial can disprove that Jesus walked the earth. He was Jewish which makes him caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  18. Dido

    I thought the Bible said Jesus was bronze with hair like lamb's wool? Or was that some other writing that people often confuse with the Bible? Either way, the author of this article should have brought this up!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Chris Wiley

      The Bible says nothing of the sort! That was a distortion by black nationalists in Revelations. The line goes " And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
      13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
      14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
      15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

      The whole scene of Jesus coming from the Heavens is symbolic (red eyes??) but you could just as easily argue he was white from the line "his hair and his head were as white as wool, as white as snow".

      December 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Will

      Revelation 1:14-15
      14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;
      I would think in this current day and age, people would realize the culture, area, and people Jesus came from and know that he had some sort of color and represented the Jewish people in that community. We should know by now that many of the current representations we have of Jesus are of European origin and they gave him the blue eyes and blond hair, the non-middle eastern features, etc. It is not really important if you know who Jesus is but I don't appreciate the ignorant comments that are made that fuel pointless controversy.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  19. Walter Pinkman

    Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah, and Season's Greetings everyone!!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  20. Lawrence of Arabia

    Over the last 30 years, people's skin has been getting thinner and thinner, not whiter and whiter...

    There is no such thing as "race" of men... Like, what are we? different SPECIES? Get over race. It doesn't exist.
    Acts 17:26 "...He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation..."

    December 13, 2013 at 1:10 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.