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. the village idiot

    the whole jesus story is all a giant con job rigged for suckers

    December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Enough

      I will pray for your conversion!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Brian

      Which just so happens to go back over 2000 years, and happens to have some backing in the historical record. Dead Sea Scrolls, Amulet Scroll, Ossuary of Caiaphas, ect....

      December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Frank

      Your handle describes you perfectly.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  2. bob

    Jesus never existed. This is America. Stop believing in Palestinian cults.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Gol

      Got that backwards chief. Jesus did exist but there was no Palestinian anything 2,000 years ago.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  3. claudius1964

    Yeah as for Chuck Norris and me, we both black.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  4. Badump Bump...

    What do you do if Megyn Kelly throws a hand grenade at you?

    Pull the pin and throw it back...

    December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      But she is so confidently stupid.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  5. Ajay

    Isn't Jesus a semitic origin not white and what is white?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  6. jeff johnson

    BTW Jesus was born in Palestine. BUT ALSO if you are Palestinian living in the USA today and you fill out the census you are considered WHITE. Plain and simple fact.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Yay! You've tied ancients of 2,000 + years to today's people!! And since nothing's changed since then, you gotta be right!

      December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • .

      Except Jesus didn't live in the USA, although people like you would live to think so. He was Semitic. Deal with it.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
      • Steve

        So now you are trying to tell us that Jesus was not an American? I call BS

        December 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • bob

      Jesus looked like Saddam Hussein.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • AverageJoe76

        bob's probably right

        December 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • LogicInStyle

        Or bin Laden.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      I never believe anyone who must label their own statements with the word "fact".

      December 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • George

      And what is important is America and it's classification of people! God Bless America and no where else!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • dzerres

      "considered" by whom? If you are filling out the form it is YOU who consider yourself whatever. Since Jesus was a Palestinian and Palestinians are all white (according to your post) then why do our right wing Christians and tea baggers all hate Palestinians?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  7. Dyslexic doG

    You mean to tell me,
    that a Jewish zombie of uncertain color
    can make me live forever,
    if I telepathically accept him as my master…
    all because a talking snake convinced a woman created by one rib
    to eat from a magical tree?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Yes....... this is what the most intelligent animal on Earth spends it's time on...... "fearing and heeding the instruction of invisible beings"

      Oh, and only 'special' humans are choosen to recieve the message personally. And those not choosen still better believe just as much. Cause that makes sense.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Handher

      lmfao! I am a catholic, but you made my day lol...........

      December 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG


        December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • Emma Goldman


        December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Tacitus Talks`

      Or you could believe that you evolved from a single celled creature that came from a rock – AKA Evolution.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        you should actually read a REAL book about evolution, not a Christian propaganda book about evolution. Then you wouldn't sound so misinformed. 🙂

        December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      If you don't believe it, you are going to H-E- double toothpicks.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        such an infantile, fairy tale explanation of the world.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  8. justin

    Jesus and Santa are white period. All the trash in this world that like to start trouble for no reason need to move on and get a life including CNN for spreading such silly trash

    December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  9. Get Real

    Jesus was a middle eastern man with a long beard. If you saw him today getting on the same airplane with you, you probably would be very uncomfortable. This is the man many worship.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  10. sly

    Fox wants us to believe Barry Bonds is white?

    Now I've seen everything ...

    December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Chris

    Poor blondie newscaster under fire. As stated below, Jesus was middle-eastern; he spoke Aramaic. It's unlikely that he was Aryan white-as-snow as this anchor imagines. Santa Claus is white or black – depends which one you pick off the shelf at Macy's. (I'm not kidding.) As for this article talking about all the miracles Jesus supposedly did, none has been proven.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  12. bob

    Santa is an Inuit and Jesus is a landscaper down in Southern California.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  13. Shirley You Got To Be Kidding

    Okay everyone take a chill pill. Did you not see that episode of Sanford and Son when fred said" Aint no way you can hang around Jerusalem for thirty something years without a hat and be white?" Now that historical authority.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • afrosheen

      New sitcom starring the Martin Family to premiere next year: Sanford and One Less Son

      December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  14. Mark Peterson

    Dear Fox: Please tell me the Easter Bunny is still white!

    December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Balls McGhee

      Tiger Woods is still black, right?

      December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  15. holly

    Megyn Kelly's defense of Jesus' skin color is religion-page newsworthy? And Santa? I could see this headlining on Fox, but CNN? Seriously? A new low has been achieved! Nevertheless, a blessed and merry Christmas to all,

    December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • .

      Well...her ignorant insistence that Jesus wasn't a middle eastern Jew is pretty ignorant.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  16. Norm

    This whole thing is just more proof that religion is a mental disorder. Stop believing in fairy tales and invisible gods and live your own life.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  17. Jimmy Jazz

    Santa, Jesus, and Fox. All fiction.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  18. Dyslexic doG

    Jesus color must be a mix of his father and mother. That would make him light brown with sparkly bits and an odd flame here and there.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Peter

      Jesus as part human part burning bush? Now that is something I could worship.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Uncletomscabin

    Coming from the part of the world he supposely came from, how could Jesus have have had blond hair and blue eyes. As for the make believe Santa that delight child of all races, he could be of any race. Thank goodness for children they are usually coloreblind until they are damaged by grown folks.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  20. AticIcal

    Santa was Europian, Jesus was middle eastern or Nor African. I dont get what the big deal is. I guess people want to take another opportunity to voice their opinions regarding race. Nothing wrong with a White Santa and Non-White Jesus.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • AticIcal

      I mean European

      December 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • .

      If you consider Turkey European, then sure.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Balls McGhee

      It doesn't matter, they are both liberal communists.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • sly

        Damn right – both Jesus and God are far lefties.

        Pretty much anyone preaching love is a leftist.

        December 13, 2013 at 1:57 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.