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. American

    Santa should be used as an example of how we all should handle racism. He is a man who goes around the world to every country and gives gifts to kids of all races and nationalities. Santa does not care what race any of the kids are but for some reason people care about his race. Focus on the act and message not what color he is!!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Nate

      I think Santa forgets many parts of Africa, Asia, SA, CA, even the US and Europe get parts forgotten. I think Santa is a capitalist, he seems to only visit places where there is money

      December 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  2. Jared

    Jesus was Hebrew, by simple definition, not white. Big deal.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      jews are white so are arabs just like hispanics

      george zimmerman was white

      December 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
      • Satan Claws

        George Zimmerman IS white. And you are stupid. In any color.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  3. Eagle0432

    At this point what difference does it make. We have record poverty, record on food stamps, lowest labor participation in decades, record on SSI disability what is a home page news breaking news piece? The color of Jesus and Santa Claus. Is CNN so embarrassed by their dismal ratings that have to slam Fox for this earth shattering controversy? LMAO!

    December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Anne Winters

      Yes, exactly. I really do think we have more important things to worry about!

      December 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  4. OZ


    December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • P. Siegel

      I feel sorry for you and your children. Jesus is real, and Santa Claus is a real state of mind. You must live a very sad, sad life.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Joel

      I love when people call other people idiots when they can't even spell correctly.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  5. lol??

    In the socie wurld one has to look like Hitler to be considered blonde and blue eyed. Let the blonde jokes begin! Don't blonde on me.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  6. birch please

    And smurfs are red..... Fox people really do live in imagination land and dont realize it, scary

    December 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  7. Roger Mike

    CNN trying to create controversy out of nothing?

    the image of santa created by cocacola was a fat jolly white man = santa is white.

    jewish people are white so yes jesus would of been white. it takes longer than 2000 years for skin color to change color through evolution, it takes about 40,000 years.

    jewish DNA has remained unchanged for 4,000 years.

    rossanne bar is white
    larry david is white
    jerry seinfeld is white
    william shatner is white

    if you got o israel you will notice that jews are white.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • birch please

      Jewish is a religion not a race

      December 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Roger Mike

        wrong its an ethinicity and a religion

        December 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • SLE

      Ashkenazi Jews (aka those of European descent) are mostly white. Mizrahi Jews (aka those of Middle Eastern descent) are probably best described as non-white. Jesus, being born of people who had lived in the Middle Eastern for millennia, almost certainly had skin that was darker than he is normally depicted. There is more diversity within the Jewish culture than you seem to realize.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Nate

      Alot of Jews are middle eastern from that part of the world. From your logic you'd have to also consider Saddam Hussien white also. I think he would have appeared a lot like people from the western end of the middle east, kind of like a Syria, northern Egypt, Jordan, Iraq as well as ancient Israel.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Sean

      If you go to Israel you will notice that the Jews look just like the Palestinians, are they white? Come to think of it, they look like people from the other Arab nations also, are they white too?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  8. Marissa S.

    in the bible it says jesus's hair was like wool and his feet like fine brass as refined in a furnace hmmm think about the color of brass it definetly is far from white im just sayig but i am not necessarily saying he is white

    December 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  9. GTA

    "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact."

    Jesus may be a 'historical figure', but his actions are no more verifiable than those of Santa Claus.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Buck

      Most of his actions are talked about by those people around him. It's called the New Testament. It's probably up there on Amazon.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  10. Lone wolf 83

    I'm white and half native . And first of all Jesus. Was from the Middle East so was tamed . And Santa Claus was inspired from. Saint Nicolas. Who was Russian or German . And gave gifts to the poor and children . And Saint Nicholas was a real man . The lady needs to get a clue . And lastly if you have something to say ok, but don't try to change over 2,000 years of tradition. And faith . And I happen to be Jewish on my mother side and those who want to change a faith that is also over 2,000 years. Get a grip . If you don't like something. About a faith or your own fine . But don't bash it or try to get other to change it just because you want to . And ps oboma is catholic .

    December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  11. GemJack

    You have to wonder if there's not a deliberate attempt to maintain a level of ignorance in our country. Surely she isn't really that dumb. Surely...

    December 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Buck

      What race is Jesus or Saint Nicholas?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Okay, so the decree is that Jesus and Santa are white. Now I pose this, they are, by my interpretation, "celestial" figures. demi-gods perhaps, spirits, their origins are surrounded in mystery, folklore, religion, belief, what have you. That being said, with so many spirit type figures in our lives out there, looking at each culture and how the figures pose similar description, but never exactly the same. Couldn't it be reasonable to think, perhaps these beings of belief and legendary existence might be able to change their forms to be pleasing to those they come to stand before? In the end, perhaps some people think too much into something that, by my mind, exist by faith. Faith, something as solid as a brick wall, yet as impossible to touch as time itself.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Buck

      Sure – and let's make George Washington to be a Native American and have Malcolm X be a Giraffe. It's all myth. No facts are needed anymore kids – let's all pretend that you are a robot made of spaghetti.
      What race was Jesus Christ? What race was Saint Nicholas? They sure the heck weren't penguins.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  13. Enceladus Herschel

    Prior to Christianization, the Germanic peoples (including the English; Old English geola or guili) celebrated a midwinter event called Yule.[15] With the Christianization of Germanic Europe, numerous traditions were absorbed from Yuletide celebrations into modern Christmas.[16] During this period, supernatural and ghostly occurrences were said to increase in frequency, such as the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky. The leader of the wild hunt is frequently attested as the god Odin and he bears the Old Norse names Jólnir, meaning "yule figure" and the name Langbarðr, meaning "long-beard" (see list of names of Odin).[17]

    The god Odin's role during the Yuletide period has been theorized as having influenced concepts of St. Nicholas in a variety of facets, including his long white beard and his gray horse for nightly rides (see Odin's horse Sleipnir), which was traded for reindeer in North America.[18] Margaret Baker comments that "The appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. … Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas and the Christchild became a leading player on the Christmas stage."

    December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  14. Kaz

    Maybe it's me, but ever since Obama become the POTUS, it's like EVERYTHING is about race. Now there's a debate on whether Jesus / Santa Claus (is he for real???) are white. What's next??? People, get over it. You are making the USA look like a bunch of ignorant backwoods racist people.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • SgtLemongrab

      lol go watch some Fox you pos

      December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
      • luke

        to Sgt. Lemongrab – spoken like a true racist.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • .

      Yes. It's just you.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  15. crakkka

    Blacks want everything that is white to now be black...

    They can never get anything for themselves...
    They must take from others.... what's new about that.??

    December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • SgtLemongrab

      Jesus wasn't white if he was real, that just common sense.

      And Santa was never real, so who cares unless your a white supremacist?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
      • Buck

        Saint Nicholas was real. He was Greek. Read a book.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Mopery

      Go home Karl Rove, go home...

      December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Wow, so much racism put into very few words.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  16. SgtLemongrab

    Surprise, Fox doesn't realize they're racist as s h o l es!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Groucho Marxist

      Sure they do. They understand their target audience (morons), and deliver what they want to hear.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  17. Goaty McCheese

    St. Nick was a Greek. Kris Kringle was a German. So we can be pretty sure Santa is white.

    Jesus was a Jew. He could have been white or black. Probably he was olivey color.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Jules

      Except St. Nicholas was from an area which at the time was Greek , is now actually Turkey. So he most likely was olive or darker skinned

      December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
      • Buck

        And are they more White or more Penguin?

        December 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  18. blakenaustin

    Why is this even a news item? More far left PC nonsense from the good folks at CNN.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Groucho Marxist

      So the Fox story is actually a far-left CNN story.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • SgtLemongrab

      It's news because it's astounding how bigoted and ignorant Fox News can be sometimes, and us educated people like to have a good laugh every now and then.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  19. Vince

    Jesus never existed but Santa is real.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  20. publicdole

    I'll call them any race I choose. You want to argue with my second amendment rights. Try it!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • .


      December 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • skarphace

      Ok, fine. You have the right to own a gun. I don't know what that has to do with the current issue, but whatever, just don't shoot me.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Owl96

      Just wait until Santa sues you for calling him white. But please, someone tell me what color the elves are.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:14 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.