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. cruzkit

    Jesus could have been "Arab/Middle Eastern looking" a soft brown color of skin.

    Santa is white because he was made for the white market.

    Does it matter? Yes. Will it change anything? No.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Methinkthis

      Jesus was Jewish, he would have been similar to Middle Eastern Sephardic Jews of today. St Nick, aka Santa Claus, is definitely European but probably more like Greek/Italian than Swedish/North German. Jesus spent a lot of time outside so it would be expected that he would be 'suntanned'. The real question is why is anybody upset about this and what difference does it make? As St Nick became Santa Claus he has morphed in to many cultures so it would be expected that he would appear similar to those cultures. Of course, that would presume to be the majority skin color for the culture. So a South African Santa would probably be black as most places south of the Sahara. In California he might be Hispanic. In general in the USA he would be white but that is a generalization. Santa can be any color that meets the needs of the neighborhood, whatever floats your boat. Lets remember that while the modern day Santa has roots in St Nicklaus lore he has been morphed into a commercialized 'give me, give me' target for kids. Really, since he is fictional he can be any color. Perhaps, taking from a Star Trek episode, he should be striped in red, white, black, brown and yellow and nobody will be left out. Of course, we could just all act like adults and move on to something of more importance. Things like does the potential of a good justify aborting our long protected right to privacy? Should we return to a time when honor was paramount and any public official caught in a lie would resign? Have we downgraded our intellect and common sense to the point that we need a centralized federal government telling us what to eat, how to dress, that we have to buy health insurance covering things we don't want or need protection for, etc. ? When does that debt get high enough that we would prefer spending cut vs increasing middle and lower class taxes which Obamacare essentially does? Should three leaders of countries do a selfie during a memorial service? Oh, sorry sunk back into the muck again, we thought they actually personally cared. Perhaps, on the Santa thing, maybe it would be worthy to discuss whether the concept of Santa and what the Christmas season has morphed into is good or bad for our society, you know other than the fact that retail sales have become dependent upon the season, which it hasn't always been? What was the reason for this season?

      December 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  2. Fox News showed ignorance

    Fox News has total disrespect to other races by not punishing the racist anchor or even apologizing. It clearly shows the racist culture in Fox News. This is the same racist mentality that led hitler to massacre Jews and the same racist mentality that led to enslavement of blacks. Jesus geographically was not white or colored eyes. He was a Palestinian and had black features and dark skin as all in that region.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • lol??

      Hitler was such a devious socie that even ol' Joe Kennedy even LUVED even him.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • Satan Claws

        Such exceptional English. You must be 'Merican.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  3. dreamhunk

    one of links did not work riposting it

    December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Nathan

      Jesus (Yeshua bin Joseph) was NOT black, although it would not bother me if he was. He was a Middle Eastern Semite and probably looked like today's Palestinians, Arabs, etc. If Jesus was from Midian (Sudan, Somalia, NE Africa, etc), then it could be argued that he was black. But, he was born in Nazareth around September of 5 BC), a few miles north of Jerusalem. It is currently in Palestine (West Bank), and is predominately Muslim, but Christians (around 30%) also live there.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  4. LoveJesusChrist

    We know by historians that Jesus Christ walked the earth to say otherwise is ignorant and has not done research.

    Jesus Christ was defenetly borned into a Jewish family. There is a description of Jesus Christ color of his body in the New Testament and old testament when he is in Heaven. Many will be surprised of his color.

    Seek Jesus Christ in your life so you can be saved, no one lives forever and when you die you will have to atone for your sins, without Jesus Christ as your savior you are guilty of all your sins and the law says you are guilty of death in eternal hell. But those who got to know Jesus Christ and believed in his name will be saved because Jesus Christ been innocent paid with his life on the Cross for all your sins so that all who believe in Jesus Christ will not perish and have eternal life with the Father in heaven.

    Jesus Christ loves you unconditionaly and His desire is for all to live but you have to accept his payment for you by believing in him.

    Don't let fear of men who don't care for you keep you from knowing Jesus Christ, Jesus who wants to save you and means well for you.

    Free online Bible: Biblegateway dot com
    Search book of John and start getting to know Christ. 🙂

    December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Mopery

      Your post is proof that reading the same book over and over again does not make you literate...

      December 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • niknak

      Phuck that.
      The guy did not even exist, so all you wrote is just your own personal delusion.

      A mind is a terrible thing to lose, to religion.......

      December 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Noel

      Are you loving Jesus Christ by telling people they will be "guilty of death in eternal hell"? Is that what Jesus said to do? Or did he say to comfort one another? Please stop spreading lies.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  5. niknak

    Oh the dreaded war on xtianity and xmas.
    Will these atheists and ACLU types ever stop?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • sly

      We own ya boy, so we ain't stoppin' til all the fun is over.

      Get used to it! Yup, 'history' is war?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Eve

      You just took Christ out of Christianity and Christmas.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  6. Spade

    Santa is whatever color dad is...

    December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Laurie J

      Best response I've read so far!

      December 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Now you've done it! Mom's are going to be upset with you!!

      December 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • Truth

        Maybe some – but not all of us. That's part of the problem – "Dad" was a word he used to convey a message regarding the parent(s) – why get so bent over words. I'm a mother and a nana – I was also dad in many regards. I took my oldest son deer hunting when his rat dad left us and skipped state, coached little league and taught my kids to fish...

        December 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          I'm not bent over anything, other than perhaps not conveying humour very well. I originally was going to write "single moms" but decided not to ignore moms who carry a big load even when there is a dad present. I guess this proof that one must be very careful how one writes anything.

          December 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Truth

      Totally agree!!

      December 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG


      December 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  7. gray area

    None of us are actually black or white or red or...but different shades of brown.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  8. white as snow

    The Pope is also white of like Saint Nicholas of the white European archaeological classified caucasoid Shem race the same as Jesus who was a jew . of the Shem race like all arabs.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  9. sb

    Jesus was born to his mother and father (both Jews). He was born in Jerusalem which is in Israel and Palestine(if they didn't lose it to the Jews). Jesus was the son of people in the Arabian region and most probably looked Middle-Eastern. Fox news is not real news, its mostly fake news and many people believe what is fake over what is true, like they believe that Jesus is white.
    In truth Jesus was born for all people in this world, irrespective of any color, and if you were not perfect, you were held closer byJesus. That's why Jesus always ridiculed the self-righteous pompous people like Fox news and the rich, but chose to be with the sick, the Gentiles and those who were put away by society. If Jesus were here today, a typical news by Fox report would be, "Jesus is preaching Socialism to the black, asians, immigrants, prisoners and the poor. He is a terrorist"

    December 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • sarge325

      So, you agree with Megyn Kelly that Jesus was a Caucasian (everyone of the middle-east is), and then you slam her for "fake news"?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  10. blow Sarah blow

    Is this not the same woman that told Leno she was a straight news anchor not an opinion news head. How anyone can watch Fox news and their bigotry and hate to others not "white" is beyond me, and her comment sounds like an opinion to me.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • sarge325

      She is a straight new anchor. Where do get bigotry and hate out of her factually stating the racial background of someone born to Jewish parents 2,000 years ago? There is no value judgment in recognizing that Jesus was Caucasian. If you are a Christian, you believe he came for all people, even though his physical form happened to be Caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
      • Truth

        Crazy thought here – if Jesus existed and he was the son of God – could he not have appeared to each individual in their own color of race? It's God right – miracles and such. I told my children this when they were small – he was the color of the person looking at him for salvation. Personally, I don't care one way or another.

        December 13, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  11. WWJD

    Who cares what color Jesus was, all I care is that He died on the Cross for me. How long will the topic of color or race be an issue?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Stu Pididiot

      Cool story bro

      December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  12. John B

    Jesus is not white, He is a Jew. He is not a WASP.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • sarge325

      She didn't say he was a WASP. She said he was Caucasian (undeniably true), which we today colloquially refer to as "white." The Jewish people are "white." You can be of any race or ethnicity and convert to Judaism, but the Jewish people from Jesus' time were all Caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  13. catori Shadi

    Someone oughta tell them in that part of the world, Jesus probably looked a lot like this http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lze1fgUC2P1qzozj1.jpg

    December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  14. crakkka

    Can't blacks create something for themselves instead of making white things and making them black..???

    December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • .

      Can't you die, you racist pig?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  15. Clemdane

    I've never thought Jesus was white. But I do think Santa Claus is.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  16. Peter

    Why does it matter what color Jesus was he has been dead for almost 2000 years now.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  17. RangerDOS

    Well I've heard that people make god into their own image...

    December 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  18. Peter B.

    FACT: Middle Easterners and the Jewish people (Israelis) are Caucasian.

    If "white" to you means "caucasian," then yes, for all intents and purposes, Jesus was WHITE, just like the other Jewish people and just like the rest of Middle East.

    Please research this for yourselves.
    Caucasian includes people that come from Europe, West, Central, and South Asia (Middle East), and Northern Africa.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • denver

      In the contemporary American usage, Asian people are not white. You're reaching.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Thinker

      Jews are actually Semetic, like many (not all) middle easterners. He was not "white" nor "black" but tan and did not have blue eyes.
      Santa, on the other hand, was German I believe making him "caucasian."

      December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Thinker

      Try telling some of the extreme, crazy Christians that Jews are white. I was labeled as Jew being my raced and having white crossed out after I told them my religious affiliation. Crazy.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • sarge325

      Peter B., exactly correct. Denver, Peter was referring to a portion of Asia that is the Middle-East. Yes, it has historically been populated by Caucasians. Thinker, the Semitic Middle-Eastern people are Caucasian. It isn't a color. It is a racial classification. today, we generally refer to Caucasians as "white," even though the skin tone of Caucasians varies greatly.

      None of this matters. There is only one actual race, humans. These distinctions we've come up with are insignificant. But the CNN story is about slamming Megyn Kelly for saying something that is factually correct. Those criticizing her are flat out wrong.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  19. JCM

    Look up Saint Nicholas in Wikipedia: Greek (probably most likely Caucasion). Look up Sinterklaas in Wikipedia: Northern European (probably even more likely to be Caucasion). Zwarte Piet (black) not celebrated here. Look up Santa Claus in Wikipedia: combined the afore mentioned w/ Odin and Father X-mas and various other European traditions (thus probably most likely Caucasion. Just let the guy be a white guy. Can't a white guy give gifts to other ethnicities?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  20. Chase Freeley

    I believe myself to be a follower of Jesus. That being said, if one picks up a history book or understands regions and ethnicity. It becomes obvious that Jesus was not a white man. It does not make the word any less believable, in fact it brings it closer to Christianity's true origins to see him this way.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • headlessthompsongunner

      You, Chase, have committed the greatest sin in modern Christendom... the sin of thinking about stuff and making your own decisions. No doubt you are destined for the fiery furnace.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:39 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.