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. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Peter Griffin: "Shut up Meg."

    Or in this case "Megyn".

    December 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  2. Baalzabarber

    Pretty sure St Nick is white since he's from the North Pole.
    But that other guy... no idea. He could be black

    December 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  3. Gorfian Empire

    Megyn, Megyn, Megyn... Santa doesn't exist. And I'm really sorry to be the one who has to break it to you, but Jesus doesn't exist either. There was no zombie Jesus who rose from the grave and all that other stuff.

    The question that looms before us is not the skin color of these mythical characters, it's whether people who actually believe that they exist and make decisions that affect others based on those beliefs should be allowed to do that and still hold jobs such as political offices, judicial benches, and teachers.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  4. Paris Miller

    Who gives a crap about this ? People with small brains and small thoughts that's WHO 🙁 Don"t we have more important things to do ?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  5. Logic

    Arabs are considered Caucasion. Arabs are not Black, Hispanic, Asian.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  6. Phil

    Everything in existence can be broken down into mathematical equations and computer like code that work just perfect and if one line of code or one equation is removed, the entire thing crashes. Hmm.. I'd like to see what outrageous claims can be made for the entire universe happening by ACCIDENT and somehow putting everything together in a mathematical and computer like programming code way!! I think this fact alone proves intelligent design. I've never seen any computer program even as simple as a calculator come into existence by itself without an intelligent designer behind it.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • That guy

      Just because something like the universe is bigger then you and has order and chaos that creates balance doesn't mean to think that their is a intelligent designer. The Bible is flawed and not in balance so with that said the intelligent designer of the Bible is not God but a Bi-Polar human being who can't make his mind up to destroy everything or love you.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
      • Phil

        LOL! So you are a person who believes 1+1=7!! Math CAN'T lie or be manipulated. By your logic, then our computers should be spawning new life forms pretty much all the time. The evidence is clear that everything has been designed. The likelihood of everything we see coming into perfect order can be compared to a person playing the lotto every week and winning it EVERY TIME for 80 years by choosing the exact correct numbers.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
        • Asimov

          Yes. We did win the lottery. We would not have been here to witness losing the lottery otherwise.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • redzoa

      Maybe the universe is the just the result of some pre-existing order. While this could be an intelligent designer, it might be the result of one of the infinite other unknown causes. No way to really know. Then there's the question of what designed the intelligent designer? Of course theists respond it's eternal and causeless, but that's just an argument by definitional fiat; a definitional fiat which could be applied to any other explanation.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • Asimov

      If you were to take the time to study an introductory course of biology, and specifically how DNA developed and what it mechanically does in interacting with other parts of the cell, you would probably be able to understand why people can hold the opposite view. Complex cell life doesn't exist because it was designed to exist, it exists as a result of a self repeating chemical reaction that had the right conditions and material nearby to propagate. If people made the watch, and god made people, then you must also infer that something made god, and something made that something. The much simpler explanation is that things are the way they are because it is what worked.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  7. Norm

    An imaginary being can be any color you choose.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  8. redzoa

    "Hey, you know something people?
    I'm not black,
    But there's a whole lots a times
    I wish I could say I'm not white."

    -F. Zappa

    December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  9. Victor

    Let me make the argument a lot simpler: Jesus Christ is a made up figure who did not exist.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  10. Ghostonefour

    Let me get this straight... Santa Clause, who was invented by the Germans from a Byzantine legend, St. Nicholas who was definately a greek and white, is racist for not being black? And Jesus who was born in Israel to atleast one Jewish person, and I am looking at Israeli's and I don't see many sons of Abraham who are black... I am seeing only whites... why would anyone think he wasn't white? Is it because Arabs have dark skin? Do people realize that when the Mongols invaded the middle east, they turned the nations brown... before that, the babylonians, Egyptians, Philistines, Israeli's Byzantines, were all White and extremely GREEK?!??! How is it racist to call Jesus and Santa white? At the very least, calling them anything else is racist.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • ......

      What are you smoking?

      December 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
      • Ghostonefour

        Seriously? Thats all you have? My statements are verifiable though any history book that goes back prior to the mongol invasion of the Middle East. Whites dominated Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. You can ask the Greek Conquerers Alexander the Great and the Persians Darius, and Xerxes how white their nations were. Read a book.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  11. Chris

    Oh no 🙁 what color is the tooth fairy? What breed is the Easter Bunny? Is cupid really that small? This is so ridiculous.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • crakkka

      White. Like teeth ..

      Unless you have black teeth

      December 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • That guy

      The tooth fairy is a transgender male.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  12. leedogg

    so what's next? Are people going to argue that smurfs arent really blue or the grinch wasnt green?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  13. abbydelabbey

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    Jesus was Jewish. A Semite. Not lily white nor blond nor blue-eyed. Probably dark skinned and with dark hair and eyes.

    Faux news and truth is an oxymoron.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  14. Jay Dee Are

    Fact 1: The Bible says God created man in his own image.
    Fact 2: Archaeology tells us that the earliest humans were black.
    Conclusion 1: God is black.
    Fact 3: The Bible says Jesus was the son of God and Jesus's mother was Mary of Nazareth, a Jewish woman, likely olive-skinned.
    Conclusion 2: Jesus was biracial (black father, olive-skinned Jewish mother).

    Can any one name another, currently prominent, biracial person?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • abbydelabbey

      Good point.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Jerome Iginla.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Ken


      December 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  15. Linds

    Why does his skin color matter? His deeds, death and resurrection should really be all that matters. We are so ready to find any topic and start arguing about it; just for the sake of arguing! If you want to know who Christ was read about his charity don't stress over his race.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • abbydelabbey

      He also cared about the poor and had a definitely distaste for the Pharisees and Sadducees who were so hung up on the "law" and "conservative" values

      December 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  16. BW

    CNN is looking more and more like FOX. Kind of sad.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  17. PJ

    Who cares what color Jesus was. He certainly wasn"t Blond and Blue Eyed. He was a Jew!!!!! And probably was a handsome man. Nevertheless, he represented all of the human race and can be portrayed as White, Black, Brown, or Yellow. It doesn't matter Personally as a white northern european blond man I don't like to see images of Him like me because of the crazy Fundamentalists here in the USA.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  18. jonline

    The woman is an idiot

    December 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  19. crakkka

    What next....? Interracial Adam And Eve too..???

    December 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Hill

      Adam and Eve never existed, there are too many pre-Neanderthal hominoids to say we came from one couple. Remember dinosaurs were on the earth 200 mill. years before humans.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  20. ElreyJones

    Since the writer of this article is a typical racist Jew, I could care less what the article says. Ashkenazi Jews are white and many are pearl white. They are different from the Sephardic Jew. Middle Easterners are Europeans cousins. We Europeans came through the Middle East thousands of years ago and many of them and many of us have went back and forth. We are both greatly different than the Sub-Saharan African who is different than Middle Easterners or Europeans in many ways. While I'm certainly Christian, in no way do I believe in Jewish Supremacy. The bible is greatly flawed, written by unarticulate and racially supremacist Jews. Why is it flawed? It is flawed in far too many ways to discuss here. It condoned genocide, slavery, deceit. It puts murderers and filthy rich people on a throne. It is obvious that its teachings cause global discourse and wars. But it has a greater beauty than any other religion I know of. Why? Jesus. Anyone living by his teachings is a blessing to society.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:24 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.