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. Virginian John

    There is only one race; the human race. All human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Racism is a plague on all of humanity.

    “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:9)
    "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
    "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24)
    "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” (1 John 2:9)
    "For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11)
    "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

    December 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  2. T

    Actually the bible states that Jesus had bronze skin and hair like wool. That sounds like a person of color to me...

    December 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • dave

      Wool, not brillo - Bronze is a tan - everyone in the Middle east has bronze skin. Jesus was a descendant of King David- on his step father's side - if that makes any sense

      December 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
      • Grant

        Yeah, and black people are just really tanned. Nice thinking, brainiac.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
      • T

        And I said a person of color not black.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  3. dave

    "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" Dumbo, two of the Gospels begin with a long genealogy to trace Jesus back to King David. Jesus was a Jew who probably looked very much like everyone else in Galilee

    December 13, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • sameold

      Read closely the Book of Revelations, where Jesus is described as having, "hair like wool and his feet the color of burned grass."

      December 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  4. dave

    Jesus was profiled by the police and received capital punishment for nothing - Jesus was obviously black

    December 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  5. And regardless of whether he was cooked up or not

    there's plenty of reason to question the story...

    A speech by Bart Ehrman at Stanford about the story behind who changed the bible and why and the history of the bible and how they got tainted. He is a former Christian bible scholar who studied the bible and found the mistakes and became an agnostic.

    This speech is a must see for christians who ask questions like:
    Who wrote the gospels?
    Is the bible the word of God?
    Are there contradictions?
    Does the bible contain errors?
    Is there evidence or proof?


    Dr. Ehrman, author of over 25 books including three college text books, received his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary (magna cum laude). He is currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Dr. Erhman just concluded an all-day seminar entitled "The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus Outside the New Testament" which was held Dec. 7 at Smithsonian Institution's S. Dillon Ripley Center on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Lenny Kravitz


      Atheists turned Christian.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
      • I hear fussin from the peanut gallery

        LOL – Yale lawyer turned preacher.

        I think we can trust Dr. Ehrman over this clown on Biblical scholarship.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
      • Youtube - "Context!!!!!"

        I sure wish he had presented some evidence.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • Tammo

      Hey, brainiac: nowhere does the bible claim to be god's word.
      In contrast, as someone else already stated here, the koran does claim to be god's word. Too bad it is full of mistakes:
      The koran claims the earth is flat, the sun turns around it and sets in a muddy spring at sunset and has to ask for permission to rise in the morning. Or mountains were built to prevent earthquakes and semen comes from between the ribs and the spine...

      So no matter how many vids you keep posting here, Christianity does not claim the bible is god's word so get a life and focus on the koran instead because there, you would at least have a point. But again, you're probably too politically correct to question that which wouldn't surprise me.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  6. Carl

    The koran says mohammed was white.

    It also says he was a slave owner.

    He sold 2 black slave for the price of 1 Arab slave because he thought blacks were worth less.

    He said blacks have lower intelligence and called them rascals.

    Now go choke on it, you leftist bigots. and hypocrites.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Dr. Jensen K. Miller

      Koran does not say that... Koran is word of god not written by man so how did mohammed's deeds get in the Koran? have u read the Koran or just spreading hate? idiots like you are so obviously identifiable with nonsense and ignorance.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
      • Carl

        I have read the koran and parts of the hadiths and you are way out of line.
        1st of all, the koran is not god's word as mohammed was a criminal fraud. The koran is full of mistakes and there are different, older versions of it; so the claim that it is god's unchanged word is not correct.

        2. Mohammed was white.:"The Prophet rode and Abu Talha rode too and I was riding behind Abu Talha. The Prophet passed through the lane of Khaibar quickly and my knee was touching the thigh of the Prophet . He uncovered his thigh and I saw the whiteness of the thigh of the Prophet. " Sahih Bukhari 1:8:367

        3. Mohammed sold 2 black slaves for an Arab: "Book 010, Number 3901:

        Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledg- ed allegiance to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man)" Hadith Muslim Book 010, Number 3901:

        4.Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said to Abu-Dhar, "Listen and obey (your chief) even if he is an Ethiopian with a head like a raisin." Sahih Bukhari 1:11:664

        December 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
        • robert

          hitler was white too correct?

          December 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
        • Carl

          @Robert. Yeah. Hitler and Mohammed have a lot in common: both mass murdered Jews and gays, killed those who disagree and wanted to dominate the world and subjugate everyone else with violence.
          At least Hitler didn't hate women, Hindus and Buddhists.

          Islam is worse thanfascism.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
      • Carl


        “Mohammad ... "This white man reclining on his arm." *Bukhari Vol 1 Book 3 No. 63;

        Mohammed was a white supremacist: "Arabs are the best of people, and allah’s true message is only in Arabic." Koran 3.110

        In Islam, being black is associated with burning in hell:

        "And on the Day of Resurrection you will see those who lied against Allah –their faces WILL BE BLACK. Is not in hell an abode for the arrogant? " Koran 39.60

        Mohammad equates Satan with a black person:
        "I have heard that it was of him that the apostle said , "Whoever wants to see SATAN let him take a look at Nabtal b. al-Harith!" He was a sturdy BLACK man with long flowing hair, inflamed eyes, and dark ruddy cheeks. He used to come and talk to the apostle and listen to him and then carry what he had said to the hypocrites. "Sirat Rasul’allah 243 re Natal b.al-Harith.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
        • Fank

          and your point is? Several Popes were white and they did not stop the Spanish inquisition.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
        • Carl

          Well, Fank, the popes are not the founders of Christianity, Jesus was. He preached peace, love and forgiveness.
          In contrast, Mohammed preached hatred, intolerance, violence, slavery, child abuse etc.

          I guess it is en vogue these days to defend everyone and everything, just as long it has got nothing to do with being white or Christian; hypocrites like you are the best evidence.

          I cannot take people like you seriously.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
      • Tammo

        Jensen K. Miller stands out for making nonsensical comments.
        His "Dr." doesn't make him more "sensical". LOL. Maybe he should go read the koran before he tries to chime in because Dr. Jensen K. Miller has no point.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Stephan R. Gordon Jr. II

      what chapter of the Koran says that? I am yet to find it or you have your own version if it? I have read the Koran many times as well as the bible and the torah what have u read Fox news?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • David Reese

      interesting... which Koran is this you speak of? was it written by someone in Texas?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  7. dave

    Jesus was Jewish, by his mom. Nothing in the Bible says Jesus looked different than any of the other people who lived in Galilee and Jerusalem at the time.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • .

      So they must have all been blonde and blue eyed?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  8. Lou

    I always hated the term race when describing the physical variety of our species, much like the differences between dogs and cats. I think of us as one race. I motivated myself by owning my part of this reality. To be a positive and help promote the human continuum...

    December 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • sonnie3

      You have made me think that you are sure on the right track. God loves us all.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • lol??

      Not to worry. God says your complete suicidal impulse won't succeed.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  9. Just blaze

    Santa is, white cause he's fake. Jesus, peace and blessing be upon Him, is a Prophet of Allah.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
  10. Rodents for Romney

    Jesus never existed. No one can prove he did. There are many reasons to think he was cooked up.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • pbernasc

      of course Jesus is pure mental onanism .. DUH!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Lenny Kravitz

      I saw a youtube video that said he was real.

      Flip a coin?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
  11. Carl

    No wonder CNN's viewer numbers are plunging and Fox's are rising. I am tired of this pseudo-intellectual hatred coming from CNN and MSNBC.

    And yeah, Jesus and Santa were very obviously white.
    Now go choke on it, you racist bigots.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  12. James George

    No. He's white...and republican. You know, a free market Jesus sent by God to spread the gospel of trickle down economics

    December 13, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  13. Mike Denney

    Jesus was a Jew...so, dark-haired, brown-eyes, ruddy-skinned...that's it. Fox can't see straight for all the blonde hair in there.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  14. Sociopathdoctor ?

    Jesus was a white man in the Middle East, who said he was the son of God.
    While on the cross, he said "Father, have you forsaken me?"
    There was no reply.

    The 2 main religions are from that region of the world (The Middle East).
    80% believe in Allah and 20% believe in Jesus Christ.
    Why do Religious people fight and kill over events that happened thousands of years ago?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • lol??

      No myths from 200K years ago. Maybe you ain't getting smarter.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • David Reese

      the 80% who believe in allah also believe in jeasus as he was also a prophet like Muhammed. However, the 20% who believe in Jeasus do not believe in Muhammed 🙂

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  15. Jon

    His message was more important than his race. He wasn't black and he wasn't white.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • sonnie3


      December 13, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  16. Elsworth

    All the uneducated liberal lDl0TS here just crack me up. None of them seems to know that the guy Santa is based on, Saint Nicholas of Myra, was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey.
    And nope, they're white.

    So was Jesus.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • Free Nuts

      LOL. Deluded twerp.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
      • Miko

        If Jesus and Santa are not white for politically correct reasons, then Nelson Mandela is white for political correct reasons.
        Political correctness goes both ways.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • sonnie3

      Thank You!!

      December 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  17. Jib76


    December 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  18. Cattlelight

    Believe in me. Christ

    December 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  19. Vic

    Whether Jesus in the flesh was white, black or somewhere in between, what matter is that He saves whoever calls upon His name.

    Earlier post:

    December 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Vic

      "...what matters is..."

      December 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
  20. Bible slavery?

    Matt. You do know that Israelis came into being after WW2 right? It's composition was much different prior and is like comparing apples to oranges.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
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About this blog

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.