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. Concerned Citizen

    No of course Jesus was black, Santa was black, Socrotes was black, St.Paul was black, King Arthur was black, there are no Asians and Whites (the irony) anyways Merry Christmas everyone!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Vickie

      Don't you just love the people that try to rewrite history to align with their bs. It's astounding...

      December 14, 2013 at 12:21 am |
      • Bill

        Yes I do! You must also be referring to the way your ancestors rewrote history to make Jesus white! #GetEducated #You'reIgnorant

        December 14, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  2. JC

    Missing in this discussion is the original letter, written by a black woman, who said that Santa was a melanin-deficient, fat old white guy. The most racist person in this story is her, not Kelly.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • ironman59

      That portrail, particularly in America is very accurate. However the original St. Nicklaus was not of "white" decent. The most absurd part is to say that someone 2000 years ago from the middle east would be white is a joke. Today, yes because of intermixing it is more likely. However at the timeframe of these fairytales this person would have been darker skinned or could have been nearly black. Again just another clueless drone.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • Rollo Tomasi

      Just had to flat out lie, didn't you. There is a link to the blog up in the story, and as anyone can see, it never says "melanin-deficient, fat old white guy." Not even close. Here is the link if you like:


      Don't you just hate it when you make an idiot out of yourself like that?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
      • JC

        The article clearly states "melanin-deficient Santa remains the default" and "I propose that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man" So my original point remains: the most racist person is the author Aisha Harris and not Kelly. But, given your response, Rollo, you are certainly in the running...

        December 14, 2013 at 1:03 am |
  3. Miguel Caron

    Yeah, Jesus was white – he was Arabic/Hebrew which is a member of the Caucasoid family tree. Not like he really was the son of god or anything so the only people who really care are those with an agenda to push.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Tracy

      He may have been a caucasian, but he wasn't "white". He was most likely olive-skinned to very dark with dark hair. Many Hebrews of the time were black, btw.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  4. joeblow

    What is the point of debating the color of a fictional character?. That is like asking if Santa Claus was white, or if the tooth fairy is gay.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  5. josh

    black people need to get over themselves. who cares what color people, only the black people do.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Keith Schaeffer

      That's odd, because the person who seems to have a problem with a black Jesus is the white woman who brought it up in the first place. Maybe she needs to get over herself.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  6. chaoticidealism

    Jesus was Jewish; St. Nicholas was Greek. Can we stop arguing now?

    December 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  7. planetyash2

    jesus was most probably a brown skinned Arab .... that's how the people looked in the region. White didn't live there.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • Ben Gleck

      Arab is actually a linguistic group, not an ethnicity, so Jesus wasn't an Arab. Iranians aren't Arab either. But yes, your basic point is correct, Jesus would have had a very similar skin tone that was not white.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  8. john

    Jesus was a Jew, and quite obviously, we don't know what he looked like. That does nothing to change who he was. Santa can be black, white or green for all I care. I find no problem with young black kids imagining a black Santa. If that makes things more special to them at Christmas, that's great.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  9. And now, time for some Christmas music!

    Happy Kwanza!


    December 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • Satan Claws


      December 13, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • Tracy

      LOVE IT!

      December 13, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
  10. Snow

    The debate is moot as one must first exist to have had physical characteristics. The things we will discuss to escape reality.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  11. thenakedpolitico

    so let me get this straight, all of these liberals in their dismissel of racism,have all found a way to make santa and christ more black? they havn't dismissed the race issue?they've encouraged it? does this tell anybody but me,where the real racism is?

    December 13, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • Wally Wally

      Apparently the hamster was running back and forth across the keyboard and posted that. I mean, nobody actually has writing skills that bad, right?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
    • tim

      yes real racism is Fox news

      December 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  12. Enjoy your new police state, sheep

    This truly is a nation of idiots.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
    • Ben Gleck

      You are right at home then.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
      • Enjoy your new police state, sheep

        Truth hurts, eh clover-boy?

        December 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
        • Ben Gleck

          Sometimes truth does hurt, but I haven't encountered any from you yet.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
        • Enjoy your new police state, sheep

          Fair enough.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • Eyen Stein

      Jesus was a brown Jew from the Middle East you nincompoops. And he and all those guys that wrote the Bible could be smelled from half a mile away. Their hygiene was horrible in that culture (and only slightly better now). They all smelled like dirty sweaty socks!

      December 13, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  13. APO_AE_09173

    OK Silly People...
    Santa is white because he is the MYTHICAL beings based on an HISTORICAL CAUCASIAN Catholic Priest. SANTA is a European tradition brought to the USA by WHITE Europeans.
    AS for the HISTORICAL Christ he was born of a "FAIR"–Caucasian with a great tan. (No SPF 50 in the year 1)

    The nonsense of this discussion is overwhelmingly out of control. I do not change the color of Native American "mythical beings" or deities, I certainly do not change the depictions of African traditional religious representations.

    Why is there an incessant need to change mine?

    December 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • tim

      fox news

      December 13, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  14. Rip

    Since Jesus came from the Middle East, he probably had olive colored skin. He was not "white" in the context of what we think of as those who descended from Europe. He was an Arab. There's no way he was white like, say, Pat Robertson.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  15. Errol

    Does it really matter what color, when we're talking about fictional characters?

    December 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  16. Zadergast

    Being white or east Asian is associated with a higher IQ. So no wonder Jesus and Santa were white and not black.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  17. Hermann von Bodenstein

    Next those who say Santa is black will probably claim Mohammed was peaceful.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Anna

      he was peaceful not sure about his followrs..next people will ask if the popes were peaceful oh wait the Spanish inquisition was a peaceful affair right?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
      • tim

        yes it was very peaceful

        December 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
      • Hermann von Bodenstein

        Cute. Mohammed was the founder of islam, the popes were not (it was jesus in case u don't know). So there's probably quite a difference between a violent prophet and violent popes.

        And BTW, the fact that you claim Mohammed was peaceful tells me that you either have no clue when it comes to islam or are totally deluded. I let you pick, honey.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
        • tim

          honey I only know what Fox news tells me so u pick

          December 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
        • Bill

          You have to be one of the most ignorant subhuman beings EVER! #GetEducated #YouCan'tBeThatStupid

          December 14, 2013 at 1:25 am |
    • secrtsqurl

      Or white.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  18. Ken

    So there's seriously people who think Santa and Jesus were black?? Next they will probably think Sponge Bob is real. Amazing to see how much stupidity there is in the US, especially on the left.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
    • Oh Ken

      You're the one talking about Santa as if he is real.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
      • Anna

        FOX NEWS say santa is real so it must be who dare deny Fox News

        December 13, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
      • Satan Claws

        And of course the mindless, d!ckless lunatics on the right who believe Jesus to be lily-white with blond hair.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
        • Hermann von Bodenstein

          Satan Claws, It is not about whether he was white or brown, but about whether he was black and that he was most likely not. It is more likely that Nelson Mandela was white since there are many white people living in South Africa. According to your non-existent 'logic'.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
      • Hermann von Bodenstein

        Santa is based on a real person, Saint Nicolaus, who lived in the eastern Rome empire, today Turkey. So that makes him more real than Sponge Bob or Obama's birth certificate. LOL

        December 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
        • Ben Gleck

          And that means the villa at the North Pole, the flying reindeer and the elves are real too. Nice thinking, brainiac.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
        • tim

          yes and the red nose raindeers and all how cute 🙂

          December 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
        • tim

          sorry I stand corrected, just checked FOX news and yes he was real

          December 13, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
      • thenakedpolitico

        there was a real st. nick that grew into the legend of santa claus...which is what kelly and others are reffering to.does africa have nobody like this?

        December 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • James

      Yeah seriously. Next thing you know those left wing nut jobs might want you to learn a thing or two about why peoples skin has the pigmentation it does! Its not like its an evolutionary response to the amount of UV radiation you are exposed to! Please do a simple google search on ethnicity and skin pigmentation before commenting on a topic that you are very poorly equiped to tackle.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
      • tim

        left wing google search? nah stick to FOX NEWS knoweth of all

        December 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
    • You

      You have escaped again?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Pete

      Why do you feel the need to defend such a moronic comment as that made by the Fox commentator?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
      • Josh

        What is exactly moronic about that statement?

        December 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  19. zale

    don't matter what color of skin he had, he loved and taught tolerance

    December 13, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Russ

      @ zale: you might want to read the Gospels themselves. you will find Jesus to be exceptionally intolerant of certain things (read Mt.23, for example).

      December 13, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
      • Of course

        very little is known about the authorship of the gospels

        December 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
        • Russ

          @ of course:
          as compared to... what? when contrasted with other ancient docu.ments, there is an "embarrassing wealth of resources" available to biblical scholars – including authorship.

          here's a brief overview article on the topic:

          December 14, 2013 at 12:10 am |
      • Anna

        yes things like FOX NEWS!

        December 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
      • Ben Jordan

        Im no biblical scholar, I couldnt quote the chapter you referenced, so I looked it up. Matthew 23 lays out why he despises the Pharisees, but in verse 37 He says he has often longed to help the children of Jerusalem. The children of the Pharisees. Not hurt them. Sounds like love and tolerance to me. I dont consider myself a christian anymore, however I dont discount the good in Christ's message. It's what people have done to that message that is a problem.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
        • Trevor

          If my first reply didn't take...sounds let you let men dictate your decision not to follow Christ? Really?

          December 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
        • Russ

          @ Ben: in Mt.23 Jesus is incredibly intolerant of hypocrites – namely the religious conservatives of his day (people like me). he is angry that they think they are better than other people, when in fact they need a savior just as much (if not more since they are blind to their need) than those they looked down upon.

          but the point remains: Jesus is intolerant of certain things. but who could love someone and tolerate watching that person destroy themselves? in short, love necessarily is intolerant of certain things. to tolerate everything is to be unloving – if not outright hateful in some cases.

          December 14, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • Harry kloth

      Jesus was totally intolerant of people who were not his toadies.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  20. Lakers

    FOX NEWS was covering his birth live so they know...trust me FOX NEWS knows everything it is the eternal treasure trove of endless enlightment

    December 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • Anna


      December 13, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156
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.