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. dora

    Jesus (assuming he was a historical figure) would have looked like a Sephardic Jew, i.e., a Jew who stayed in the Middle East. What is there to argue about?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • cjacja

      But you are speaking logically. Using reason and so on. Racists don't think like that. It's really true, they don't. You logic falls on deaf ears

      December 14, 2013 at 12:39 am |
  2. Amaada

    well off-white anyway 🙂

    (and both quite fictional)

    {palm smack the size of Idaho}

    December 14, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  3. peppercorn


    December 14, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  4. Melissa

    ... You do realize that Santa is German according to history. And yes, that makes him white. And jesus was NOT white, he was an arab given the location of the world he was supposedly in. People need to grow up.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • Bill

      Actually Santa was originally from the greeks(not like it matters, cause he's not real)! And Jesus was not anything close to white! #GetEducated

      December 14, 2013 at 12:53 am |
    • dreamhunk

      Really Jesus was an Arab? Show me where in genesis 10 it says Arabs ruled the middle east? when your done show where the ancient Greeks and Romans spoke these great Arabs who knew how to read and write yet had no historian!

      December 14, 2013 at 3:16 am |
    • dreamhunk

      Really Jesus was an Arab? Show me where in genesis 10 it says Arabs ruled the middle east? when your done show where the ancient Greeks and Romans spoke about these great Arabs who knew how to read and write yet had no historian!

      December 14, 2013 at 3:18 am |
  5. Thereal truth

    YOU ARE AN IDOIOT!!!! I love cnn. they are my life. CNN or bust...I always hate war, love taxes, and hate rich people.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  6. The truth

    Fox news is the only real news source. Look at CNN making fun of them.... WOW CNN this isn't even news. This is just one anchor who has had her words twisted by the left media. Thanks though for making this top news cnn...THIS DOESNT MATTER

    December 14, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • Fox "News"

      Apparently the President taking 'selfies' is real news?


      December 14, 2013 at 12:06 am |
      • Really guy?

        CNN reported on the selfie too, buddy:


        December 14, 2013 at 12:25 am |
    • Vickie

      CNN has bad ratings, they are down. Fox news is the highest rated cable news show,so of course they are going to attack them.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • Joe L.

      LOL Fox " news " is most certainly not factual news. They constantly fail fact checking organizations....while CNN, and MSNBC get very high marks for accuracy. Fox news target audience are the most igonorant, uneducated, and uninformed members of our society. .......so please continue to live in your delusional bubble.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • Bill

      You are ignorant. #GetEducated

      December 14, 2013 at 12:57 am |
  7. Saywhat

    So is this really about "jesus & santa being white" or is this about Megyn Kelly kickin' CNN's rear in ratings....hum.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  8. Beth

    CNN becomes more pathetic every day. No wonder their viewer numbers are tanking. Soon they will be as bad as MSNBC.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Concerned Citizen

    With that being said St.Nicolas was a Greek, a European! A Mediterranean European, who probably understood or spoke Hebrew and who probably had olive skin! Therefore still Caucasian, therefore it doesnt matter whether there is a depiction of Nordic Jesus with blond hair/blue eyes or if there is a depiction of a swarthier Jesus the end result is that of a Caucasian one!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • Bill

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

      December 14, 2013 at 1:03 am |
  10. Rick777

    Even St Paul had his share of racial profiling
    Acts 21:38 Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?"

    December 13, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • Allen

      4000 terrorist? Was he muslim? Hehehe

      December 13, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
      • Rick777

        No They just mistook St. Paul for a muslim ha haha

        December 14, 2013 at 12:03 am |
  11. Allen

    Next they will claim Mohammed was peaceful. LOL!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  12. Malibuchick

    One of the people they are fighting over rides in a sled pulled by fling reindeer...

    December 13, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  13. Concerned Citizen

    Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Italians (aka Romans) are all Mediterranean Caucasians not Nordic but still nevertheless Caucasian! Just because they have swarthy skin and dark hair does not mean theyre not "white", because as everyone is well aware theyre not Asiatic nor are they Black African! Therefore Jesus Christ a Jewish man living in the Roman (Italian) Levant was no different than those Gentiles who were Mediterranean in features the difference was that he was a Jew, belonging to a Semitic-ethno-religious group. But was he black? Of course not! We dont even know if Sub-Saharan slavery existed at the Roman times and even if it did, it was not as severe as the Arab Islamic slavery or the Atlantic slavery.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Eric

      It's funny how you all throw around Caucasian to include all these other groups of people to support your ridiculous argument that Jesus was somehow "defacto" white since was was a Jew/Palestine/Arabic/Hebrew/etc. when, in fact, when you speak of Caucasian of today, you exclude all other races who are not Ayrian/Anglo Saxon. The way Jesus is described according to the Bible is consistent with people of color. He is definitely not a white person as currently depicted by Anglo Saxons like the Fox News host.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:39 am |
      • Eric

        Oh and yes Jesus was black as all humans are black since all humans are descendants of Blacks. It is scientific truth that the earliest humans derived from Ethiopia; a region dominated by people of color

        December 14, 2013 at 12:42 am |
        • Disciple of Eris

          Then I want my reparations for being forced to leave Africa 200,000 years ago and causing my people to lose our pigment and rhythm.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:05 am |
    • Bill

      I'm so sorry your parents raised you to be so ignorant. #You'reSad

      December 14, 2013 at 1:08 am |
  14. ARonHenry

    Jesus is not even a verifiable historical figure. There is absolutely no record of him outside of the Bible itself. He's no more historical than say Tom Joad. But there were people like Tom Joad that were very real and historical as I am sure there were people like Jesus that were real. But to call him a verifiable historical figure in false. He is no more historical than Santa Claus.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • West Coast Conservative

      About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
      – Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63

      December 14, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  15. carol williams

    fox news said it so must be the truth!

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

      Absolutely...glad that you agree. At least they report the news are aren't afraid to say anything bad about King Obama. CNN and MSNBC have become too bias and it shows. Megan Kelly is an intelligent commentator and treats people with dignity and respect. Look at Chris Matthews and some others on the news stations I just mentioned. They are loons.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  16. Deanna Strawn



    December 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  17. David

    Actually, if Jesus existed as a person (certainly not as a tri-fecta "god"), at the end, he was the color of us all after 3 days on a cross: black or dusty gray.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  18. jordan boudway

    Jesus is just as white as any other middle eastern, aramaic speaking jew.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  19. Haha

    Jesus ain't white he's Jewish. The means he's olive like an Israeli.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  20. kebabs666

    jesus is dead

    December 13, 2013 at 11:48 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.