Fox News television host and right-wing American darling Megyn Kelly told viewers on one of her weekly broadcasts that Jesus and Santa are both white men.
“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?”
Disregarding the ludicrous rigid depiction of a fictitious character, Santa, Kelly also made a serious error about Jesus. Most Biblical scholars and historians have long come to a consensus that Jesus, like most first-century Jews, was a relatively dark-skinned man typical of the Middle East. To be frank, had Jesus been alive now and hopped on a red-eye from San Francisco to New York, he would be randomly selected for additional security screening by the TSA. Even moreso because he had some radical ideologies.
Though historically inaccurate, this image of a fair-skinned Jesus was creatively used to yoke the minds of colonized people and limit resistance to attempts to whitewash their cultures. The Jesus who walked this Earth may not have been white, but white Jesus is a powerful being.
The myth of white Jesus has deep roots in Christian history and propaganda. The imaging of Jesus sans melanin can be traced back to the Middle Ages, particularly the Renaissance period. Western artists presented Jesus as a white man, with strong Austrian features: blue eyes and blondish hair. Maybe inspired by Biblical verses that make a correlation between lightness and purity and righteousness, while darkness is connected to sin and evil, these artists created images of a disinfected Son of God.
Whiteness as powerful, beautiful and the ideal, has long been pedaled to the point that it now exists in the subconscious of so many people of colour. My Caribbean ancestors inherited Christianity from people who told them they were chattels, due mainly to their skin colour and facial features. This learned self-hatred, presented as evangelism, can still be seen in how the church in general paints Africa, even in the black churches.
It is agonizing to hear anything connected to the continent being cast as evil and most forms of African culture derided. It is even more painful for me to admit that I bought into this lie for many years. Gods that looked like me were demonic, but I woke up to a framed white Jesus on Christmas holidays at my granny’s home in Jamaica. This transcends Christianity and speaks to a general privilege given to whiteness. Jupiter, Athena and Apollo enjoy the privilege of being considered mythological, but Ogun, Eshu and Nyame are demonic forces that were worshipped by the savages of the Dark Continent before they were rescued by slavers.
The Sunday school classes I attended issued wonderful “Bible Story” books illustrated with white Jesus, rosy cheeks and all. I was troubled by this from an early age and whenever I attempted to speak about it I was told it doesn’t matter what colour Jesus was—yet he continues to be depicted as white in modern TV and film productions.
To be fair, the Bible is less concerned with the issue of Jesus’ skin colour than we are. Scriptures say very little about his physical appearance. His nose, eye color, skin pigmentation, or hair are not explored in scripture. There is just one glaring exception in Isaiah 53:2. The prophecy of the coming Christ presents Jesus as being not much to look at, another fact that places the Bible at odds with the Jared Leto cool surfer dude image of white Jesus we have come to be accustomed to in the western world.
In a Jet magazine column, “Advice for Living”, published in February 1958, shortly after the successful Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King Jr. was asked, “Why did God make Jesus white, when the majority of peoples in the world are non-white?” King responded, “The colour of Jesus’ skin is of little or no consequence” because what made Jesus exceptional was, “His willingness to surrender His will to God’s will.” The point King made was that the idea of Jesus should transcend race and instead be a lesson of humility and service for the advancement of humanity.
Though the issue of race is a hot button topic, the church should attempt to rise above this and all attempts to further divide. The church must eschew a Jesus who looks like a bearded Hollister model over the Son of God as presented in the scriptures. This is critical for maintaining a religion in which all people can identify with and give praise to one who became like them to save them from sins like racism and prejudice. It’s important for those who want to expand the church, too, in allowing the creation of communities that are able to worship a Jesus who builds bridges rather than barriers. And it is essential to enable those who bear the name of Christ to look forward to that day when, according to the book of Revelation, those “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” can worship God together.
We have a long way to go until that day, but until then, can someone inform Megyn Kelly that Jesus was not white?