It’s wrong to worship ‘white Jesus’
By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
In fact, doesn’t God, in our cultural stereotype, look a lot like Santa? Old white man with a long white beard?
A great illustration of this point happened on Wednesday night when Megyn Kelly declared on her Fox News showthat both Santa Claus and Jesus were white.
Jesus and Santa are enormously powerful images for Americans and it is not surprising, as the U.S. is becoming ever more racially diverse, that there would be a visible contest over whether Jesus and Santa are white.
This is the frontline of our struggles over what it means to be an American and a person of faith today. Racial prejudice has actually increased since the election of Barack Obama, as an AP News Poll taken earlier this fall shows. This is due, I believe, to an increase in racially polarizing rhetoric since President Obama’s election, and it is both culturally and religiously harmful.
Kelly’s comments were elicited by a piece in Slate, “Santa Claus Should Not Be A White Man Any More,” by Alisha Harris. Harris writes movingly about the dominant culture white Santa and its effect on her as a kid.
But Alisha Harris’s childhood experience should be disregarded, according to Kelly, because it is contradictory to dominant cultural and religious norms. “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa—I just want the kids watching to know that.”
Santa, of course, is a fictional character based on the 4th century Saint Nikolaos of Myra who lived in what is now Turkey.
Jesus, however, was an historical figure and he was not “white.”
By Tim Wise
Oh, and yes, I know, she has tried to rationalize her comments, to explain them away as a joke, a mere stab at open mic night perhaps, presuming for herself the mantle of a comedian—a profession for which she is no more qualified than the one she currently inhabits. She was just kidding, and oh yeah (as even she admits), she spoke too soon when demanding that “Jesus was white,” so, ya know, sorry about that one! It is at this point that dear Ms. Kelly should probably be reminded that one cannot, in moments like this, have it both ways: it cannot be both a joke, and at the same time, something you meant so literally as to then necessitate a retraction on the Jesus part. It’s like a criminal suspect saying they didn’t shoot the other guy, and anyway, it was self-defense.
No indeed, humor doesn’t require correction when the subject matter turns out to be absurd, because absurdity was the point. Retraction is for self-professed news people when they get the facts wrong, as she did. She was just supposing that none of her audience would notice, or care, as none of her guests did that day: people who sat there smiling all around, and raising nary a syllable of objection when she said that Santa “just is white.” One wonders if such silence would likewise have obtained had she chosen to proclaim equally rational positions, such as the “verifiable fact” that the Easter Bunny just is fluffy, or that the Tooth Fairy, just is the most beautiful winged creature in the known Universe.
Now don’t get me wrong, if there were a Santa Claus, there is very little doubt that he would have to be white. After all, no black man could manage to work only one day out of the year and not be called lazy; and surely no black man could get away with breaking into millions of homes, even if he was bearing presents. Some cop or neighborhood watch captain would surely have taken him down long ago, convinced that the red suit he was wearing signified gang colors. So, and let me be the first to admit it: in a world where Santa actually existed, along with unicorns, pixie dust and the Lorax, Megyn Kelly would have a damned good point. Note, this is how one can make a joke about Santa being white, without reinforcing white racial normalcy: but of course no FOX personality would choose to make the joke this way, because such a joke would require, first, an acknowledgment of the reality of racial profiling and anti-black racism, neither of which conservatives can afford to countenance. This is why conservative race humor isn’t funny, just racist; please take note of it. Thank you.
Which brings us to the far more important point: namely, why do white people apparently require white heroes, icons and saviors? Because we quite obviously do. Surely one cannot think it coincidence that Jesus has been so rendered ever since Christianity came to be used in the service of European supremacy? Surely one cannot find it a capricious and fanciful whim—or mere artistic contrivance—that would cause Michelangelo, Mel Gibson and thousands more between to envision Jesus as essentially one of ours? Likewise, and on a far less serious note, do we really believe that Santa has “always been white” as Limbaugh put it—or as Kelly herself did in her defense, when referencing films like “Miracle on 34th Street”—because there were no darker actors capable of chortling “ho ho ho,” and rubbing their prodigious bellies?
No indeed, there are no coincidences here, and however much Megyn Kelly now wishes to play victim, proclaiming herself the unjust target of “race baiters,” such a conceit is rich and even precious coming from her: someone who spent several hours a few years back hyping an entirely nonsensical story about the New Black Panthers, and how they were intimidating white voters at a polling place in Philadelphia in 2008. And this she did, even though in all the hours of coverage she could produce not one actual voter at the precinct who claimed to have been intimidated (and indeed, there were none), and although even the leading conservative on the Civil Rights Commission, which investigated the charge called it much ado about nothing.
Megyn Kelly is not the victim. And it is not race-baiting to suggest that there might be something troubling about the racialization of Jesus as a white man, or that there might be something even more troubling about a grown and well-paid news figure insisting that Santa is anything. Whether one wishes to address it or not, there is a reason these icons have been rendered white, especially Jesus. It would hardly have done, one supposes, to allow the more historically accurate Jesus to predominate in the church paintings, as Europe branched out, seeking to conquer the globe in the name of money and power and land, proclaiming the inferiority of the darker types all the while (and most ironically, their spiritual inferiority). It would have been decidedly more difficult, one might imagine, to enslave and brutalize and rape and murder the black and brown, if those who did the deed had then to enter their churches on the Sabbath and pray to a savior whose visage bore an uncanny and haunting resemblance to the man they had just lynched the night before, as the Romans had done on a cross with another brother so many years before.
To make the savior of the universe (at least in Christian eyes) a white man is to make possible, literally, the enslavement of brown and black peoples, the evisceration of still others and the conquest of their land in the name of white superiority. These historic crimes are almost unthinkable in a society where truth and historical accuracy were valued more than white skin. Which is to say, when conservatives insist Megyn Kelly’s comments—and the beliefs of millions—that Jesus was white are only a matter of personal preference without consequence, they write and speak as if history didn’t happen. But it did, and it matters, however painful it might be for white people to face.
By claiming that God, Jesus, Santa, and anyone else they consider an authority figure are white, they're claiming the supremacy of whiteness. They're claiming white Pilgrims, Founding Fathers, pioneers and cowboys, et al. made America great. That is, whiteness made America great. or simply white is great.
For more on the subject, see White Students Complain About Race Talk and GOP Claims Racism Ended.