Friday, December 13, 2013

Jesus was not a white man: A letter to Megyn Kelly

Not being a watcher of Fox or any other type of network news I missed this recent story. But you can watch the video below.

A Fox News anchor responded to a recent suggestion by someone that Santa should no longer be portrayed as a white man. The person suggesting the change in Santa perception is an African-American woman who is trying to relate her experience growing up in a racially charged setting in which the bringer of Christmas cheer looked a lot like those who also brought pain and oppression to her life.

The anchor thinks the whole thing is silly because, after all, Santa is white! Up to this point in the report I sat scratching my head wondering why they were arguing over the race of a mythical figure. True the modern day Santa Claus has a distant relation to the fourth century bishop Saint Nicholas, but apart from the name there is little of the modern Santa myth that represents the historical person.  But people will sometimes enter into silly arguments without thinking about, well, just how silly they are being.

But it was the anchor’s next move in the argument that got my attention. She compares the “fact” that Santa is a white man with the other well-known “fact” that Jesus was a white man. It was at this point I realized that this news anchor was doing more than perpetuating misinformation about Santa, she seems to also be under the delusion that Jesus was raised somewhere in Northern Europe.

So with that, ahem . . .

Dear Ms. Kelly,

I was quite uninterested in your argument until you mentioned Jesus. Yes, I know that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus. But your analogy that Santa is a white man just as Jesus is a white man demonstrates, well to put it delicately, a level ignorance that should not be evident in someone who is supposed to be providing information to the masses each day. While I realize that you have probably only seen pictures of a white Jesus, I think you should know that those are not authentic photographs. In fact, we have no genuine pictures of Jesus since, well, photography had not yet been invented. Moreover, Jesus was, it seems, a very busy man, always on the move and it seems he never sat anywhere long enough for someone to even make a rough sketch of him. Furthermore, and more to the point, Jesus was a Jew living in Palestine in the first century of the Common Era. This means, therefore, that he would not have been white, but olive skinned, if not darker.

 I have often told my students that if they want a good idea of how Jesus might have looked they should walk through a Palestinian village in the West Bank or Gaza and observe some of the men there who have spent their lives laboring in the heat and sun of the Mediterranean climate. Someone from the BBC figured this out a few years back and created a composite of what Jesus might have looked like (see pic above). 

Jesus was certainly not a white man. So in the future, Ms. Kelly, you would be better served if you didn’t assume that just because you saw a picture of a white Jesus, or a white Santa for that matter, that this means you are looking at the real thing. After all, no one has seen Jesus in over 2,000 years nor has anyone seen Santa. Unless you are among the naughty who spy on the jolly, old elf when he stops to deposit gifts at your home. Or perhaps you saw mommy kissing Santa Claus. In any case, Jesus was still not a white man.

Ps. Saint Nicholas, the historical source for the mythic Santa, was Greek and lived in what is modern day Turkey, also a Mediterranean country. So, like Jesus, he wasn’t a white man either.

Merry Christmas!

For a less snarky response, see the post by my friend Allan Bevere: What Color is your Jesus?