Ever since Fox News personality Megyn Kelly declared Wednesday that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white, critics have questioned the veracity of her remarks. Given that Santa is a fictional character, albeit loosely based on the historical figure St. Nick, I've chosen to focus on public reaction to Kelly's assertions about Jesus. So was Christ, in fact, white?
"Well, what we know about him is that he was Galilean," Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, told the Washington Post. "As a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today. So that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair."
Aslan is far from alone in his characterization of Jesus. Charles D. Hackett, director of Episcopal studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, pointed out to Popular Mechanics in 2002, "The fact that he [Jesus] probably looked a great deal more like a darker-skinned Semite than Westerners are used to seeing him pictured is a reminder of his universality."
All too often Jesus isn't portrayed as a universal figure but as a man with "Anglo" features. When Jesus isn't portrayed as blonde and blue-eyed in Western culture, he's portrayed as brown-haired and blue-eyed by an actor with absolutely no roots in the Middle East. Perhaps as a result of this, Megyn Kelly was so quick to argue that Jesus was as white as the rosy-cheeked images of Santa plastered everywhere during the holiday season.
In reality, it would be more accurate to argue that Jesus was olive-skinned or tan-skinned or browm-skinned. If Jesus lived in the United States today he likely would be racially profiled as a potential terrorist at the airport, accused of being an undocumented immigrant by police or harassed and attacked by angry and irrational thugs who pegged him for a Muslim. Such are the experiences of people with dark hair, tawny skin and "ethnic" facial features in this country. The people who look like Jesus in this country are hardly treated as white.