Friday evening on The Kelly File, Fox’s Megyn Kelly will address the controversy surrounding her Wednesday evening segment in which she declared that it is a “verifiable fact” that Santa Claus is white.
The segment set off all kinds of reactions, from outrage to mockery to eye-rolls to scholarly analysis.
[C]hanging Santa does not mean we’re being “politically correct.” It means we’re expanding our perceptions of the “norm.” The argument that Santa must be white spills over into conversations about other, equally fictional characters. Can James Bond or Spider-Man be played by people of color? Why not? And yet some people will tell you—believe me—that they have to be white. Of course, some people also believe that characters who were written as people of color are not actually people of color. Which goes to show how deeply rooted the idea of “whiteness” as the default really is. And that presumption carries over into our everyday lives as well, sometimes with sad results.
I’ll be fine if no one else jumps on board the penguin train and Santa remains a white man. But if you’re seriously emphatic that he is white and must remain white, there’s a good chance that your view of the rest of the world is just as limited and unimaginative. I mean, we are talking about a magical man who slides down your chimney every Christmas Eve. Just so we’re clear.
Nasrallah noted that although contemporary depictions of Santa Claus might often look a certain way, Santa as a character is divorced from the actual Saint Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century.’
“Saint Nicholas is born into a family that probably considered itself to be ethnically Greek but in an area of the world that we now call Turkey,” she explains. “Historically, you can’t import a category like ‘white’ into fourth century Asia minor.”
Nasrallah stresses that the historical Saint Nicholas and the contemporary Santa Claus character are not the same thing; and because the mythical Santa isn’t real, he doesn’t have a race.
Now, it is true that—for almost two millennia—Europeans have portrayed Jesus Christ as a European. But the historical Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean Jew who lived in Roman Palestine, or present-day Israel. In all likelihood, he was—like his disciples and contemporaries—dark-haired, dark-eyed, and olive-skinned. Indeed, early depictions show him as such, with short, close-cropped hair (the long-haired Jesus doesn’t appear in iconography until the 6th century)…
Kelly’s not wrong to say that Santa Claus is European—that’s his heritage. But there’s little chance that Jesus is white, and asserting otherwise is just as ludicrous as the declaration—made by some Christians—that Jesus spoke the early modern English of the King James Bible. At best, the assertion of Jesus’s whiteness reflects ignorance. At worst, it’s a sign of racial prejudice.
I want to make a larger point, which might be interesting to you or may not be interesting. What I just described is Jesus. What Megan Kelly described is the Christ. And they’re different people! In other words, the Christ can be whatever you want him to be.
When you go to, for instance, the Church of the Annunciation at Nazareth. They have commissioned Christian communities from all over the world to paint a depiction of Jesus and his mother Mary. They’ve displayed all those paintings, and when you look at, for instance, the painting from the United States, what you see is a blonde and blue-eyed Jesus.
When you look at the painting from Guatemala, what you see are Jesus and Mary as migrant farm workers. I don’t mean they look like migrant farm workers I mean they are migrant farm workers. When you look at the painting from China, Jesus and Mary are Chinese, literally Chinese. When you look at the painting from Thailand, Jesus and Mary are blue, as though they are Hindu gods.
So, it’s a much more interesting issue that arises from her statement: Megyn Kelly is right. Her Christ is white.
It is important, however, to understand how the historical Jesus — who was a Jew of Israel, born in Judea, raised in the Galilee — might have looked, and how he dressed and ate and thought and prayed, because Christians have labored for many centuries, in a not-benign way, to Europeanize, and de-Judaize, their savior’s image. This campaign was an indispensable component of the church’s age-old project to separate its savior from his faith, and to therefore turn Christianity against its mother religion…
The genetic truth, as best we know, is more complicated and interesting than Aslan suggests. Jesus might have looked like a Palestinian; he might also have looked like a Bedouin, or a Druze or a mizrachi Israeli, those Israelis descended from the Jewish communities of the greater Middle East. He might have even had the physical characteristics of Ashkenazi Jews, descendants of the Jews who found their way to Europe from the land of Israel. The reason Jesus could have looked like a member of any of these groups is simple: Today, they all share an enormous number of overlapping genetic characteristics.