Ruminations, December 15, 2013
Are Santa and Jesus white? Fox’s Kelly says so
-- Fox News’s Megyn Kelly caused a minor kerfuffle last week when she said that Santa Claus is white. But then she got carried away and said that "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact…”
With the Santa Claus statement, she was reacting to a piece where someone suggested that to avoid racial stereotyping, we should reinvent Santa as a penguin. (All this is very deep intellectual stuff and may, therefore, be hard to follow.)
But her statement on Jesus caused a reaction among many of Kelly’s followers and even more of her non-followers. They claim that Kelly was flat wrong. Well, that all depends on how you define “white.”
The U.S. Census Bureau identifies 15 distinct races, including “other.” So, although the Census Bureau doesn’t specify “Palestinian” or “Middle Eastern,” (assuming, as most historians do, that Jesus was dark complected) one can see Jesus completing the Census form, checking “other” and entering something like “Middle Eastern” in the blank provided. Or, if he were in a hurry, he might merely check “white.”
But, thanks to Kelly, that leads us to two questions: (1) What is race? (2) What did Jesus look like?
Race is what we want it to be. Certainly, Kelly can make the statement that Jesus was white if she limits her races, for example, to two: black and white. If she throws in additional races it becomes more problematical.
But the U.S. Census Bureau, while giving a nod to anthropology and science, pays a greater tribute to politics. It leaves out, for example, Adolf Hitler’s favorite race: Aryans. Leaving it out, on one hand, discourages neo-Nazis from recognition. On the other hand, it might encourage neo-Nazis to self-identify. But self-identification wouldn’t be much of a help, since the Census reports cannot be used by law enforcement agencies.
Illustrating the ludicrous nature of racial definitions is the court case of Rollins v. Alabama (1922). The facts of that case said that Jim Rollins, a black man, had sex with a white woman in violation of Alabama’s anti-miscegenation laws. Rollins was found guilty and appealed his conviction on the grounds that the woman was an Italian immigrant and therefore not white – and the court agreed with Rollins, overturning his conviction. Whoa. Italians aren’t white? If that’s true, then how come the Census Bureau left Italians off the list of races?
If you want to, you can find many additional historic races (e.g., Nordic, Mediterranean, Slavic, Jewish) as you want. The Census Bureau’s purpose in asking the race question is to define minority groups and ensure that they all have some voting power (which you may disagree with but that is the main purpose). And the purpose of the Census Bureau has nothing to do with the purpose of Megyn Kelly. And, since Kelly hasn’t defined her purpose, we’ll have to leave it at that.
Which bring us to the question: what did Jesus look like? I have seen crucifixes that depict Jesus with European, Middle Eastern, Asian and African facial characteristics. From a spiritual perspective this is all correct. As the Bible tells us, God created us in His image and, given that Jesus is His son, there must be some resemblance to all peoples. (Incidentally, in an episode of the television show St. Elsewhere, actor Howie Mandel’s character, Dr. Fiscus, has a near-death experience in which he meets God and discovers that God, also played by Howie Mandel, looks exactly like him. God: “I said you were made in my image.” Fiscus: “I wish you had a smaller nose.”)
Our image of Jesus from a historic perspective must primarily rely on scripture since there are few other reliable sources. And from scripture, we have to conclude that Jesus was not a Hollywood-leading-man type. In Isaiah’s description, foretelling the messiah’s coming, we learn that “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him." We also can assume that Jesus looked a lot like his disciples, since Judas, in betraying him in Garden of Gethsemane, has to identify Jesus with a kiss instead of saying, “he’s the one in the white robes,” “he’s the tall (fat, skinny, short) one,” or some other description. And, from what we know, all of Jesus’s disciples were Palestinian or Middle Eastern looking.
So there you have it. In saying that Jesus was white, apropos of nothing, Kelly was asking for attention and she got it. Her Jesus scholarship leaves something to be desired as does her explanation. As for the Santa-Claus-is-white comment, she may have influenced all the young children who stay up to watch Fox News – both of them.
Quote without comment
Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, commenting in Der Spiegel on December 12, of his 1995 book, Dying with Dignity: ”I feel that life is a gift from God. But God has made me responsible for this gift. The same applies to the last phase of life: dying. The God of the Bible is a god of compassion and not a cruel despot who wants to see people spend as much time as possible in a hell of their own pain. In other words, assisted suicide can be the ultimate, final form of helping in life.”