This past week, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and her guests were discussing an article recently published on Slate.com by culture blogger Aisha Harris. Harris described how Santa’s consistent depiction as a white man made her feel uncomfortable and excluded as a young black girl in America.
As her panelists began to broach the topic, Kelly made what she clearly thought was an important interjection:
And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.
And she went on:
Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact – as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that.
So, according to Kelly, Santa is white, and so is Jesus. And I must say, in my opinion, she is half right, which is one more half right than she usually is.
Jesus isn’t white, but Santa definitely is.
Santa is basically a benevolent imaginary character with super powers. And if you’ve seen any superhero movies, those types of characters tend to usually be white. So, his whiteness is really no surprise. But if white people want Santa, they can have him. All he ever got me for Christmas was socks and cologne. And you can only have so many bottles of Eternity.
Santa has the complexion of an egg. He is obese, and he rarely speaks in complete sentences. Not only is Santa white, it also seems that he is from Mississippi.
The only times they name streets after nonwhites is when they lead civil rights movements, and even then it’s controversial. Santa has a street named after him for no good reason (remember “Santa Claus Lane”?). He is definitely white.
Santa is bit of a loner. Every year, he sits around his house making intricate gadgets with his imaginary assistants for 364 days. Then, he only visits his actual friends for one day. He is white for sure.
Santa makes his darker, subjugated, captive workers put in all the effort while he takes all the credit. I mean, as far as I know, those reindeer are not getting paid. Master Santa enjoys the fruits of their hard labor. And what do they get? A song. And it’s only about one of them. What an injustice!
So, Santa is unquestionably white. But what about Jesus? Kelly said that Jesus’ whiteness was a “verifiable fact.” Now, I have a bit of a personal connection here. I am a Palestinian, as was Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem. Jesus lived most of his life in Nazareth, which also happens to be the city of my origin. But I have never lived in Nazareth because of… well, that’s for another time.
Now it’s very possible that Megyn Kelly may have been a little confused here. If you simply type “Bethlehem” into Wikipedia, chaos ensues. There are Bethlehems all over the place. There’s one in Pennsylvania, one in New York, one in Connecticut, and one in Maryland. And it doesn’t stop there. There are Bethlehems in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. They even have Bethlehems in England, South Africa, Switzerland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. This can be quite overwhelming.
And if you take a quick look at a map of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, there’s a town just 9 miles up the road named Nazareth. If you didn’t know any better, you could have thought Jesus grew up in that neighborhood. But that part of eastern Pennsylvania is also just a few miles from New Jersey, and I really can’t imagine Jesus having anything remotely to do with New Jersey.
Now, even if Megyn knew that the Nazareth and Bethlehem we associate with Jesus were halfway across the world, she still could have thought he was white. After all, the United States government defines white people as “original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East.” That would make Jesus white, except for the fact that he would not be the kind of white person that Megyn Kelly meant. In other words, I don’t think Megyn Kelly would consider my dad white, or Paula Abdul white, or Ahmed Ahmed white. But Jesus would look much more like any of those people than he would like her.
So Jesus wasn’t white. He didn’t look like Brad Pitt. He looked like Tony Shalhoub. He looked less like the pilgrims, and more like the people the pilgrims stole land from. He was not a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. He was an Olive Semitic Nazarene Jew.
If Jesus were here today, he would be exactly the kind of guy that most Fox News anchors would be in favor of racially profiling. He would be on The No Fly List, not that Jesus needs a plane to fly, but whatever.
If Jesus were here today, with his beard, funny robe, and sandals, he would look much more like the guy who might be in a Middle Eastern restaurant and much less like the guy who might be at an Applebee’s.
And by the way Megyn, if Jesus were here today, he wouldn’t be a Tea Partier or a Republican. In fact, he wouldn’t even be a political conservative. He would believe in his own mantra of “that which you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.” He would be upset that we spend more money on building monuments to him than we do on feeding our poor. He would be dismayed that we are supporting repressive governments to serve our interests. And he would be disappointed that we spend four times as much on our military than we do on educating our children.
After much criticism of her comments, Megyn Kelly responded with the “I was just joking” defense. “Humor is part of what we try to bring to the show. Sometimes that’s lost on the humorless,” she said of her declaration of Santa’s whiteness. But Megyn is making the same mistake many young comedians make early in their careers. See, a “joke” is a “joke” because it’s “funny.” And you don’t decide if it’s funny, your audience does. And what you said wasn’t funny. Well, we were laughing, but it wasn’t because you were trying to be funny.
As far as Jesus goes, she did admit that it had been wrong for her to proclaim Jesus’ whiteness. Jesus’ race is “far from settled,” she acknowledged. She couldn’t bring herself to say he wasn’t white.
Megyn, please listen to me. Jesus’ origins are not “far from settled.” He was not white. He was from Palestine, not North Carolina. He was from where I am from, not where you are from. He fought against injustice and inequality. He was from my world, not yours.
White people can have the old, fat, white fantasy figure. But we’ll keep the olive-skinned, liberal, generous, charitable freedom fighter. We know much better what to do with him.
* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."