‘Color Of Christ’: A Story Of Race And Religion In America
Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
November 19, 2012
What did Jesus look like? The many different depictions of Christ tell a story about race and religion in America. Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey explore that history in their new book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. The book traces how different races and ethnic groups claimed Christ as their own — and how depictions of Jesus have both inspired civil rights crusades, and been used to justify the violence of white supremacists.
The Ku Klux Klan could not rely on Christian doctrine to justify their persecution and violence, so they had to turn to religious icons. “The belief, the value, that Jesus is white provides them an image in place of text,” Blum tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “It gets them away from actually having to quote chapter and verse, which they can’t really do to present their cause.”
If Blum had to paint a realistic portrait of Jesus, he says he wouldn’t be white: “I would probably paint him darkly complected, not pure black, more in a kind of light brownish .”
Up until the late 1800s, Blum says Americans were comfortable with Jesus’ Semitic roots and depicted him with brown eyes. But as waves of Catholic and Jewish immigrants came to the United States, some Americans “became concerned that it was changing the face of America too much, changing it racially, changing it religiously.” In the early 20th century, there was an attempt to distinguish Jesus from his Semitic background. Religious writers and artists who were advocating for immigration restrictions began to depict Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes.