Would The History Channel's Series "The Bible" be as Popular If It Didn't Feature a White Surfer Jesus Dude?
This transitioned to a follow-up question where I asked, "what color was Jesus?" Having just seen Malcolm X the movie, I was curious as to the professor's response. He looked around and plainly said that Jesus Christ was not white or a European. He would likely be a medium complected Jew with brown or darker skin. Check and mate: thus my follow-up, "could one reasonably say that Jesus the historical figure was black?"
Our masterful professor looked around in a considerate and contemplative manner and said, "depending on who you ask, and in what context, one could say that he could be considered 'black' in a society like America where whites have been so color conscious and race obsessed." You could here a pin hit the floor as gasps of anger and protest erupted from the white (and some black and brown) students in the class.
There was actually an effort made by some students to get this professor fired. He was saved by a few things. First, his research, historiography on the matter, and credentials were impeccable. He had tenure. And he was white. It is quite likely that a black faculty member making such a basic claim would have had far fewer protections.
In these discussion of faith, some would likely object that "race doesn't matter." Who cares what color the historical Jesus is/was?
Here, the color of Jesus Christ matters while simultaneously being of little import. Thus, a paradox. If the color of Jesus Christ is unimportant, why then the objection to the question and a resistance to changing the images to be more historically accurate? Moreover, such a basic question about the lie that is white Jesus, is often deflected and redirected into one which ends with the power of the white racial frame enabling those invested in its distortion(s) of reality arguing that anyone, especially a person of color, asking such things must be a black "racist" or anti-white.
If a Christian is a true believer why would they have difficulty reconciling their faith with such a superficial thing as changing the historical lie that is white Jesus into one that is more accurate, a man of color, whose message would be unchanged? Would it really be that hard for some white Christians (and others) to kneel before a black or brown Jesus Christ? Are the psychic wages of Whiteness so great as to distort a person's image of God?
These matters of race, religion, and politics remain potent even in 21st century America. See how President Obama's presidential campaign was almost destroyed by Reverend Wright and the white conservative bogeyman known as "black liberation theology."
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo's White Jesus were iconic images that enabled European colonialism and imperialism. In these grand projects of global white power and conquest "Christian" became synonymous with free, "white," and "civilized." "Heathen" meant that whole populations could be subjected to extermination, enslavement, and exploitation.
The current and most popular image of Jesus as created by Warner Sallman in 1941 depicts the former as a white "American." Here, American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, and rise as an Imperial power were ordained as being one with He, and a blessing from God for a country whose elites imagined it to be a "shining city on the hill."
This logic is perfectly cogent: a racial project of exploitation and enslavement of non-whites by Europeans, one legitimated by a belief in the natural inferiority of people of color, the pseudo-science of The Great Chain of Being, a belief in The Curse of Ham as well as other myths, must, for reasons of practical necessity, be predicated on the existence of a "white" God.