jesus was black

December 18, 2019
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Don’t let anyone tell you the calendar has just one holiday celebrating a Black man. There’s two: Martin Luther King Day and Christmas. Yes, my sisters and brothers, we cannot forget that Jesus Christ, the most celebrated, most famous, most moral man in Western history — the person at the center of Christmas — was a Black man. His hair was like pure wool, according to the Book of Daniel. That means his hair was kinky. The Book of Revelations says his feet were like burnished bronze. That means he was brown-skinned. Jesus was a Palestinian Jewish man who, as a child was able to hide from the King of Judaea by spending years in Egypt. So he looked like an Egyptians. Sounds like a brother to me. Joan Taylor, author of What Did Jesus Look Like, says he resembled modern Iraqis with dark brown hair and olive brown skin. The evidence mounts — Jesus looked more like me or Lenny Kravitz, and not much like the blonde-haired, blue-eyes surfer dude he’s routinely portrayed as now. And we know precisely why his image was changed.

The appropriation of Jesus’ image is one of the biggest intellectual thefts of history, and it begins around the 4th century AD when followers of Christianity began painting images of Jesus based on Greek and Roman Gods as a way of bringing in new followers. It was marketing, but it had a deadly impact because the second greatest trick white supremacy ever played was making us believe that the man of the century was a beatified Ken doll, and not an original soul brother. (White supremacy’s #1 greatest trick was making us think we were inferior to them when we are definitely not, but I digress.) This shift in Jesus’s look matters because imagery matters. When we see people who we identify with in positions of power or beauty, then we know for certain that we can attain that status. We feel affirmed. Living in a world where millions of Christians worship a blonde-haired, blue-eyed son of God only puts blonde hair and blue eyes on a higher pedestal. It allows whiteness to think even more of itself. But we know the truth — that image is a lie. Jesus was Black.

Even more than Jesus’s look, we know that Jesus was a brother from the way he lived and died. He was not from the dominant group. He was a revolutionary, a radical born into poverty and barred from entering certain spaces. He was on the run from the man throughout his life — as a child he had to escape his home country in order to dodge being killed by the man (aka the King). He spent much of his life oppressed and on the run from the authorities who spied on Him and chased after Him — yet He still found time to drop knowledge and drink wine with His friends. His end begins with Him getting snitched on. He’s wrongfully arrested and then, in front of a crowd, He’s lynched. That definitely sounds like a brother to me. The oppression Jesus battles throughout His life, and His constant mistreatment by a government that’s so afraid of Him that it puts Him to death — all of that positions Him as an outsider. Jesus’ story is reminiscent of the Black experience, where the state functions as an oppressive force, damaging your life when you try to change the world — think of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, and on and on. When you speak out you get snuffed out. But, like so many who die tragically in the ‘hood he ended up with the ultimate mural: His image painted across the globe. And yet, nowadays, despite living that Black life, Jesus looks like the face of white supremacy. 

And imagery matters. So, if this Christmas, you are looking to have an image of the baby Jesus or a grown up Jesus on your tree (or beneath it), get yourself a Black looking Jesus. You deserve to see Jesus as the beautiful Black man that he was. You deserve to see the true revolutionary who came from nothing and became brilliant, powerful, beloved, feared — and, eventually, permanent. One of the greatest people ever, a person who told us how to live right, would surely not counsel us to steal. When Christian leaders at any level traffic in images of that surfer-dude Jesus, they are trafficking in dishonesty, in stolen imagery, and in the perpetuation of white supremacy. You don’t need to bring that lie into your home.