Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Why black Jesus matters

Published:Friday | December 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM


A people without identity is a people without unity. Letter writer Michael A. Dingwall (December 16, 2014), however, believes that when people of African descent celebrate Christmas with images of a black Jesus, they promote division.

Mr Dingwall concludes that "making Jesus black is not helping the cause of unity. It is actually promoting division. It would be better for those of us who want to make Jesus black (or any other colour) to concentrate on what he had to say, instead of his complexion."

Sadly, such conclusions reflect an ignorance of the history and the strategic and political reasons for the emergence of the world's most popular and recognisable white image of Christ that is distinctly a 19th-20th century American creation.

As a predominantly Protestant nation, Early America rejected the black imaging of Christ that characterised early European Christianity. The whitening of Jesus was adopted for strategic and political reasons. Whiteness took on a new significance, and a newly empowered 'white Jesus' rose to prominence as the sanctifying symbol of a new national unity and power.

But the new 'national unity and power' did not include the emancipated peoples of African descent, whose ancestors were enslaved and dehumanised. As Blum and Harvey observe:

"By wrapping itself with the alleged form of Jesus, whiteness gave itself a holy face ... . With Jesus as white, Americans could feel that sacred whiteness stretched back in time thousands of years and forward in sacred space to heaven and the second coming ... . The white Jesus promised a white past, a white present, and a future of white glory."

By restoring Jesus as black, people of colour made a polemic against those who sought to deny them their place in history. It is to such injustices and arrogance that people of colour refute, and unity cannot be proclaimed if one is dehumanised.


Mandeville, Manchester