Black Jesus

by Annette Witte

Our family has been on an intentional anti-racism journey since the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. Our process has been to “look deeply” into our own biases and stereotypes, to pay attention to how we feel when we are confronted with our own racism, and with humility, to admit our complicity in racism and work to eradicate it when and where we can. Our black and brown family members deserve our attention to this work.

This year while celebrating Kwanza, our son-in-law incorporated reflections on how his daughters have been victims of racist aggressions in their daily discussions. Our eldest granddaughter, 14 at the time, recounted incidents that occurred in school by teachers and students. The 12 yr. old remained mostly silent, as is her way, but what she did not say in words, she revealed in body language. The 10 yr. old talked about the lie of images of “White Jesus.” When her daddy asked where she saw these images, she answered, “In grandma’s office.” When this conversation was recounted to me, I felt sad because I did not even consider how these images might have caused harm to my grandchildren, and guilty, because years before, our eldest granddaughter looked at the baby Jesus in the church Nativity scene and announced, “Grandma, this is just wrong. Jesus was not white. In spite of all the years between her announcement and her youngest sister’s proclamation, I did nothing to address either one of their observations. My husband and I are determined to ask forgiveness and be more attentive to micro-aggressions in our society.

The Bible does not give a description of Jesus’ physical attributes aside from Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant, “[H]e had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2b ). Even still, my granddaughters know that Jesus is not the white, blonde haired, blue eyed man so prevalent in religious art. We know how powerful images are in forming our faith (recall stained glass windows) and developing our view of the world. My granddaughters have interpreted the portrayal of Jesus as a white European as a lie, one that I have been complicit in. 

In order to no longer cause them harm, we will be seeking a truer image, one that best reflects the truth or who Jesus really was. In addition to confronting our complicity in promoting white Jesus, we have been talking about this issue with friends, family and fellow catechists to challenge all of us to embrace a more accurate reality. We have been working at replacing these European depictions in our home with a darker skinned, more historically accurate rendition of Jesus and the Holy Family. We have been searching for articles that shed light on the truth of how Jesus came to be white and are open to the telling of a more truthful history of who Jesus was.

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