Thursday, May 21, 2009

White Jesus

For your enjoyment, a painting of White Jesus by none other than Hitler himself.

A week before Easter, Carter’s grandma gave him one of those chunky you-can’t-rip-the-pages-out children’s books. It’s title, The Story of Easter.

The text is simple and starts with a shout-out to spring so the obligatory Easter Animals can have their 15 minutes. Nothing like supporting the syncretism of pagan and Christian holidays.

Then the text introduces our Hero, White Jesus.

The words are accurate—Jesus loved children, and Moms and Dads, too. (Because who else would be reading this story to you? God forbid it be a foster parent or aunt or a compassionate social worker.)

It’s the illustrations that aren’t so faithful to history. Jesus has light brown hair and a complexion so fair you want to jump through the pages and slather SPF 100 all over him.

White Jesus then appears on the next page in what seems to be Palm Sunday. A group of blonde children surround him and his donkey, while he appears placid and so very peaceful.

The next page moves our plot along.

Some bad men didn’t like Jesus and put him on a cross to die.

There’s no supporting illustration. After all, a crucifixion scene might not be appropriate for a 16 month old. However, our beloved artist managed to squeeze in a few Nicole Kidman look-alikes, huddling together with mouths turned downwards—we might interpret the expression as sad. Let’s not get carried away with emotion here; they’re just sad.

Peacefully sad.

A couple iridescent angels later, and we’re back to modern times. The text explains that what White Jesus did is why we go to church on Easter Sunday and sing songs.

Theologically, sound.

Artistically, not.

The children in this illustration belong to the fairest of the fair—they’re red-headed with freckles and glowing, transparent skin. Oh, and there’s a yellow brick road they’re skipping on as they make their way to a white church with a steeple.

It’s endearing, really.

I’d love to tell you that this book was published during the Renaissance, when European artists rendered their historically inaccurate versions of what Jesus looked like. Or that some uninformed well-intentioned Christian painted the pictures from her little house on the prairie, before the fact that Jesus was Middle Eastern was common knowledge.

Can’t do that.

The publication date was 1997.

I considered writing the artist a letter. However, I felt that if I did, I’d have to be tactful and restrained with my questions. Instead, I’ve chosen do nothing to solve the problem, but will use the cathartic outlet of blogging to address my issues:

Dearest Artist who will never read this post:

Are you so insecure in God’s love for you that you have to make Him look like you? Is it not enough that those who’ve hailed from European ancestry have had social, economic and political advantages for centuries? Does it threaten you that Historical Jesus probably looked more like the Iraqi on the news than your next door neighbor?

It shouldn’t. And if it does, at least feign compliance for the sake of political correctness.

After all, there was another artist who insisted on changing Jesus’ ethnicity. History has since judged him.

Let’s not get caught in his company.

1 comment:

  1. Hey April,

    Good stuff! Tim and I were just having a conversation about racism, and he saw your blog post.

    My guess is that the artist associated his/her portrayal of Jesus with the stereotypical portrayal of an evangelical white Christian from South Carolina. Probably wasn't trying to maliciously steer children away from images of people from the Middle East, but I definitely agree with your points. When I have kids, I hope that I expose them to a culturally diverse childhood, because I know that visiting places like Mexico and Ecuador at a young age helped open up my eyes to different cultures and appreciate their differences from me.

    See you at Aimee's wedding!