How Jesus became white

RNS has an interesting article from Emily McFarlan Miller posted yesterday discussing how this portrait of Jesus, called “The Head of Christ” by Warner E. Sallman, became ubiquitious:

I knew this portrait growing up because it was hung in a relative’s house. I wasn’t aware of its connection to the Chicago area—or how prevalent it was. A key function of whiteness & white supremacy is that it is both ubiquitous and “invisible” if one is unaware of it. We [white people] swim in it, and like a fish, we don’t notice the water.

The whole article is worth a read. Key quote here from Anthea Butler:

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has also warned of the damaging impact of depictions of white Jesus.

“Every time you see white Jesus, you see white supremacy,” she said recently on the Religion News Service video series “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.”

Sallman’s Jesus was “the Jesus you saw in all the Black Baptist churches,” Butler told RNS in a follow-up interview. 

But Sallman's Jesus did not look like Black Christians, according to the scholar. Instead, she said, that Jesus looked “like the people who were beating you up in the streets or setting dogs on you.”

That Jesus sent a message, Butler said.

“If Jesus is white and God is white,” she said, “then authority is white.”

Have you seen this portrait? Did you grow up with it? Did it (un)consciously affect how you pictured Jesus? Leave a comment and let me know.

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