Colouring Jesus

December 19, 2012 6:10 pm

“I have no white god

don’t teach me anything wrong

could the white god save me from white man oppression?

I have no white god it’s just a Black Messiah, if a white god ah bless you him no bless Sizzla.” – Sizzla Kolange

Robert Powell

Robert Powell, depicting Jesus in the 1977 film ‘Jesus of Nazareth’

Jesus is white. At least that is the impression I got when I was growing up, despite growing up in a black household, in a black country. I still remember the almanacs my mother would pick up from the store around Christmas time with the image of a blue-eyed white man in white robe, lifting his hands to the heavens in worship. And then there was Easter, when we would watch the crucifixion movie with Jesus played by a white actor. It didn’t even matter that overwhelming evidence suggests that the guy was a Jew, born in a place where it was more likely that he was of a darker skin tone.

I can’t honestly say his colour was really a big deal for me or anyone in my family at the time. But, as you grow older you think more deeply about these things. And while it has disappeared  from my consciousness for extended periods over the years, there’s always a trigger to get me ‘pontificating’.

My latest stimuli was a report on a popular UK news site. An unfortunate (some would say fortunate) Australian who now lives in the UK, and happens to bare an uncanny resemblance to the image a lot of people accept as Christ, was taunted by about 4500 spectators at a dart competition in Somerset for said likeness recently. Apparently, the crowd spotted him and started chanting ‘Jesus’. Concerns were raised that the disturbance his appearance was causing would upset the concentration of the dart throwers. So on the brink of tears, the 33-year-old labourer was taken away from the venue by six members of the security staff to chants of ‘Stand up if you love Jesus’. The lesson for him is that Jesus never had much luck with crowds and sharp, pointed objects so he might want to be careful of the two in the future. My issue, however, is that the perception that Jesus is white has been a divisive force.

You only have to look at Rastafari to understand where I am coming from with this. In the 1920’s, Jamaica had been a British colony for more than 250 years. It is therefore safe to say that the Christianity Europeans had brought with them was firmly entrenched on the island. But while the predominantly black population was being given a healthy dose of religion, they were being starved of the necessary ingredients to improve their socio-economic conditions. There was an obvious disconnect between the teachings of the founder of the christian faith and the harsh realities brought about by his followers. A militant section of the black community realised that there was no justice to be had from their white colonisers, and certainly no mercy from the white Jesus.

Haile Selassie

Emperor of Haile Selassie

Entered the Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey, with the prophecy that a black king would be crowned in Africa; a black messiah who would spiritually represent his disenfranchised people and lead them home. Shortly after, in 1930 Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Rastafari movement/religion was born.

Now you can question its authenticity or credibility as a religion. You can even question whether Selassie is the God that Rastafarians claim he is. But what is quite clear is that the emergence and growth of these beliefs is partly the result of the depiction of a God, or his son having the same colour as the oppressors, or as Rastafarians would say, ‘downpressors’.

To my knowledge there is no scripture in the bible that refers to Jesus’ colour, so who is it that has brought this instrument of divisiveness upon us? There’s is a general notion that the responsibility lies with artists who over the centuries have drawn, painted and sculpted images of the Saviour in the political and cultural context of their day, and mostly in conformity with a white ideology. That may be the case, but I can’t seem to find the evidence that the christian community has sought to dispel the myth.

Of course, some people would question whether it really matters what colour Christ is/was. Well, it matters as long as racial inequality exists or even appears to exist.

But, does choosing the colour of your God on the basis of the colour of your skin a good thing? It may have served a purpose for Rastafari, however, it does nothing for religious inclusivity.

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