How did the common American conception of Jesus Christ get so white?
from "Black Jesus," Episode 2 of the first season (1974) of Good Times
YouTube has the entire episode, starting here
In the New York Times, Charles Grimes writes about the artist who produced America's most familiar image of a whitened Jesus:
With the race for best-known artist of the century nearly over, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol are running neck and neck, with Andrew Wyeth a respectable third. But when the official tally is made, all three are likely to be buried in a landslide vote for Warner E. Sallman.
Sallman, who died in 1968, was a religious painter and illustrator whose most popular picture, "Head of Christ," achieved a mass popularity that makes Warhol's soup can seem positively obscure.
"Head of Christ," created in 1940, was reproduced more than 500 million times, appearing on church bulletins, calendars, posters, bookmarks, prayer cards, tracts, buttons, stickers and stationery. Tens of thousands of wallet-size copies were distributed to servicemen during World War II. In the mid-1950's, Sallman's soulful, back-lighted Jesus with flowing, shoulder-length hair gazed out from the Inspira-Clock and the Inspira-Lamp, tie-in products intended for the pious Protestant home.
At CrossLeft, where some bloggers are "balancing the Christian voice [and] organizing the Christian left," Landon writes:
Here's how the cycle goes: From our younger days when our critical thought process is non-existent or not fully formed, we are inundated with images featuring a Jesus that does not look like he actually would have. "This is the Son of God" we are told, "This is God incarnate." So, we guess, God must be white.
It never occurs to us that God is not white when we are growing up, and the dominant image that we get of Jesus is a white guy with flowy hair. As such, if God gets equated with white then "good" also get equated with white. (you see where I'm going?) If white is good, then that means (in the little ego- and ethno-centric mind) that "not white" is "not good."
Regarding what Jesus actually looked like, Mike Fillon writes,
In the absence of evidence, our images of Jesus have been left to the imagination of artists. The influences of the artists' cultures and traditions can be profound, observes Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, associate professor of world Christianity at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. "While Western imagery is dominant, in other parts of the world he is often shown as black, Arab or Hispanic."
And so the fundamental question remains: What did Jesus look like?
An answer has emerged from an exciting new field of science: forensic anthropology. Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image of the most famous face in human history.