As a child, every school day started by bowing our heads to say The Lord’s Prayer and singing God Save the Queen. And there they were, right on the wall above teacher’s desk. Indoctrination starts so simply, doesn’t it?
I remember asking Mom why people think Jesus is white if he was born in Israel, and she told me hush, questions like that just cause trouble. She was right about that, because I got kicked out of Sunday school permanently for asking the wrong questions back when my age was still a single digit.
It was a valid question…
Turns out, the earliest photos of Jesus don’t portray him as a white man. For centuries, pictures painted to depict Jesus showed him as a brown man or with a distinct not-white appearance. No blue eyes or golden mane to be seen.
So where did white Jesus come from?
The Myth of the Starving Artist wasn’t always a myth…
Back in the Renaissance Era, most artists actually did starve. There was no Etsy, no internet, no email marketing and no art galleries holding wine and cheese night with hefty price tags on the art.
In the Renaissance era, if an artist was really good (or really lucky) they might acquire a wealthy “patron” who would commission them to do work. Which meant they got to eat regularly. Yay, food.
But, you know what commissioning art means, yes? It means they pay you, and you paint what they ask you to. Their nickel.
Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” was commissioned in 1494 by the Duke of Milan.
It created such a sensation among aristocrats that the Duke’s successor, Louis XII of France, commissioned “Salvator Mundi” — Latin for Savior of the world.
White men, white Jesus. Why am I not surprised?
Add in a little Renaissance Rivalry…
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael are three of the greatest artists in history. They were also bitter rivals, competing for commissions and fame.
So when Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, is it any surprise that God was depicted as a white man?
White aristocrats. White pope. White men. White Jesus. See? Perfect sense.
When I was a kid, I’d never seen a person of color…
I grew up on the Canadian prairies. Winter was almost half the year and -50 wasn’t unusual. The radio told us how many minutes before flesh freezes.
There were no people of color in deep freeze back then. I was the kid the other kids weren’t allowed to play with, because my Grandpapa escaped before the Holocaust. Sometimes he still cried about his family.
They’d right up and tell me I ain’t ‘llowed to play with you cause of you’re a Jew. I’d say I am not, cause my Daddy’s not, so there, but it didn’t matter.
By the time my daughter was in school, we had people of color here, and I kind of got how they must have felt when the other kids excluded them.
One of these things is not like the others isn’t just a rhyme on Sesame Street, I promise you. It’s alive and well in the classrooms, too. And it hurts. It hurts to be that kid, and it hurts to watch that kid.
And I can’t help but wonder…
What would the world be like if all us white folk had bowed and said our prayers to the photo of a brown man? Would we be so terrified? So hateful?
So prejudiced? Would we coexist better? Be kinder?
I don’t know. But I do wonder what would the world be like today if we hadn’t white washed Jesus…
Thanks for reading. ❤