Given how appropos his post is to this blog, I reprint it here with full credit to Ellison. This is a slightly abbreviated version, followed by my response originally posted via Comment on his blog:
THE BIG QUESTION
....waiting to board [at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport] amongst the steadily diminishing crowd at the gate were an African-American woman and a little white girl - about five, from the look of her - with her Mommy and Daddy.
In those moments before [...] boarding was announced, the little girl looked at the African-American woman intently, and then came out with the Big Question:
“Daddy, was Jesus white or black?”
The question was asked just loudly enough so that there was no question of everybody in the boarding lounge hearing it. How would the little girl’s Daddy answer?
The young father looked at his wife, then asked his daughter, “Well, what does he look like in all the pictures you’ve seen of him?”
Tough question...and an answer that probably works for a little Caucasian child.Of course, the conventional representations of Jesus in the Western world all show him as a White Guy. Not just white, mind you, but European white. Northern European white. Light brown hair, blue eyes, the works. Which, considering his physical origins, is pretty ridiculous. But see what kind of response you get to your depiction of Jesus with dark, curly hair, brown eyes, an olive complexion, and a taste for falafel.
My Christian friends are probably all familiar with the rationale that says that it doesn’t matter what color Jesus was; that he was sent to be the savior of all Mankind. But when you’re a five-year-old kid who looks more like Stymie than Spanky, it’s gotta be hard to wrap your mind around a God in whose image you have ostensibly been made, and yet who looks different from you.
As a Jew, of course, I don’t have this problem.
Our concept of God is of a totally spiritual, completely incorporeal being. “No form or shape of body has He,” we sing in our hymn Yigdal. It solves a lot of issues when your Deity is not subject to anthropomorphism…and makes it much easier to answer the little girl’s query.
But I’m not here to call other people’s belief systems into question. I am curious, though.
What would you have told that little girl if she were your child?
Oh, good...a What Would Wanda Do? question.
I would say, "See that woman over there? What color is she?" and wait for the answer, of course.
"What color am I?"
And I would look for as many different colored people as I could find, asking and waiting for the answer. Then I'd say, "Jesus is all those colors and more, because he is the love in everybody's heart."
That's what I'd do.