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The Story Behind “Jesus Ain’t White”

Jack Yu | Photography Staff

By David Ngo and Alice Giovanna Terriquez

If you’ve walked along the circle of Ring Road any number of times, chances are you’ve seen the moderately sized whiteboard tied to the handlebars of a bike. On it are only three striking words, “Jesus Ain’t White.”

This mysterious sign-and-bike combination has been present at the small bike rack next to UCI’s Student Services I building almost every day, and has become a bit of an anomaly among the many students passing by. As such, the sign has more or less become a passing thought for the busy and bustling students walking towards their next class.

But years of ambiguity haven’t created any disinterest.  In fact, the curiosity and question remains: who’s the person behind the scenes? What’s their motivation for this? What are they trying to accomplish? In comes a person who readily answers all these questions — a person who goes by the alias, Miss Aloha.

A woman in a bright pink track jacket, a Hello Kitty wool cap and slightly smudged ruby red lipstick upon her face, we rendezvoused with her, wholeheartedly unprepared as to how the conversation would turn out. But impressions aren’t everything. Holding an overflowing manilla folder filled with her notes in one hand and a prodigious jar of soy powder in the other, she handed us a flyer full of various connections pointing towards the notion that Jesus was a man of color.

Currently working on her PhD in theology, Miss Aloha has been putting up the “Jesus ain’t white” sign for the past four years, hoping to grab people’s attention. She claims there have been numerous reactions to the three-word phrase, both good and bad. This has led her to constantly switch out the boards, all the while keeping the message the same.

“Sometimes, vandals would tear down and push it — mainly white people,” she said. “About seven times, it’s been vandalized. But we’ve been blessed with enough finance to put it right back up.”

However, Miss Aloha did not decide on this action due to a sudden burst of spontaneous motivation. It turns out the sign has a more than expansive history, with an organization of almost 30 years backing what it tries to communicate.

The aforementioned group is called the Black Madonna Missions — a nonviolent activist group established in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1987. One of the group’s main goals is to argue against others that Jesus was in fact, not a Caucasian man. While a hefty notion, this dispute isn’t handled with baseless conjecture. 29 years of notes, research, and making connections throughout history and the contemporary world have followed since the group’s inception. Miss Aloha herself didn’t fully join the group until 1991. It took four years of research to make the fully informed decision to become part of the Missions.

Pushing away her braided bangs, Miss Aloha stated, “This is actually not a new topic. Billy Graham, Edward James Owens, Robert Kennedy; a lot of famous people have declared this message. I studied scriptures and different faiths and they all said similar things so I see that there’s a lot of support for it. That’s when I began to join.”.

The name of the organization itself holds its own history. The Black Madonna is a symbol represented through countless paintings and statues originating mostly from medieval Europe. These works of art portray the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus as being people of a non-Anglo-Saxon background. As Ms. Aloha states, this topic isn’t at all new, and has practically remained relevant since the beginning of time.

With that said, UCI isn’t the only place with a “Jesus ain’t white” sign. Miss Aloha and her group currently have signs at UCI, Hawaii Pacific University and are looking to put a sign up at UCLA. They’ve chosen these locations specifically due to the diversity of their communities, and to inform those about their organization and what it stands for — not just that Jesus isn’t white, but also how there is a lack of representation of people of color in all forms of media.

The Black Madonna Missions chose to start with the image of Jesus because it is their faith but they are protesting the media, education system and political institutions as a whole.

“We want to show the other side of the coin,” says Miss Aloha.

She discusses how our institutions are still controlled by white men, even though our society is so diverse.

“You have white professors teaching us history from other cultures. Where are the Asian, Native American, and African professors teaching us Asian, African and Native American history?”

Our society has unfortunately constructed the idea of race and both consciously and subconsciously keeps affirming this dangerous ideology, a vivid example being the image of a white Jesus.

Perpetuating an image of white Jesus of Nazareth signifies that we are perpetuating the art that took place during the Renaissance, where Italians such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci painted important figures with blonde hair and blue eyes. Having the Renaissance paintings of Jesus and the 1941 “Head of Christ” reproduced over half a billion times denies our diverse and complicated history. We need to listen to the people behind these movements — they are calling out the flaws in our society and suggesting new laws that would give them back their livelihood. We are all part of the human race. It’s agreed that no one culture or color of people should be held above others.

During our riveting discussion, Miss Aloha quoted director James Olmos, “Images are so impactful on the subconscious mind, it means a lot for children to see Jesus as a man of color. Self-esteem, self-respect, self-worth is the name of the game.”

This means that if everyone is represented fairly in the media, we could move to end all the acts of violence that are going on in this world. This is not talk of a perfect utopia but of the way the world would work if we listened to each other, and understood each other’s beliefs.