Photo: An unfortunately blurry picture of a Black Santa figurine that I gave to a former friend some years ago. All of my Christmas stuff is packed up, otherwise, I’d show off a Black Santa of my own. I’m really looking forward to amassing a large collection of Santas of Color as the years go by!
I have very fond memories of figuring out that “Christmas is coming”, “the house looks different,” “we’re gonna get presents,” and thus, “we better be good!” My sister and I used to go through the big Toys R Us catalog that came around Thanksgiving and circle all the toys we wanted. We’d start devising truces so as to not fight during this most important month of Santa evaluation. Homework got done without argument. The playroom was cleaned without asking. We were good little girls, for a month, at least.
I remember crawling into the attic to bring down the decorations–old dusty wreaths, seemingly a mile’s worth of lights (that ya’ll know didn’t work!), boxes full or ornaments…
and a few figurines of Santa Claus. Santa Claus with lovely brown skin just like mine.
I didn’t read Aisha Harris’ story on Slate.com when it was originally posted. It came to my attention after I happened upon an article on the Washington Post by Alexandra Petri. Alexandra put up a youtube clip of Megyn Kelly and her conservative friends having a debate about the color of Santa, and Megyn starts the conversation by just saying straight up to the “kids” who are watching Fox News: “Santa just is White.” Just fact. After everyone decides that Aisha’s article is well written, Megyn and friends begin to basically mock marginalized people for choosing to adapt the narrative of Santa Claus so as to make it accommodating for their children.How laughable, how over-sensitive, how stupid of us to decide that our children deserve a magical person who looks like them to come to their home and deliver their presents?
When I was a little girl, I was taught that Santa is magic. As I grew older, I learned the story of the real St. Nicholas and what not, but let’s be clear: The commercialized Santa Claus that ya’ll see at the mall is far and away from the St. Nicholas that he is based on. So if Santa is a magical being, why can’t he be a Black man? Why can’t he, as Aisha suggests, be a penguin or some other creature, for that matter? Why does it matter who we choose to make him?
I think what makes me angry about this story is that people like Megyn have no sense of empathy, compassion, or any sort of sense of wisdom to be able to think beyond herself, even for a moment. Children of color, for the longest time, turned on television or watched movies to see White people consistently portrayed as the “good guys” and people of color portrayed as everything else (read: the bad guys). We don’t have to go all the way to the Doll Test of old (or new, which CNN did a few years ago) to see evidence that children of color suffer from self-image and confidence problems because it is difficult to find positive images of people of color in popular media. Families of color have to create safe media spaces for our children. While I’m so grateful that it is easier for me in 2013 than it was for my mother in the 1980s, I know that I still have a up-hill battle as my sons get older to teach them that: no, not all men of color are criminals, yes, they can be valued for their brains and not just athletics, no, their skin color does not automatically mark them as a criminals, and yes, they are valued members of society (among so, so many other lessons). I, as a mother of color, have to carve out, create, and push positive images and safe spaces for my sons of color. This is a burden that Megyn cannot fathom in her own life and clearly does not have the capacity or will to try.
Santa Claus is part of that safe space that I’m creating for my sons.
Santa Claus isn’t White. Santa is every color he needs to be. Santa is magic. In my house, Santa will be bi-racial, Black and White. I’ll find every color that represents my sons and display them proudly in my adult home, just as Black Santa was all over my childhood one.
What Megyn didn’t really have the capacity to understand is that Santa Claus and the holidays aren’t really about Black and White. Giving children of color the opportunity to celebrate with a Santa Claus of color is about allowing the magic of childhood to be inclusive and wonderful for every child. As our country and our communities become more integrated (or not, depending on where you live) and our children create multi-racial relationships within their classrooms and their towns, shouldn’t we recognize the need for all children to see positive images of people of every color? Why can’t that include Santa? We do a disservice to White children when we go out of our way to make their worlds completely devoid of color. To teach White children that the only thing in the world that matters is headed up by White people, approved by White people, created by White people, represented by White people, we severely limit them. Basically, we create more Megyns: People who are so full of themselves, so unwilling to branch out, people who are so utterly shallow and stuck in a world that is quickly fading (and frankly, hasn’t existed for a long time) that they are laughable at best, utterly loathsome at worst. People like Megyn alienate not only people of color, but White people who have figured out that the world is better when we recognize, incorporate and celebrate the traditions of all of our neighbors. People like Megyn, in an attempt to preserve a sense of superiority in a limited community, actually alienate that community from the larger population–she does White children no favors by closing their minds. She limits them.
Interestingly, Aisha’s parents and my parents told the same story: Santa is any color. He is so magic, so wonderful, that he can look however he wants wherever he wants. And though my house had a chimney, I was told that Santa can get your presents to you no matter what: Through the mail slot, through the window, through doors, even walls. Santa knows where you are, and he’ll get your presents to you. Santa is magic and Santa will make sure that every good girl and boy, no matter where they are, how rich they are, how poor they are, or where they live, will get their special gift on Christmas day. And so, I went through the world and understood that when I saw a White Santa, he would look different when he got to my door. Didn’t even think twice about it. Didn’t wonder about it at all. The fact of my life was Santa’s race was magic. Nothing politically correct about that. And Aisha and I are better for it–because our brains have the capacity to recognize the beauty, legitimacy and agency of communities beyond our own.
Point of fact, ya’ll: Santa is magic. Not Black, not White, not any race. Santa’s Race is Magic. Someone put that on the census!
So when my sons go down to Maryland to see The Husband’s parents and see White Santa Claus, and when they head down the road a piece to my mother’s house and they see Black Santa Claus, and when they go to my Father’s house and see a bi-racial (Black/Chinese) Santa Claus, my sons will know that Santa is Magic. He looks how he’s supposed to look in each and every house. I’m looking for Santas that aren’t quite Black and aren’t quite White for our own collection–but I’m going to make sure that every color is represented in our home. I want their identity to be positively represented, no matter what.
If you are reading my blog and you are sitting next to a White Santa, I’m not asking you to run out and go buy a Black one just for diversity’s sake (indeed, it’s kinda hard to find Black Santas… but that makes the hunt all the more fun and the find all that more glorious. You should see my mother’s collection–she has a story for every piece). And I could never tell you how to parent your children–but if you happen to encounter a Santa of Color this season, and if you happen to be with your children at the time, I hope that you’ll stop and recognize it. Point it out and say something positive. I hope that you’ll let your children know that Santa is magic. That Santa can be of any and every color. I hope you’ll remember that giving your children a chance to experience diversity can happen at any time, and that small gestures like the one that I just described can go such a long way. Making diversity normal and regular is what is going to tighten the fabric of our communities and make all of our children (mine included) the best citizens that they can be. So many misunderstandings can be averted if we, as adults, simply make small efforts to normalize the differences and sameness that we all have.