Are we really arguing over the skin color of a fictional character?
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly went all Scrooge on non-white kids last week by mocking Slate writer Aisha Harris for her piece, “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore.” In it, Harris suggested humorously that Claus be replaced with a penguin to make the legend more inclusive for children of color.
"For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” a riled-up Kelly declared, later adding, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.”
(She insisted Jesus was white, too, but let’s stick to the man in the red suit for now. She also insisted later that this was all said in jest, but we believe that as much as we believe in Santa.)
Apparently, Kelly is not the only white seeing red about this. A New Mexico teacher was disciplined the same week for mocking a black student who came to school in a Santa costume, reportedly telling the child, “Don’t you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?”
I’m not sure what’s up with the Christmas-time white panic attacks, but any child can tell you that pinning race on the legend of Santa is just plain wrong.
The Claus is about giving and acceptance, not making people feel excluded.
Did I mention he’s not real, either?
If he was real (which he’s not), history is not on the side of white power trippers. Saint Nicholas, the 4th-century Christian saint who is the earliest figure in the Santa Claus myth, was born in what is now Turkey, which was under Greek rule at the time. The earliest depictions of him show him as dark-skinned to illustrate his Mediterranean origins.
The Santa we know today comes from centuries of cultural mash-ups of Dutch folklore, German paganism and early Christian European storytelling mutilated by modern-day advertising and commercialism. Through it all, Santa’s appearance and magical traditions have changed slightly depending on what part of the world you’re in, mainly to build a sense of comfort and familiarity.
When I asked my 14-year-old the other night what color she thought Santa was back in her believing years, she looked at me strangely and said, “He’s the color of your parents.”
For a child of Miami, that means Santa may speak Spanish, Haitian Kreyol or Portuguese, with skin tones Crayola hasn’t even dreamed up yet.
Across the country, the Los Angeles Times reported last week that a black Santa has been the adoring traditional draw for black families for more than a decade in a South LA mall, where a Spanish speaking Latino Santa also presides. In an accompanying video, the paper asked children and adults, “What does Mr. Claus look like to you?” The only consistent reply was about the color of his suit.
Which makes me wonder why anybody would insist that her vision is the correct one. Claiming that an imaginary, joyful figure belongs to one race is like telling a room full of first-graders that he doesn’t exist at all. It comes from an ugly, dark place, and no Santa wants to go there.