This week a reporter said on TV that “Santa Claus is white” and this caused an uproar. As a white guy, I was initially puzzled how that could be. In reading about it, I had a few thoughts.
Santa Claus is not a historical figure, but a mythical one that comes from a white culture, namely European (Britain, Germany, to name a few), which was predominantly white, just as African countries were, as a general rule, predominantly black, and Asian cultures predominantly Asian, etc. It’s only in the relatively recent history that the “melting pot” effect has caused increasing numbers of other races to be in so many societies.
Does that mean that a society must change all of its mythical or other figures, and failure to do so is a rejection of those other races, who should feel shame about their race? I don’t think so. Why does a child have to see every mythic figure as being the same as themselves or feel bad? It shows great insecurity not only in the child but perhaps their race in that society, which is indicative of far bigger problems and should be bolstered by more substantive means. Changing mythical figures to be every race is a bandaid on a bigger wound.
In this article, a black woman named Zirlina Maxwell says “sometimes we have to take a step back and wonder why most of these historical figures are portrayed as white. I think that it’s very, very important for people of color.” Since Britain settled the United States, we obviously have tons of cultural ideas that originated there. That’s why Santa is white. There’s your reason. Her comment shows a lack of historical perspective for an educated adult. She actually asserts that he’s shown as white “simply because advertisers have portrayed him this way in America”.
Do black people think white Santa is actually racism instead of nothing more than having originated from a culture that was predominantly white?
It seems so. The article that started all of this says Santa is white because that’s the default for all figures as a part of racism in the U.S. That black author, Aisha Harris, doesn’t understand history either, apparently. While her article is tongue-in-cheek, the I’m-not-worthy-unless-mythical-figures-look-like-me angle is genuine, sad, and the impetus for it.
Both articles say that most black families have black Santa, black Jesus and black angels, etc. The reason appears to be so that black children see these figures as being just like them, which initially appears to make sense for being inclusive. The alternative is apparently that the black children will question why their skin color is different and feel ashamed and inferior, like Aisha says she did. Rather than explain (to children who might not understand anyway) the historical context of white depictions (if that context is even understood by the parents, which it is apparently not), parents try to avoid it.
But they are only postponing the inevitable. Why inevitable? Because the US is still dominated by the culture of the majority race that founded it: whites. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, as such things take time. And whites will continue to depict Santa as white for the same reason blacks want him black (identity). In addition, Santa originates from whites, who naturally feel possessive of this depiction. And resentful of attempts to change it. Whereas blacks can see white Santa as a rejection of them, whites can see black Santa as an attack on heritage, tradition, and themselves (and their own ideas of him), not to mention political correctness that many despise.
“Get your own mythic figures and leave mine alone,” I hear whites calling out.
When the black children eventually and inevitably see white Santa, they’re apparently upset and confused, having come to expect black Santa just like white people expect white Santa. Partly for that reason, I’m not sure that the whole “black everything” approach is healthy. It seems to imply or validate the idea that they are indeed inferior unless a fictional character is the same race. Why can’t we just be honest and tell them Santa comes from a society that was once mostly white, is more diverse now, and that he loves everyone regardless of race (just like we adults; as long as we’re lying to them about Santa’s existence, we can include that lie, too, right?)? There’s a conflict-free solution.
Even simpler – Santa’s parents were white. Do we need more explanation than that?
Why do kids need an explanation at all, for that matter? Just because they ask a question doesn’t mean they should get an answer. “Why is Santa Claus white?” It’s kind of a stupid question. I mean, did black kids ask why President Bush was white? Do white kids ask why President Obama is black? Don’t we validate the whole thing by even giving an answer? Do kids expect every figure in the world to be their own race? It seems so. We validate that by showing them only depictions that match them. Is that healthy?
Why can’t you have both? Verisimilitude. The willing suspension of disbelief. Having both rubs it in our face that it’s all fake. If we’re inconsistent like that, kids will catch on even quicker to the lie that is Santa Claus. And if we keep going that route, it leads to the ridiculous. After all, what’s next, black Alice in Wonderland? Black Peter Pan? Do we have to have two sets of every book ever written, with the character races switched so no one feels bad (that reminds me of the push in grade school to say no team lost a game in a sport, because they both won for showing up – good grief)? What about other races? Are Latinos and Asians ticked off, too? Where do we draw the line?
Santa Claus is white. Accept it.
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- Jesus, Santa Claus, and Race (washingtonmonthly.com)
- Santa Claus Black or White? Why it Matters (guardianlv.com)