Today is the Santa Claus parade in my community. And like many local parents, I will be braving the cold so that my kids will have a chance to watch all of the floats and catch a glimpse of Santa. This year after the parade, they are even having a meet and greet lunch with Santa. The kids are really looking forward to this. I expect it will be the same man that has played Santa for many years in the city, riding in the parade. It is this expectation that made me think about the fact that my children have never seen a black Santa. In fact, when I think of Santa I can only envision a white man, because that is what has most popularly been portrayed. Why can’t Santa look like this:
Even when we decide to reference the possibility of a black Santa, it is filled with the usual negative stereotypes that attach themselves to black people.
Kwanzaa Klawz(quim) He lives off of bacon fat and resides at the summit of the highest rubbish dump in Compton, CA. Black Santa’s workshop is comprised of himself, his wife, Mrs. Black Santa Bitch, and an army of prostitutes (white maids and servants which he calls his Ho-Ho Hoe) dressed as elves. The Black Elf is a rarely considered figure in folklore mythology but is, nonetheless, a Hip-hop reality; particularly in Christmas jungle-porno.
Black Santa is made out of peppermint schnapps, Brown Sugar, Black Liquorice, and Hennessy.
Black Santa is not a kind man that dotes on giving children pleasure. He is a a figure that is angry, uncouth and degenerate. Unlike white Santa, black Santa takes pride in making children cry.
So many of the images that are positive in this culture are associated with whiteness; even when the original legend or story involved a person of color. Jesus is the prime example of this. In early Christianity images were truer to what Jesus may have looked like, because he was often drawn with darker skin. There is no way that Jesus was a white man with blue eyes. Now some Christians may say that it is not important what color he was, because of the message that he came to deliver. But that can only be the case in a color blind world.
Even the myths that we tell children in the form of fairytales often have a white protagonist. What message does this send children of color? The super heroes that my children watch on television from superman to spiderman are all white. These are images that children regularly consume without much thought. This is what the media offers us and nowhere in the mix is there room for the idea that we live in a multiracial world.
I would love to watch the parade and see a black, Asian, Latino or even First Nations Santa. Santa is a mythical person, who need not be bound specifically in white skin. Because we have so normalized whiteness as a monolithic representation of humanity, Santa will be white. In fact, as you walk through the malls happily Christmas shopping, the Santa there will also be white. Perhaps, if you have a forward-thinking employer there might be a an elf of color, but otherwise Father Christmas, the spirit of one of our happier holidays, will uniformly be represented by whiteness. Few will pause to recognize the erasure for what it is and, just like so many other things in the world, a silent message will be sent: people of color are not of the world, we exist solely as peripheral decoration. Santa will be just one more image that will once again declare to every child of color that they are “other.”
Editor’s note: Renee lives in Canada. I told her that I would mention this, because the experience for some in the United States may be different (or may not). For instance, I frequently encountered black Santas growing up–in school…at the mall–and I haven’t believed in Santa since the 70s. I was taught that Santa could look like any of the children he visited. Makes sense, especially for a magical guy who flies in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Is my experience growing up in a predominately-black steel town unique? Do other racial communities adapt the Santa legend to fit their experiences? How can multiracial communities adapt the Santa experience to the needs of a diverse group of children?