Slate contributor Aisha Harris confirmed what I’ve been saying for years; Santa Claus shouldn’t have to be white. While my parents did the best to raise me with a black Santa, Harris says take race out of the question altogether and make him a penguin. FOX News’ Megyn Kelly says she’s dead wrong and that Santa is white because Jesus was absolutely, positively white. Yeah, okay.
Kelly discussed the Slate essay on her show “The Kelly Files” and reassured the kids tuning in. “Santa just is white. This person [Harris] is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is — and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.” Nope, she argued, there’s no way Old Saint Nick could be anything other than a white man because, duh, just look at Jesus. “You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact — as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that — but my point is: How do you revise it, in the middle of the legacy of the story, and change Santa from white to black?”
I would like to ask Megyn Kelly to have several seats. The Santa-Jesus connection is irrelevant and also suspect; geography and history tell us Jesus was likely not lily white, but that’s such a sticky issue I’m not even sure why she brought it up. And, yes, the Santa that pops down the chimney with presents is based on a Greek saint but the man kids write letters to has come so, so far from Saint Nikolaos of Myra that to hold his image to the man seen in relics is silly. Our Santa Claus is based on centuries of cultures making room for other people’s traditions; yes, several Christian traditions claim St. Nicholas but his image and his meaning has evolved as German pagans and Dutch Christians incorporated him into their celebrations. If those groups of people can give Santa a little leeway, then what is Kelly’s problem?
Her problem is she has the privilege of not having a problem. In the video clip, she completely ignores the fact that black kids suffer when they don’t see themselves reflected in the dominant culture, explaining, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.” That’s where she’s dead wrong. Time and time again we’ve seen research and we learned from our own lives that children of color not having images of themselves is damaging. If everyone on TV is white, and even Santa, who represents pure joy, absolutely has to be white, then it starts to look like those black and brown kids don’t matter. Because Santa as he’s celebrated now is so divorced from the Germanic, Dutch and Catholic traditions that created him (no one mentions how St. Nicholas is also patron saint of thieves and pawnbrokers, justsayin), he’s no longer tied to a single phenotype. Got the coat, the hat and the belly? Good; there’s Santa. That’s why representing him as white and only white is a problem and says more about the adults than the kids that leave him cookies.
“Look at him,” Kelly said, “how can he be alienating?” Maybe the smiling fat white man at the mall is a really nice guy, but he doesn’t necessarily reflect a black child’s reality and that’s what’s alienating. Maybe Kelly should stop being such a Grinch and embrace, in the spirit of Christmas, the magical possibility of a rainbow of Santas.