Where’s my Santa of Color?

With the holiday season slowly coming to an end, malls across America are quickly filling up with shopping procrastinators, storefronts selling last minute deals, and then of course, white men playing Santa Claus for cranky children–with black Santa getting left behind the curtain hidden from scared white American traditionalists. In days leading up to Christmas, when friends and families are supposed to come together and patch up fresh wounds from political battles fought over thanksgiving dinner tables, there is a guaranteed uproar somewhere over the debate of the color of our beloved Kris Kringle.

If a brave and daring black Santa does choose to pop up somewhere in America, maybe referenced in pop culture or even just in your neighborhood mall, it is usually met with outrage and a demand for answers. “Where’s my white Santa?” the people cry.

America’s history with having a racially diverse Santa has consistently been met with bigotry, prejudice and a fear of stepping outside our comfort zone, and because of that, a terrible example has been set for our children; many instances happening of recently:

In 2001, The mall at Stonecrest located in Lithonia Georgia, hired their first black Santa Claus to meet the demands of many of their African-American patrons who wanted someone who their children could identify with. Although this was met with good intention, the mall carelessly labeled him as “Cultural Santa” and offered him up as an alternative option to the white Santa who was labeled as “traditional Santa”, ruining what was supposed to be a beautiful moment of inclusion. In 2013, journalist Megyn Kelly responded to an opinion piece on Slate.com after a writer proposed the idea of having a Santa Claus represented as an animal–a penguin to be exact–instead of a white man; this way, any child, of any gender or race would be able to identify. Kelly, while on live television told the children of America, that “Santa Claus was white”, dismissing the possibility of having an equal Santa. Finally, in 2016 the Mall of America hired their first African-American Santa Claus in their 24 year history, played by Larry Jefferson-Gamble, a retired US Army veteran. Although Gamble’s presence was a hit with shoppers, the comments sections on many of the local Minnesota media outlets were flooded with insensitive and discriminatory remarks.

I understand that change is not always easy and can sometimes be frightening, but to be bias towards someone of color, regardless of your beliefs or values, is not tradition, its prejudice. Do you really believe that a white, Christian Santa Claus could provide your child with a more suitable Christmas than that of a black Santa, or a Japanese Santa? What about a Puerto Rican Santa?

The most popular and recognizable image of Santa Claus that we’ve grown accustomed to–portly, red suit, sack of gifts and white skin–was popularized in American homes by the famous poem “A visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore and strategic advertising by Coca Cola in the 1930’s to move a product into white homes; but this is not how the jolly man was always portrayed throughout history:

At one time in old European folklore, everyone’s favorite bearer of gifts shelled out presents to deserving children alongside a half-demon, half-goat named Krampus who ate the undeserving children. Sometimes Krampus would just kidnap the children and drag them to hell. And in a more controversial adaptation of St. Nick in the Netherlands, dating back to 1850, the Dutch people who were under Spanish rule at the time, had their Santa accompanied by a servant who wore colorful Renaissance style clothing and blackface. The blackface was used to show detest to their Spanish rulers who naturally had darker skin then the Dutch.

If history taught us anything about this topic, whether it’s from 2016 Minnesota or 19th century Europe, just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right, or even necessary at all. It’s okay to stand by your beliefs, but to hurt someone or discredit your neighbor’s ideals simply because you’re afraid of what you don’t understand, is only keeping us divided as neighbors in a time when we desperately need to stick together for the betterment and civility of our country.

When someone screams out, “Where’s my white Santa,” we’re only teaching children the true meaning of intolerance.

Can’t we just teach our children to live in the moment and be happy for what they have while accepting and loving others no matter what they look like–white, black, man or women, or even a penguin if need be?

Or maybe we should just absolve the entire holiday all together; skip Dec. 25 on the calendar, jump straight from the 24th to the 26th and eradicate the trampling of people at mega stores on black Friday while saving an insane amount of money and resources wasted on driving and flying around the world to visit loved ones simply out of traditional obligation.

If you insist on celebrating Christmas, do it however you will, in whatever shade of pigment that pleases you, just try not to ruin it for everyone else; because if it’s not hurting you, then who really cares. Life is difficult enough as it is today, especially with gas prices constantly rising, student loan debt weighing down the majority of the millennial generation and talks of our crops possibly running out in the next 50 years. The last thing we need is to exert any unnecessary energy on how your local galleria got the color of Santa wrong.

Please just go and enjoy your holiday.

Richard DeFino is from Saranac Lake.

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