In what is already promising to be my favorite dumb public thing of the year, Salon reported that earlier this week a New Mexico teacher told an African American teenager to take off his Santa outfit in an attempt to affirm that the jolly lord of consumerism is white. The poor kid, according to the article, is now ashamed to wear any such costume and the teacher has been reprimanded. This follows the epicly dumb thing on Fox last week in which Megyn Kelly, in response to challenging discourse in Slate, told the children of America that Santa is simply white (and so is Jesus).
Fundamentally, this kind of behavior is extremely problematic. The teacher who denounced the black Santa not only exhibited racism himself, but also set an example for the entire class, furthering the poisonous notion that Santa has to be any one ethnicity. Education should be prompting kids and teens to challenge conventional notions that really make no sense at all (the inspiration for Santa, St. Nicholas, hailed from Turkey, says Salon, and wasn’t Jesus from the Middle East?). The myth of Santa being only white may have tremendous implications; the jolly dude´s legend is shrouded in fun, but said lightheartedness can mask discursive injections of ignorance and racism into children’s minds.
Salon also reported that Indiana University tried to imagine a black Santa, giving him a saxophone and jazzy flare, one individual even saying that he’d likely only visit the ghetto. How can we be this close to 2014 and still think like this?
The idea that Santa can only be a white man can be unpacked further. Remember that Mr. Claus is a surveillance figure more than anything. He has an omnipotent list of children with only two moral choices, and supposedly can see you when you are asleep. To some degree he’s a freaky replica of Big Brother. The notion that he is a white man gives the sense that we are only comfortable with a white fellow in a seat of power as terrifying as Santa’s. He is a symbol of a merry status quo.
Mary Elizabeth Williams, who penned the report in Salon, earnestly reminded us that if Santa were real he’d not be ignorant or care about where someone is from. The ideal of Santa is acceptance and a generous spirit, said Williams. Although I don’t believe in the fat man myself, I do agree that Santa’s original intention was as a symbol of generosity and good tidings. Here’s a fantastical creature that defies space-time to deliver gifts to all the good children of the world. He’s Jesus with a sack full of commercial goods for children who obey their parental units.
It’s frightening, though, that he’s also being used as a vessel for discrimination. Christmas should not be a time of shame in the slightest; the student in New Mexico now has to suffer the concept that only his Caucasian peers can be likened to Santa, and the dude sliding down his chimney shares the skin color of the teacher who made him feel this way. We can’t allow ourselves to listen to ignorant, poorly educated people furthering outdated, discriminatory behavior, especially when they are tainting our imaginations. We should be instead challenging these notions; Santa as he’s understood now presently represents surveillance, white capitalism and commercialism, and different contexts of racial and cultural ignorance. And a figure that doesn’t even exist shouldn’t hold this kind of power undisputed.
John Stewart on the Daily Show pokes fun at Megyn Kelly’s white (supremacist?) Christmas stance: