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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

So, what colour is Santa? Or Jesus, for that matter? And why the HECK should this be on the news??

black santaI tend to go off, as we all know. And a newscaster from Fox News (I won’t name her, but you can find the article here; she doesn’t deserve more publicity) just lit my fuse.

Santa, she says, is white. Period. This mythical figure — drawn totally idiosyncratically in the heart of every child in America — is white. No discussion. And just FYI, so is Jesus. WHAT???

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Digression.

When my elder son was 4 or 5, he was in a preschool where making those cotton-ball bearded Santas was the holiday craft. He brought his home, proudly fluffy, brightly lacquered for durability. That Santa was BLACK, folks. As black as a new Sharpie magic marker. Face shining w/ a HUGE smile beneath that white white beard.

I said nothing, glad that my son was happy with his Santa. We didn’t care what colour an imaginary figure was, anyway. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Fast forward about 4 years. Along comes son 2, in the same preschool. Christmas rolls around, and Linda (the preschool owner) trots out the cotton-bearded Santa craft. Son #2 ALSO has a black Santa, just as vividly shiny underneath his soft beard, and just as brightly black.

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Call from pre-school Linda: Britt, is there something you’re not telling me?  Is this a family legend, or something? One son? But now two?

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

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I don’t remember asking my son — in fact, I don’t think I did, because I worried even then that it would make him think Santa couldn’t be black. And Santa can be ANYTHING.

A few years later (after Santa was no longer ‘real,’)I did ask Noah — son #2 — why Santa was black. Because Dad’s black, he said. (Note: his father isn’t black; he’s very brown in the summer — or the Saudi Arabian sun, where we lived then — as he’s part Native American)

After a discussion of race on the level of a 6- or 7-year-old, and a discussion of heritage, and why you don’t tell people you’re something you’re not, the subject dropped. It remained a favourite piece of my social justice talks w/ the kids. Because here’s what I learned: Santa is what your family is. Probably your Dad. And that’s as it should be.

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On to Jesus, that other Christmas figure (ostensibly the reason for the season). Fox says he also is white. Again, WHAT??? This is sooo not probable. As in: almost certainly not even true. FAR more likely that Jesus was black than white, and likeliest he was BROWN. Unlike Santa — which is bad enough, turning a fictional cultural hero into another white guy — Jesus is GOD for many children. And if you worry that your kids will find out you lied about Santa? Read Aisha Harris’s blog post, that triggered the Fox damage control panel. See the damage done to just one sensitive child, thinking  Santa didn’t look like her, or her family.

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Now multiply that by a factor of critical explosion. GOD doesn’t look like you, either. And what might be the significance of THAT? Other than justification for a hundred ostensibly Christian white supremacist organisations.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, St. Catherine's Monastery.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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What does it MATTER if we paint Santa black or brown or red or rainbow? Why can’t this mythical figure be whatever? Recently a friend of mine wrote a blog on subtle racism. The kind of ad that shows a handsome, young Asian guy by an Italian sports car, implying that the Asian engineer will have somehow made your car better. He gets that often. And ALWAYS notices.

Don’t you think that seeing Santa as a white dude, when you’re a black or brown or red kid, is at least as dischordant? Maybe you don’t. But IF you don’t, try thinking of Santa as what the original Saint Nicholas was: an old Greek guy. If it doesn’t matter what Santa looks like, why would that bother you?

And then? Think of Jesus as a rebel Jew, trying to overthrow the status quo. Because that’s what Christmas is really all about. No matter WHAT Fox would like to pretend.

 

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