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The passing Christmas season has always had its norms—red-nosed Rudolph, pointy-eared elves, and bearded white Santa.
While watching a segment of C-SPAN the other day, the question of Santa’s race was brought up. Argumentatively, who indeed decided that jolly old Saint Nick is white? We live in an age when we teach our children that race doesn’t define a person. So how do we explain the fact that there’s never been a Santa of color to our kids?
It’s clear that tradition is hard to break; it’s a tradition for a reason. But the underlying effect of tradition is permanence. Santa Claus cannot and should not be portrayed only as a white man anymore. Just like Bob Dylan so aptly sang, “The times, they are a’changin’,” we should not be living in the past. How can we expect change when significant cultural icons and symbols remain uncompromised? If the media keeps presenting Santa as a white man, how can racism ever be subdued?
If a black child were to ask his devout, Christian mother why Santa Claus doesn’t resemble him nor his mother, how would the mother answer without depicting all black people as inferior? What is a black child supposed to think if Santa Clause is always white? That white men are the only ones capable of bringing gifts, joy and love?
While I understand that Santa Claus was popularized a time when white men dominated the fields of art and culture in general, the traditional depiction of Saint Nick doesn’t seem as accurate in our day and age, especially in a country as diverse as ours. Christmas may be a Christian holiday, but Christianity isn’t a white religion. It has become one of the three most popular religions in the world, with believers of every race, color and ethnicity. So why is our Santa Claus depiction so prejudiced? Why isn’t Santa Claus portrayed as black? Or as Indian? Asian? Hispanic? Any other race but white? Yes, Santa Claus is a mythical being (I apologize to those of you whom I have offended with this blunt proverb), but he’s become a universal symbol. By constantly depicting Santa Claus as white, we are neglecting the importance of other races and supporting white supremacy over the entire globe.
Tim Allen’s famed movie The Santa Clause features himself as a white Santa. In Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Santa is again white. Maybe I’m just oblivious, but I’ve never seen a Santa that wasn’t white nationally acknowledged in the media.
A society cannot eliminate all traces of racism if it doesn’t accept change in even its oldest icons. Santa Clause is not a white man. He can be, but he can also be a black, Indian, Asian, or Hispanic. We need to open the minds of the next generation. We need to teach them that there are no race-specific representations of our icons and that our country is a place where all men are truly created equal. But none of this can happen if we continue to allow Santa to be white.