Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa in Black and White

Apparently nobody is safe this year:

This year the UN took Mark Rutte to task over Zwarte Piet.  Then Aisha Harris at Slate fired off a complaint about Santa:  namely, that he's only white.  That, as a black American, she wants the institution of Santa to be more inclusive, but that it would be better off if we ditched Santa altogether and used a penguin, instead.

There's only one problem with that--everybody knows pandas are way cuter than penguins.

The piece was written tongue-in-cheek and I skimmed it at first, and then went on to read Dear Prudie, because honestly, it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.  But then the Internet exploded--people started screeching that Santa had to be white.  The very people, I would hazard, who get all huffy and say that Zwarte Piet is racist.  Irony much?

Personally, the whole thing amuses me because it reveals how incredibly ignorant some people are when it comes to even treasured icons like St. Nicholas (i.e., Sinterklaas before he became Sinterklaas).  "Santa Claus is white because St. Nicholas is white"--St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, near Turkey, and he was most likely dark-skinned. "Santa Claus is white because people who live at the North Pole are white"--actually, if you do a survey of most of the people living in and around the North Pole, you'll probably find that most of them look like Inuits, or Asiatic.  Which is another way of saying, "Not white". "Santa Claus is white because he's always been white." Maybe.  But I can't recall a single Christmas poem or song that explicitly mentions Santa's race.  At most there's a mention of "ruddy cheeks" or something similar, but surely some black people are light enough to have ruddy cheeks, too...?

It also exposes the incredible contradictions that people swallow without stopping to think about them.  Suffice it to say that the people screeching the loudest are the ones who bemoan the commercialism that has taken over Christmas, who want a "return to the true nature of Christmas", celebrating the birth of Christ and all that.  Okay, except that the birth of Christ has NOTHING to do with a fat guy in a red suit delivering presents.  Do they want to commemorate Saint Nicholas?  Fine--that'd be December 6.  Or would they rather do the exchange of presents with the magi?  That's January 6, nativity scenes be damned (the three wise men were late).

As should be obvious, I have no real attachment to Santa Claus.  Indeed, I couldn't care less if he disappeared entirely, surviving only in Christmas carols and our copy of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". I never believed in him, not even as a child, but when I was little I remember feeling like I had to say something as if I believed, because otherwise the adults would get upset.  Suffice it to say that my tolerance for pandering hasn't gotten much better since then. Santa racist? If it is racist, it's racist in the way that making Barbie blonde is racist--it's a sin of omission, rather than someone actively adopting a guise.  Better or worse than the Zwarte Piet controversy?  Worse, I think, because it's not Santa that's racist in always being white (as I mentioned above, most Christmas songs don't mention his race altogether)--it's us, who imagine him as being white.  And it sucks to realize that you're not as good a person as you once thought you were.  But the adults amongst us take a moment to reflect, learn from our bruised feelings--that maybe it's possible to have a black Santa every now and then, or maybe a Christmas penguin is the right way to go, after all-- and move on.

Like I said before about ZP--this isn't stuff I think a lot about.  It's a fun frivolous thing for the kids over the holidays.  Period.  I won't shelter the kidlet from the nonsense, but I also won't let him believe that it's anything other than a story, either.  The magic of the season isn't about magical people who leave you presents.  It's about showing the people you love that you love them, and being with them.  

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