By Jeffery A. Faulkerson, MSSW
So I'm driving my son to school one morning when I hear him say, "Daaaad!!! Is Santa Claus white or black?". A smirk crosses my face, as I, the father to a six-year-old, African-American boy, realize that I don't have a canned response to his question. However, my mind immediately recalls the time when a male friend of mine organized an event in Raleigh, North Carolina that afforded African-American children opportunities to meet and take photographs with a black Santa Claus. My son was four.
Of course, I told my son that Santa is black. He didn't believe me. But I dare say most of us harbor a similar belief, resulting from the Christmas images that are presented to us soon after our parents' knives have sliced and diced those Thanksgiving turkeys. Step into any mall in America, and you'll see a white Santa sitting in a large chair inviting children to tell him what they want for Christmas. Turn to CBS, NBC or ABC and you'll see a white Santa asking Rudolph to guide his "sleigh tonight," or restoring Frosty to his, well, frosty self.
The question we parents must ask ourselves during this time of year is what kind of impression does constant exposure to these images of Santa have on children of color, as well as their white counterparts? I dare say not a good one. As an African-American parent, I fear my son will grow up thinking salvation rests solely in the hands of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males. We must never forget that the Santa Claus myth hinges on Santa's ability to deliver gifts to all the "nice" children. And by him being portrayed as a white man, without the offering of racially diverse alternatives, all other races of men are considered second-class citizens who lack the knowledge and skills to deliver the goods.
But I also think we African American parents, and those from other ethnic groups, have become too accepting of the white Santa Claus myth. This acceptance is largely due to how we were raised and what we were exposed to as children. Watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas", as well as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and other holiday classics, was an annual event in the Faulkerson/Dulaney/Neal household. Consequently, when I laid my head on my pillow as a child on Christmas Eve, I envisioned an overweight, white man, dressed in his red and white outfit, sliding down our chimney to place gifts under our Christmas tree.
But I don't think White America should apologize to us for not including persons of color in Santa Claus' world. It is not their responsibility to provide heroes for us to emulate. Yes, some of them did establish engagement rules that undoubtedly give members of their group an unfair advantage. And some of them do employ practices that keep most of us in poverty while more of their group members prosper. Some of them even created classic television programs that give credence to white heroes but none to black, brown, red and yellow ones. But the lesson we parents of color should take from this discussion about the perpetuation of a white Santa Claus is more needs to be done by us to expose children of color to heroes of color.
My hope is someone will do what I did: re-tell the story of Santa Claus. Again, I told my son that Santa Claus is a black man. I then embellished the story even more by telling him the white Santas he sees in the mall lobbies and department stores were once elves promoted to junior Santas. It is these junior Santas who are assigned to different sectors of the world, being charged with delivering Christmas gifts and good will to all on Black Santas' behalf.
Do you think he bought it?
Not a chance.
My son would much rather hear an original story, one that will be considered a classic for future generations of children, youths and adults. And because of this expectation, I know that he and children like him want us parents of color to be the solutions that we hope and pray for.
What do you think?
I look forward to reading your responses.