LEON: The Day Santa Really Went Black
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III | 12/23/2013, 3 p.m.
“…for all the kids watching at home, Santa just is white… Santa is what he is… Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too …He was a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact — as is Santa…” — Megyn Kelly, Fox News, Dec. 11, 2013
On Dec. 10, Slate.com writer Aisha Harris wrote an article titled “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore” wherein she makes the point that as a Black child, the public image of a White Santa caused her great confusion. For a child, imagery is important. “I remember feeling slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn’t the 'real thing.' Because when you’re a kid and you’re inundated with the imagery of a pale seasonal visitor—and you notice that even some black families decorate their houses with white Santas—you’re likely to accept the consensus view, despite your parents’ noble intentions.”
When this story first broke I was not going to write about it. As a Black man I could empathize with Ms. Harris’ article. I also found the initial discussion caused by Megyn Kelly’s overreaction to be shallow and basically frivolous. As the days wore on and I absorbed Ms. Kelly’s comments, I realized that I’d seen this type of supremacist attitude before. I also realized that honest analysis of Ms. Kelly’s comments had not yet been part of the ongoing dialogue.
When I was a child my parents would decorate our house with a large “traditional” or White Santa. It was prominently displayed on the roof next to the chimney and illuminated with a large spotlight.
After years of exposure to the winter weather our Santa needed repair. My parents called upon a close family friend and artist, Gerry “GOS” Simpson to give Santa a facelift. GOS suggested to my parents, “Let’s make Santa Black!” My parents agreed. GOS went to work and the result drove many in my predominately white community crazy.
For years after “Santa Went Black”, one of the conversations at Christmas amongst White neighbors and passersby would be, “did you see that Black Santa on that house on Land Park Drive?” “Why would someone do that?” Well, the answer was simple; it was a Black family that owned that house. My parents and GOS never intended to make a political statement with the Black Santa. They merely decided to have an image of Christmas that they and their children could identify with, that represented them.
The key to my parent’s decision and the link to Kelly’s overreaction is that Imagery is important and images are powerful.
Megyn Kelly’s overreaction to Harris’ article really has nothing to do with as Kelly said, “...another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa” (Ms. Harris never makes that claim). Kelly’s overreaction has everything to do with the power of imagery. This was Kelly’s not-so-subtle defense of the psychosis of White Supremacy as it has been historically exercised through the imposition of White imagery as wholesome, good, and virtuous. The imagery of Santa, Jesus, and God are just three examples of this.