If you’ve been living under a rock, and only decided to poke your head out from under said rock to read this blog, you may not know that a recent post by Aisha Harris on her Slate blog and the accompanying response by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly has reared it’s ugly head out there, and generated no small amount of debate. In reality, these two are just peas in a pod.
The three primary sources of this debate are here:
- Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore
- Megyn Kelly’s Fox News Christmas war: Santa Claus ‘just is’ white
- What Fox News Doesn’t Understand About Santa Claus
Without further ado…
Both Aisha and Megyn are prejudiced at the very least, bigots at their worst.
When the color of someone’s skin evokes an emotional response from you, you are prejudiced. There is no qualifier that says you have to be of a certain race to be prejudiced, a racist, or a bigot. In my belief, both Santa Claus and Jesus are fictional characters. However, if you want to argue that Jesus is not a fictional character, that a singular physical being named Jesus upon which the character in the Christian bible was based actually existed, even if that is the case much like Santa Claus, no genuine image of the physical person Jesus exists, and therefore he cannot be determined to be white, or any other color. And does it really matter?
No, it doesn’t, and here’s why.
Representations of characters from any mythology are dependent upon those who rendered them. The representations of both Jesus and Santa Claus are “accepted” as the norm for their rendering, and without prejudice we can accept them that way, because they simply give us a face to attach a set of ideas and ideals to. You can’t say that Santa or Jesus are white, anymore than you can say they should not be white, or be represented by a penguin. To attach any importance at all to the typical rendering of their skin color is prejudiced. What is not OK, is “feeling slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn’t the “real thing”” or that “Santa is just white.” That’s prejudice. Aisha Harris is actually lamenting being black, which is sad, not lamenting her black Santa’s skin color.
The reason Aisha chose a penguin for her hypothetical and tongue in cheek idea of Santa is because to use a human being requires that the human have some sort of race, although she fails to suggest the obvious – that Santa Claus can be made more racially ambiguous. Either way, the evolution over time of the image of Santa Claus “is what it is” and is not a part of a “white-as-default” notion endemic to American culture..
Santa Claus in New Delhi – the myriad children gathered around him appear so incredibly offended and uncomfortable.
Making Santa a racially neutral creature does absolutely nothing to address prejudice.
In fact, it has quite the opposite effect. By making Santa, who is traditionally represented as an elderly pale skinned humanoid elf a racially neutral penguin, the message is not one of tolerance nor acceptance of differences, which will remain. It teaches intolerance of differences. Aisha, in a roundabout way, but clearly nonetheless, makes the argument that children, black or white, identify themselves by the color of their skin without being taught that the color of their skin matters. Aisha Harris and Megyn Kelly were not born prejudiced; they were made that way by not just a society that fosters this belief, but by their families and their own cultures. Keep in mind as well that there are a near infinite number of cultures in America today that were homegrown.
My youngest daughter, now 15, has no idea at all that anyone is different as the result of the color of their skin. She is growing up, and continues to live, in very diverse populations. It wasn’t until she was 10 and she was taught about the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, and the Holocaust, that she learned human beings over the course of history have attached artificial meaning and value to the color of a persons skin, or their ethnic and cultural background. Today, she is absolutely color blind. As I type this, her best friend is sleeping in her room with her, the lazy bones are sleeping in late after being up late doing whatever it is teenaged girls do. Oh, wait, I forgot, my readers need context. Her best friend is what a lot of you would call “black”, but to us, she’s just human. She is not her “black friend.”
Arguing the historical influences which influenced the idea of Santa, is ridiculous
The origins of old St. Nick are not a deductively valid argument against Santa’s “whiteness”, because St. Nick, aka Santa Claus, is a compilation of many characters taken from many sources over time. Arguing that he is “a skinny Greek/Turkish guy” is not valid, since clearly, over the course of recent history (the last 130+ years), the traditional rendering simply isn’t. This argument is no more valid than arguing he should be white, because Santa Claus is a fictional character.
Martin Luther King Jr. (if you’ve ever actually read his biography) was born Michael King. His father changed his name to Martin Luther (King Jr.), in an homage to Martin Luther, a real “fat white man.” While Martin Luther King Jr. is not a fictional character, he clearly did not hold the same prejudices that are shown here. It would be absurd to argue that either he, or Martin Luther, be represented in illustration as a penguin because of prejudice. He was not ashamed that his name was influenced by a white man to the best of my knowledge, and in fact his name was deliberately changed to pay tribute to that white man, because his father realized that the color of a persons skin, real or imagined, was unimportant.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
–Martin Luther King Jr.
Do you think when Martin Luther King Jr. said this, he meant to imply only his four children, or only black children? I like to think he was referring to all children, universally. We shouldn’t judge people, fictional humanoids or otherwise, based on their skin color, in either a positive nor negative way, or as representative of “whiteness-by-default”. Do you think that making Santa a penguin actually furthers his goal? That is, by definition, prejudice. Keeping Santa white and not perceiving his “whiteness” would further Dr. King’s goal a little better, do you not agree?
And Megyn Kelly? A Roman Catholic? All too easy! Here’s Matthew 15 for you, and if you don’t understand the parable and how it relates, I am sorry for you.
15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[c]”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
The color of a persons skin is no more valid than whether or not they wash their hands before eating as a tool to judge them. Their actions are; the content of their character. By that argument, Santa could be any color, including the traditionally rendered white, because we judge him, fictional or not, by his deeds.
Proposing that he not be white, or that he must be white, or that he be turned into a penguin are the same argument. One of the greatest ironies in this entire set of irrational discourses is centered around this fictional Santa being both white, and because he is fictional we can make him anything we want, a penguin included. Interestingly, although Santa is humanoid and his skin tone pale in traditional renderings, he is not human. He is an elf, a mythical creature, and therefore not a part of the human subdivision of Caucasian. It’s because your biases cause you to perceive him as a “fat old white guy” that you make him so.
Changing Santa Claus into a racially neutral penguin does not mean we are expanding our perceptions of the norm.
Actually, it means we are diluting and reducing our perceptions of the norm, because an inability to accept something based on its skin color, and eliminating all reference to skin color, reduces the scope of the norm. Making Santa a penguin will not alter the reality that people have different skin tones. As I mentioned above, making Santa Claus racially neutral does not teach children that it is OK for Santa to be white – or black, or yellow. It teaches kids that race does not exist, which will only serve to heighten this “insecurity and shame” that has been trained into Aisha, with which she was not born. If I look at another person of any race, although I may see they are less “melanin-deficient” than myself, if I make that a defining characteristic built out of my world view, then I am prejudiced. By the same token, if I look at my own skin color and judge myself because of it, I am still prejudiced. By making Santa racially neutral, we reduce our perceptions of the norm by taking race and the physical differences associated with them, and make them abnormal, rather than making those differences part of the norm.
To better understand how to expand perceptions of the norm I would suggest reading “A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places” Essentially, the study shows that we change perceptions of the norm by making the current norm socially unacceptable (in the case of race, it is the perception that race is a defining characteristic which is the cultural norm), and by implication *not* by masking it. In other words, changing your perception of Santa Claus as a “fat-old-white-man” (again he actually is not – he’s a pale skinned elf) would be much more effective in altering the cultural norm than would changing him into a penguin.
There is a very real disparity in the media when representing aspects of the human condition beyond a very narrow stratum that conflicts with reality
Both Aisha and Megyn make a mockery out of real prejudice and “whiteness-by-default” in America today. You can’t argue about Santa, because the current iteration of Santa really is whatever it is. He was not created to further a sinister subtext of alleged white superiority, nor to perpetuate the ridiculous perception that the world is devoid of color from an American world view. It reminds me of a girl I once knew. I asked her out to dinner and suggested a barbecue place that I liked. When we got there, I decided on a half-breast of fried chicken, and she looked at me with unabashed venom, and said “You ordered fried chicken because I am black, didn’t you? What, are you going to order hominy grits and collard greens, too?” Neither of course was true. It never occurred to me that ordering fried chicken was reinforcing a racial stereotype – and in reality it wasn’t. To do that requires context. However, her response was absolutely filled with bigotry.
In another case on the other side of the coin, one day when riding in a friends van with other co-workers, the driver put on some music – Phil Collins to be precise – and one of the passengers commented “I’m surprised you like Phil Collins. I just didn’t picture you as a Phil Collins kind of guy.” In case you hadn’t guessed, the commenter was white, the driver, black. Blatant bigotry.
Santa is not white because you are black, nor is he white because Megyn Kelly has declared it a “verifiable fact.” He just happens to have pale skin, much the same as I do, much the same as Aisha does not.
The real enemy here is not some mythological figure from history that bears no ill will. Santa is not a white guy in blackface. Santa is not Uncle Tom.
Santa is not representative of the media today.
The media that display normal as a very carefully constructed set of parameters which it represents as being characteristic of society as a whole is the real problem. A media that reinforces stereotypes without blinking an eye, that is the real problem. You want to take on a mythical creature that is intensely representative of what is wrong with media today? How about Jar-Jar Binks and the blinders Ahmed Best puts on?
Let’s take this discussion even further, and extend it to all peoples of this great planet? How about Indian stereotypes?
These are what really matter. The argument regarding Santa could be taken in different contexts – he isn’t gay, he isn’t female, he is overweight…
Santa is not the enemy of equality, a culture Santa in no way represents (except to Aisha and Megyn) is.
That is all.