Aisha Harris & Megyn Kelly: Why they are both wrong, and why it matters. A lot.

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:

  1. Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore
  2. Megyn Kelly’s Fox News Christmas war: Santa Claus ‘just is’ white
  3. 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?

Sexuality?

Women?

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.

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Ignorance is Bliss: Just who do you think you are?

As is always the case, I only blog when I am disrupted by something I observe in the world around us enough to bother to write. The subject of this post, I suppose, stems from long-held ideas I have had about human nature, and the processes that go on inside our internal worlds that make us who we are. Not in a general sense; not the human race. But individuals. You and you and you.

The post in and of itself is only a distant cousin of the political thoughts and musings I post here. However, I believe firmly that it is at the core of every thought anyone has on such subjects, or will ever have, and is therefore also intimately related to what everyone believes, in one way or another, about everything. Perhaps, upon perusing my pages, you might find it within yourselves to question everything you think and feel, and through osmosis, be more receptive to the thoughts of others.

Psychology Today defines empathy thusly:

“Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors. “

PT also adds the strange and seemingly gratuitous statement:

“While American culture might be socializing people into becoming more individualistic rather than empathic, research has uncovered the existence of “mirror neurons,” which react to emotions expressed by others and then reproduce them.”

If you want to know more than you probably ever cared to about mirror neurons, you can bone up on them here: Mirror, Mirror In The Brain: Mirror Neurons, Self-Understanding And Autism Research

The takeaway from this is what is really important. Humans have evolved in such a way that the emotional response which we call empathy makes us a more viable species. It gives us some advantage. It is a part of our makeup, in each and every one of us. Keep in mind, that although it is often associated with negative emotions, feeling empathy is not restricted to negative emotions. It is, however, from the negative aspects of empathy through which altruism is born.

Psychology Today defines altruism thusly:

“Acting with an unselfish regard for others doesn’t always come naturally, even though many psychologists believe we’re hard-wired for empathy since cooperative behavior allowed our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions. But most of us realize that when we make the effort to give without expectations of reciprocity, we feel fulfilled and energized.”

Now, add to this what is known as the “Negative-State Relief Model”, which in essence hypothesizes that when empathy kicks in, producing a negative affect or “mood”, we instinctively want to do something to help; not to genuinely help others – there is no such thing as pure altruism – but to alleviate our own symptoms. An egoistic model of altruism. This has been corroborated in several studies, such as the one linked here, as well as the  “empathy-altruism hypothesis”. I would point out that there are dissenters to this, so I don’t want to establish my posit as fact, but as an assumption based on evidence I have gathered. Your mileage may vary.

So, when you see tragedy strike, such as Typhoon Haiyan, or even a neighbor whose house burns down, your instinctive desire to help comes not from your altruistic desire to assist in times of need. It actually comes from disliking the way that seeing tragedy makes you feel, and helping can relieve the symptoms of that reaction. Helping others is done for purely selfish reasons.

By extension, when empathy (and remember the definition of empathy above) is not stimulated, one can be dismissive of the thoughts and feelings of others. One can even feel disdain, or apathy. It is why people can look at human tragedies such as natural disasters with intense negative emotions (sadness, fear, anger, etc.), but can turn a blind eye (or even cheer) just as easily to the deaths of foreigners in wars in which the group feels “righteous” and/or “justified”. I find this to be an interesting aspect of human thinking, but I can see the evolutionary value in it. If members of my group are being injured, the emotional pain created by observing their suffering and feeling empathy helps me to move to action to resolve the pain and help promote the continuity of my group. However, in a territorial dispute, or some other mechanism which might provoke a sense of threat which invokes another suite of negative emotions, it is contraindicated to feel empathy for those who it is perceived would do us harm. Quite the conundrum.

In recent discussions in another public forum, I was rather amazed to see the same comment come through in two different and isolated discussions, regarding very near to identical topics.

In having a conversation with a liberal-leaning person regarding (insert your favorite topic here) , I posed the question “Why do you think that conservatives feel that way about (your favorite topic)?” The response was “Because they are stupid.”

In the same conversation with a conservative-leaning individual, invisible to one another, the conservative-leaning individual responded to the same question regarding the liberal, “Well, you know, statistics show that people with liberal leanings have much lower IQs than conservatives.” In other words, they are stupid.

These two feel passionately about their world views, and I cannot fault them for that. However, they both use a logical fallacy to invalidate the others’ argument without applying any critical thinking. I see enormous numbers of compositions, diatribes, epithets, and irrational tomes penned by individuals who have no other goal than to further their own world view through subjective opinion without offering any analysis, or offering misguided and falsified (a la Mr. Sanders in my last post) data to support their positions. But even that sort of bewitchery and manipulation pales in comparison to these two. These arguments (that the other party, pardon the pun, is stoopit) are both ad hominem. Lowest of the low. And generally reserved for when you know your argument is defeated, and you have nowhere to go but irrational.

And for the record, it should be noted that conservatives actually tend to have significantly lower IQs than liberals: Do Racism, Conservatism, and Low I.Q. Go Hand in Hand?

While I align myself with neither, it is important not to let that assertion become the focus of this article, lest the reader ignore the rest of this based on my conservative friend’s reaction. My liberal friend I cannot be so kind to – as this person offered no such reference to a statistic, imagined or otherwise. It’s what humans do. Keep that in mind, and be tolerant.

With that, some of the wisest words I have read recently were written by Michael Jinkins, President of Louisville Seminary School, in an article entitled “Intellectual Empathy”. The full article is here.

“This capacity for intellectual empathy is essential to those who wish to live generously and with integrity in a pluralistic society. Perhaps it is even more essential today than in times past, given the social and cultural forces that presently foster division and encourage peremptory dismissal of opposing views—not to mention our enhanced capacities to destroy one another. Practicing intellectual empathy is a kind of spiritual discipline, because it necessitates that we put aside our belief that the lens through which we view the world is the only right one (see Rom 12:3).”

To frame this up:

Often, the half-witted reactions (the reaction, not the person) of perfectly intelligent and otherwise sane human beings to any question of their world view and/or any belief one might hold dear is nothing more than a primal reaction to feeling threatened. You allineate those who share your world view, and alienate those who do not instinctively, because you feel your world view is threatened. You go on the defensive, and strike back, often using arguments without intellectual merit, and frequently with logical fallacies.

It’s important to realize that the vast majority of what you think and feel are all artificial constructs. Roles in society and within your social group, or your much larger group as a human being. They are not real. They are no more than hallucinations, phantoms of your ego and the environment in which you were raised, and a thousand different things that have occurred to you in your lifetime that have led you to believe the things you do. You will feel empathy for those in your group and champion the cause without concern for things like facts at times, and you will attack and defend against anyone who does not share your world view and in any way tries to threaten it.

Political ideologies, religious beliefs, capitalism, democracy, every social convention you can think of are all products of your mind. You, the individual. You are neither right nor wrong, you are a collection of psychologies and instincts that makes up who you are, and the mere existence of contradictory thought is not a threat to your well-being, nor your existence. Solving social messes can only come with collaboration.

Even things that we can all stand fast together on – terrorism, starving children, murder, the shit perpetually happening in the Congo – your distaste for these things is a combination of millennia of evolution and your world view, and is neither right nor wrong. Right and wrong are far more cut and dry. The world is not flat, it is round. The sun functions by fusing Hydrogen and Helium, it is not Apollo/Helios riding a chariot across the sky. Your opinion regarding political topics du jour such as the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), or drilling for oil off the Gulf Coast, or nuclear power… I could go on forever here… These are all products of your mind, and are no more or less valid than the opinion of anyone else. In 2,000 years they will be no more relevant than the history of Ancient Greece.

So, the next time you want to rant or rail against someone’s ideologies, and want to just tell them they are ignorant or uninformed in a knee-jerk way, present them with rational facts supporting your argument within the context of the position you are taking. When all else fails, find a solution that works for the two sides. And by all means, if you are presented with facts that torpedo your current world view, have the courage and intestinal fortitude to change your way of thinking or your view of the world.

Stop allowing the hindbrain to interfere with your intellectual capacity for analytical reasoning. Support your arguments with fact and research, don’t be dismissive of others, as their opinions are never more or less “right” than yours are.

And please, above all else, stop regurgitating opinionated subjective hooey all over the internet. It’s unbecoming the behavior of an adult, and it makes you actually appear stoopit.