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Andre Perry Commentary
Fri December 14, 2012
The Real Ethnic Origins of Santa
Do you believe in Black Santa? Sadly, people are probably more religious about what type of Santa they have in their homes than about going to church on Christmas Day. If you have children around, this is probably the time when you should turn down your radio. No, let them listen. We must tell the truth about Santa’s background. Santa Claus is a transgendered Latina who’s on dangerously high doses of testosterone.
We all have the ability to shape characters, heroes and heroines into the images of our liking, but all of us don’t have the power to shape an industry. Many fictional and historical characters that communities lift up in published work and folklore flatter the ethnic stylings of the dominant culture. Images of Jesus himself have been retrofitted and manipulated to conveniently flatter those who have the power to change it. In some churches, the Palestinian Jew appears more Dutch than Middle Eastern.
This may explain why historians believe the Dutch fictionalized or decorated fourth century bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was located in Turkey. The real St. Nicholas became famous for giving gifts so that poor daughters of the faithful would not become prostitutes. Apparently, providing aid to the poor to prevent salacious pursuits, as means for income, isn’t noble enough for the modern, Western world.
Slowly but surely, Bishop Nicholas became a portly, elder white man with a full white beard, and he expanded his giving to the middle and upper classes. Today’s rendition of Bishop Nicholas would be named Bill Clinton if our former President didn’t shave or become a vegan. Great minds market non-religious holiday characters that don’t have to exhibit real goodwill. So instead of a bishop, we have Santa and the Easter Bunny.
Folklorists certainly exhibit poetic licenses to change pious figures, but they apparently hold a peculiar reverence to race and ethnicity. Why does Santa or the Easter Bunny have to be white? They don’t. Children become critical of Santa’s existence, as well as race generally, in the same developmental period. The social constructions of Santa and race would not exist in today’s forms if we were more honest and kind to ourselves.
But society is fixated on differences. Borrowing the title from Cornell West’s best selling book — Race Matters. In my house, I have black Santas everywhere, because in reality I’m Santa Claus to my children. Furthermore, I don’t want my kids growing up thinking a random white guy or the government is going to give them presents simply for being nice. Since President Obama is half black, I’m at least non-discriminatory in my view.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is "Santa Claus is a Black Man", written in 1973 by Teddy Vann. If you haven’t heard it, it’s the black power remix of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". Both songs playfully expose what we’ve always known: Santa has sex.
In the spirit of the secularized holidays, let’s insert authentic non-discriminatory, capitalistic and democratic values when presenting Santa to our children. Every home should not only have black, white, Asian and Latino Santas; we should celebrate Buddhist, twenty-something and female Kris Kringles. The reality is most everyone can be overweight, old and have the right to wear a gaudy red pimp suit. Merry Christmas.
Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.