Images are powerful, and that’s why it was such an issue at our house on Land Park Drive when Santa Went Black, recalls Dr. Wilmer Leon III.
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, December 11, 2013
On December 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 among the 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 “. . . 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. 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 fixated on the examples of the imagery of Santa and Jesus.
In his book Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery, Dr. Na’im Akbar writes, “The ultimate story is that the image or concept of God being like a particular people endows them (in their mind) with an unnatural perspective on themselves and others.” Akbar continues, “The problem that had been created for the European American mind, which has led him to become an imperialist, a slave maker, a colonialist, an oppressor around the world, is rooted in this idea that made him (or her) believe that he was the Caucasian image that he had identified as god.”
It’s the use of and belief in these images and the perpetuation of their converse that has led to and continues to foster the negative stereotypes of people of color. White is good; black is bad. White people are safe; black people are criminals. White people are virtuous; black people are immoral.
It’s the belief in these images and stereotypes that has led to Racial Profiling, Driving While Black, Shopping While Black and Stop and Frisk. The belief in these images and stereotypes led to a store clerk in Switzerland not believing that Oprah Winfrey could afford a $38,000 handbag or to college student Trayon Christian being arrested in Barneys New York for purchasing a $350 designer belt with his own debit card – even after he showed identification to the store clerk and the police.
In her own subtle way, Megyn Kelly was defending the practice of racist imagery and stereotyping that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the shooting deaths of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and police officers Cornell Young, Jr. and William Wilkins Jr., to name a few.
Imagery is important, and images are powerful. Why was it such an issue at our house on Land Park Drive when Santa Went Black? As we celebrate this holiday season, what’s wrong with Jesus being black?
Oh, wait. If you believe in the Bible and not Hollywood, I think he was. Revelations 1:14-1:15 (describing Jesus) “His hairs were like lambs wool . . . His feet were like burnished brass.” Sounds like a brotha’ to me.
Merry Christmas Megyn Kelly and to all a good night!