Earlier this week, Slate.com columnist Aisha Harris wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece arguing that Santa Claus needed a makeover. Instead of always being depicted as a jolly, fat, white man, Santa Claus should be a penguin. Harris wrote about growing up as a Black child and seeing two versions of Santa — on TV and at school, Santa was white, but at home, the Santa who decorated her house (and delivered presents) at Christmastime was Black, just like her. Harris described how this omnipresent white figure made her feel as a child:
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.
Depicting Santa as an animal, Harris argued, “could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood.” She continued:
Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, Santa is one of the first iconic figures foisted upon you: He exists as an incredibly powerful image in the imaginations of children across the country (and beyond, of course). That this genial, jolly man can only be seen as white—and consequently, that a Santa of any other hue is merely a “joke” or a chance to trudge out racist stereotypes—helps perpetuate the whole “white-as-default” notion endemic to American culture (and, of course, not just American culture).
And besides, who doesn’t love penguins? Well, I’m not sure about her thoughts on penguins, but Fox News host Megyn Kelly is not about to let anyone tell her that Santa isn’t white. In the above segment, Kelly wants to make two things very fucking clear. Santa is white, dammit, and so is Jesus. Jesus’s ethnic background is a whole other issue, but as for Santa? He’s not real. He’s not white. He’s not anything.
“You can’t take facts and then try to change them to fit some sort of a political agenda or sensitivity agenda,” says Kelly’s guest, Monica Crowley, as if facts have anything to do with the mythology of Santa Claus. But Tyler really said it best in her followup piece on Slate, responding to some of the criticism she’s received:
I’ll be fine if no one else jumps on board the penguin train and Santa remains a white man. But if you’re seriously emphatic that he is white and must remain white, there’s a good chance that your view of the rest of the world is just as limited and unimaginative. I mean, we are talking about a magical man who slides down your chimney every Christmas Eve. Just so we’re clear.