Shortly before Christmas, my son and I were talking in his bed at bedtime. Isaac adores Christmas. (We are currently in the midst of a heavy Christmas song detox period. Last year we didn’t implement one and ended up with a child provided, Christmas-themed soundtrack until Easter. *shudder*) At one point in the bedtime conversation, Isaac said (as a statement of fact), “Mom, I know which Santa isn’t the real one. The brown one.”
I know. It WAS as awful as you’re imagining you’d feel.
It scored near the top of my list of “Hardest Things to Hear as a Parent”. There are many instances in which I’m hyper aware regarding race including: when my son is the only face of color in a room, when books we read have no children of color, when comments are made regarding race that are inappropriate for my child’s ears, and on and on. The primary reason the Santa comment left such a resounding smack was because I hadn’t seen it coming. You know why? BECAUSE I’M WHITE.
When I attempt to make some sense of the current race discussions, it is so hard to wrap my mind around the issue because I just can’t see it the same way as someone who is black. I readily admit that. Despite that I agree there exists a serious issue regarding racial inequalities our country, I think it is important to admit that I cannot possibly know the depth of that issue because I don’t experience it first hand on a continual basis. But for the people who say that they just don’t see a problem, or that it is being blown out of proportion, I present Exhibit A: my child’s Santa remark.
Like a tiny window, I could see that here was a specific instance in which I hadn’t assumed this to be a confusing concept for my child because I had assumed the same conclusion my son had reached: Santa is white because everywhere I see Santa, he’s white. I never questioned an alternative because my brain never classified it as something that needed to be challenged. I didn’t see it as an issue because it was never registered as one; it was just assumed to be fact. Santa is white because I am white because I am surrounded by a world that tells me that white is what is accepted. How must that feel for my son who is black? I suddenly had this awful realization that if I had accepted Santa’s race so readily, how many other things have I unwittingly filed as truth merely because I was never afforded the opportunity to challenge it? Rather, society never offered me an alternate view to consider. (As an interesting side note, the original St. Nicholas was born in Turkey, so he most likely WAS darker skinned. Considering this post is centering around Santa, I will refrain from stepping onto my soapbox about how Jesus’s skin would most likely have looked. *cough* Not white. *cough*)
I sometimes struggle to take seriously the pieces written by other white writers regarding the struggles minorities in America face in which they align themselves with the minority in a way that seems to be speaking FOR that group. I think it is ignorant for me to assume I can ever truly know how that experience feels and I think it is some form of ignorance, or at least indelicacy, to think that I can explain how it must feel to be discriminated against as a black person. On the other hand, I think that we have every right, and duty, to push society’s envelope when our personal experiences challenge the status quo. The brown skinned Santa discussion? It blew what I considered my open mind. What you think you believe isn’t always truth; just because it may not be an obvious disparity to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Can we at least be honest in admitting that?
PS- Shortly after this discussion, I burned rubber slamming on the brakes in front of an art gallery downtown that had a light up black Santa Claus in its window. I asked them if I could buy it, was told no, told them my story, and suddenly it was mine.
Also, a beautiful friend made a special Christmas Eve delivery from Santa of a personalized book about Isaac and Santa (brown skinned) as well as a brown skinned Santa figurine. We packed up all of our Christmas decorations yesterday and that was the one thing Isaac asked if we could keep out all year. It is on his nightstand.