News of the First Black Santa Should Have Been Uplifting — Instead, It Sparked Racist Backlash

I was thrilled when I read the news last week that the Mall of America was getting a black Santa this Christmas — even if only for a few days and by appointment only. My family doesn’t live close enough to visit, but I was excited about this positive step toward multicultural inclusion, and what it could mean for kids all over the country, if this were to catch on. As the parent of minority kids, I know all too well just how important it is to have positive racial mirrors for our children, so this Santa story struck me as one more awesome step in that direction. It was nothing short of amazing.

But then the weekend hit, and suddenly, those cheery headlines about the new black Santa were replaced by other decidedly less cheery ones — about the racist backlash that’s happened in the days since.

To be honest, I should have known. I should have expected it. But I’m always caught off guard by this kind of intolerance and hatred.

Because it wasn’t just a few cruel comments here or there. Oh, no; the Minnesota Star-Tribune had to literally shut down their comment sections due to all the racist vitriol that was unleashed.


But that’s not the only place you can find them. Another article about the black Santa on Minnesota’s local CBS affiliate site got a slew of racist commentary, too. And if you still don’t think racism is alive and well in this country, then I dare you to click through to the article and hit “comments” to read them all. Trust me — you’ll get a horrifying glimpse of what racist thinking looks like.

Here are some of the tamer ones:

“I bet he climbs down chimneys and steals people’s presents,” wrote John Eden.

“Well, you can’t say ‘Ho Ho Ho’ anymore!” added William Sullivan.

“Stupid. Incredibly stupid,” wrote another reader, Peter Morgan. “Santa is WHITE. BOYCOTT Mall of America.” (This was then followed by Morgan declaring that the Mall of America should now be called the Mall of [insert derogatory term for Muslims here].” I’ll leave that one to your imagination.)

Yes, that’s the level of hatred and ignorance that’s been unleashed over the last few days. And all because a U.S. veteran named Larry Jefferson was hired to play Santa for four days at a mall — and dared to be black.

Tons of positive comments did spring up around the bigoted outcry, though. And thank goodness for that. Plenty of people pointed out that Santa is a fantasy figure, not bound to any distinct race — his mythic origins may even suggest he started out with brown skin.

And plenty of others merely shot back at the haters.

But here’s the thing that we’ve all been missing: Black Santa is great for black kids, that’s for sure. But he’s also great for white kids.

Black Santa is great for all kids.

Research proves that there are tons of benefits for children of color who have positive role models who look like they do. Positive racial mirrors give children of color a real-life alternate to the negative stereotypes they see in the media. Children of color who have positive role models of color also have better achievement across the board.

But here’s the other cool thing this education research figured out: Role models of color had just as positive of an effect on the white kids, too.

If you take your white kids to visit Black Santa, that’s actually good for them. Studies show that white kids who have role models of color are more tolerant of racial differences. They also have a stronger grip on multiculturalism. They have a better understanding of diversity and they operate within diverse groups with less fear and with more tolerance and understanding.

When white kids are around people of color they grow up to be less racist. That’s a win-win.

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For kids, Santa is all about magic and wonder. They visit a jolly guy who asks them about their deepest wishes. I think we adults love this fantasy for our kids because even though it’s about “the naughty list,” we all make sure our kids know that they aren’t on it. They’re good. And they’re going to get that special gift they want.

That’s the point — a celebration of each child’s intrinsic goodness.

The magical part of this fantasy doesn’t require a white guy. At all. Santa’s age makes him wise and his personality makes him jolly. No specific skin color or ethnicity is required to make this point.

All Santa needs to do is charm our kids; reassure them; help them feel loved and worthy and good.

The Santa Experience (the business that runs the Mall of America Santa event) said it’s open to even more multicultural Santas in the future, including Asian or Latino; and I say, bring it on.

I just hope this “boycott,” and the despicably racist outcry that came with it, doesn’t shut down that impulse. I hope it happens, and that it spreads to malls across America, not just this one.

Because multicultural Santas are good for everyone. And they are exactly what this country needs right now.

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