When my oldest child was 2 years old, she learned a phrase that she’s carried with her to this day, as well as taught to her younger two siblings. A verbal and outgoing toddler, she would excitedly point out any person, book or film character, or toy who was, to her excitement, “brown like me.”
Since my children were born, we’ve praised their beautiful brown skin. We want them to always be proud to be people of color, and to see their skin color as a gift, a history, something to be celebrated and acknowledged.
It hasn’t always been easy. Take, for example, dolls. Go up and down any store’s doll aisle, and you’ll usually find three or four peach-skinned dolls with names like Taylor, Stephanie, and Madison. They have a range of hair colors: red, blond, or light brown. Their eyes are always almost blue, green, or even an exotic and intriguing shade of purple.
And then there’s the one “ethnic” doll with tan-ish skin, muddy-green eyes, and straight dark brown hair. She is meant to represent all children of color. Her name is usually something like Kierra or Jasmine.
It’s not just dolls. Children’s books, movies, television shows, musical artists, artwork, greeting cards, and advertisements all prominently featuring peach-skinned protagonists or main characters. The brown-skinned character is most often a stereotypical side-kick: someone who is street-smart, sassy, and fashionable. Or worse, the character of color is the villain.
It’s disheartening. And it’s why we carefully monitor the media our children are exposed to, and why we never cease to praise and affirm our children for who they are.
Santa is no different. I get it, historically, Santa was a white guy. But to my kids, to most kids, Santa is a magical being, one who brings joy, wonder, mystery, and, of course, presents. He’s the one we leave the cookies and milk out for, the one who won’t visit until the children are asleep, the one who leaves piles of wrapped gifts. He is the essence of childhood.
A few years ago, my oldest child asked me, “Mom, is Santa pink or brown?” I asked her what she thought. She initially said pink. After all, the mall Santas and the depictions of Santa on everything from Christmas cards to advertisements are men with fluffy white beards, rosy red cheeks, and milky-peach skin. I let the silence stand, allowing my daughter time to mull over her own question. She then piped up, “Santa can be pink or brown.”
Children like to see images of people in their own likeness. It gives them hope, it gives them reassurance, it gives them a sense of opportunity. And because of this, our family chooses to celebrate Santa as pink or brown. Most of our Christmas tree ornaments feature black Santas (along with black angels and black nativities). We purposefully buy Christmas cards featuring black artistry, we visit a black Santa at the mall (when he’s there one night a week), and read books where a black Santa is the star.
We know that emphasizing, appreciating, and celebrating Black Santa isn’t, all on its own, going to give our kids the racial confidence they need. That’s why we have a mentor for our children, why we have a diverse group of friends, why we teach them black history, why we take them to black stylists to get their hair cut and styled. We know that face-to-face relationships trump any other sort of emphasis we provide.
But little things matter, too.
Embracing Black Santa means we are conveying to our children that black-ness is OK, even if it makes some people uncertain or uncomfortable. Embracing Black Santa means accepting possibility. Embracing Black Santa means telling our kids that they are fantastic, just as they are.
No matter what your Santa looks like, ‘tis the season to love, to be thankful, and to embrace the childhood wonder of magic.