JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

Don’t be a holly jolly racist: Santa can be any color

Updated: 2013-12-17T05:19:08Z

By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

The Kansas City Star

Last Christmas, I gave my white, blue-eyed niece a black baby doll. She opened up the package, pulled her out and had one, excited response:

“Her is cute,” said the 2-year-old I call Ducky. She didn’t compare her new toy with her own skin. She simply hugged the baby doll, ready to play.

She’s yet to see the racial differences between Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer or Snow White. To her, they are all awesome. She’s being raised to celebrate diversity.

So as the great Santa race debate took over these past few days, I thought of my niece.

It started when writer Aisha Harris said she would rather have a Christmas penguin than a white Santa. Fox anchor Megyn Kelly lit the coals with this on-air response: “By the way, for all of you kids watching at home, Santa just is white, but this person is arguing maybe we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is.”

And then came the New Mexico teacher who told a black high school student he couldn’t be Santa because Santa is white.

Here’s the thing: I don’t entirely agree with Harris. I have no interest in penguin Santa. As a child, I suffered from a lot of racial identity issues. But I never once looked at Santa as a color. I looked at him the way I looked at the Tooth Fairy, really. Less human, more magical. Santa could be anything to anyone.

But Megyn Kelly, the New Mexico teacher and the racist backlash over Santa being anything other than white reinforce one thing: We uphold a mostly white standard of heroism and beauty. That’s where Harris was right: It’s a problem.

Still, racism cannot be fixed by making Santa a penguin.

Anthonia Akitunde, co-founder of matermea.com, celebrating black motherhood, says we have to teach children better for things to get better.

“Creating a home and an internal world for children where they know there’s diversity in the world, and one race isn’t better than the other goes a long way in creating a generation of people who can navigate race a lot better than their parents and parents’ parents have.”

And there’s nothing wrong with teaching equality. Seriously, dolls and superheroes and Santas? They should look different. People certainly do.

Daniel Bartle, a Kansas City father, says he would have no problem taking his white daughter to see a black Santa.

“I do believe we need more diversity in our cultural celebrations,” he says. “It should be more representative of our populous, and I think that Santa being black is no more ridiculous than Jesus being portrayed as white.”

(Note: How many white Middle Easterners have you seen?)

“My hope is that if we don’t introduce bias to her, then she will grow up believing racism is ridiculous and wrong. I pray she doesn’t even recognize that there’s a difference between people of different colors.”

As a kid, Kim Gibson didn’t connect to white Santa. So when she started planning Christmas bazaars at places like the Landing and the Lincoln Building, she made certain to find a black Santa and a black Mrs. Claus. She says he can be white, Asian, Latino, black — any color.

“I think it’s important to see yourself in these figures,” she says. “Of course Megyn Kelly wants Santa to be just white; she is white. We all want to identify and relate to what we are celebrating. We should spend more time redefining the meaning of Christmas rather than concentrating on the color of his skin.”

Black Santa, White Santa, whatever. We’re human, and until we embrace our differences, no Santa — black, white or penguin — will deliver us the gift of equality.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.

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