Our nation wants to embrace diversity, but by and large, our attempts to be inclusive during “the holiday season” have been inadequate. We suggested rethinking our approach to being inclusive during the holiday season in a recent post, because merely renaming Christmas traditions does not increase inclusion. Now, we take time to reflect on how white America becomes this time of the year, and not due to snow.
Every year during the Christmas season, America gets a little bit whiter. Movies, TV shows, popular toys, traditional stories, decorations, and even visits to sit on Santa’s lap demonstrate an overrepresentation of whiteness during this time of the year. Many People of Color do celebrate Christmas, but a newcomer to America probably wouldn’t realize it if all they knew was the story on mainstream TV. For many White people, the nostalgic moments of the Christmas season produce feelings of love, connectedness, and belonging. People of Color surely experience those feelings as well, but while knowing that underrepresentation and stereotypes are a part of the season.
I do believe that we will one day not be divided by skin color, and Christmas is becoming more inclusive. This article is an effort to not let racism come between us. We have to pay attention to how our past informs our views. We have to be the change. Let’s show that all angels are beautiful, and stop reserving the top of the tree for the White one.
A White Supremacy Christmas
Is Santa White? Suggesting that Santa could be a Person of Color provokes a defensive reaction from many people and we cannot accept that. It is not okay for there to be opposition toward Santa having dark skin. The story of Santa is fictional, so we can adapt the story to better align with our common day values. There is no need for Santa to remain white and male. Whether portraying Santa as a Person of Color is more historically accurate or not, continually showing Santa as White man can be harmful to our diverse youth. There has been an effort to include Santas with darker skin, but there are still a very disproportionate amount of White Santas. Furthermore, the ethnic diversity among People of Color portraying Santa is very limited. Finding a Latinx Santa or a Trans Person of Color Santa is surely difficult, if not impossible.
There is still controversy when Santa has darker skin, but its accepted more every year. People are confronting their preconceived notions about race, the very stereotypes that Christmas movies have perpetuated. This conversation about representation might seem like a waste of time, among a backdrop of deeply systemic issues, but it is not. As Americans see more black and brown people as Santa, they might associate People of Color less with crime, poverty, and drugs. Trading Places is a Christmas movie that perpetuates this very dynamic. There are many movies that instill stereotypes that many of us don’t notice.
The infamous A Christmas Story even has a very racist concluding scene. Ralphie’s family laughs at Chinese employees who sing mispronounced Christmas songs and are startled at the food they are brought. It’s important to point out that I am not advocating for us to not watching Christmas movies; rather, we need to think critically and not let the stereotypes within them impact our behaviors. Also, we experience these movies within the current context of our lives. Even this year, Bad Moms Christmas offers racist one-liners about Mexicans.
“Holiday Inn” has a blackface scene and the lead actress even complained about how ugly she felt when putting blackface makeup on. We know that blackface is dehumanizing and harmful, but it persists. Every Christmas many Dutch people dress up like Zwarte Piet, St. Nicholas’s assistant. They paint their faces black, to represent chimney soot, and celebrate with children at schools. Zwarte Piet literally means “Black Pete”. The original story, written during the time of slavery, depicts Black Pete as a Moor from Spain. They are seeing an obvious impact in the Netherlands that we all should learn from. Amsterdam and surrounding communities are pushing back more every year, because they know that white people have used blackface mock and dehumanize Black people. This has happened to many People of Color.
Coca Cola Mexico released a Christmas themed advertisement in 2015 that perpetuated a more hidden form of racism. Native people experienced it as furthering the misconception that indigenous people need help from white people, known as the White Savior Complex. Tesco, Britain’s biggest online supermarket, was challenged after releasing their Christmas ad for this year, because it showed Muslim people participating in a traditional Christmas celebration. Many people explained that inclusion should not be reached through assimilation, which is how they experienced a blending of cultures in the commercial. Companies are challenging the status quo every year. Media production agencies want to be inclusive. Intent does matter. We should appreciate inclusion efforts, AND we need to think critically about the impacts. People argue that traditions, like Zwarte Piet, must continue because people grew up with it. They want to pass on these traditions to their children. But, racism is not something we should want to pass on to our children.
“White Christmas” is cited as the most famous Christmas song ever. It is featured in the movie Holiday Inn and we will hear it on nearly every radio station. The song originally resonated strongly with American soldiers during World War 2, who longed for the ‘white’ snow of Christmas and the loving embrace of their families. But, is this song heard differently in our current political climate? Think about why the song might bring back fond memories for some, and not for others. It might have less of its original heartfelt message during a ‘Make America Great Again’ age. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas… Just like the ones I used to know.” Now, listen to the version that actress Carla Valderrama produced. (A quick note: Carla uses the term “woke” in this song, which gained visibility through Black Lives Matter. Carla speaks to issues that disproportionately affect black people. However, people should exercise caution when using “woke” and remain aware of what it means for non-black folks to use a term. Remember that some words are policed when Black folks use them, but it’s suddenly cool when White people say the same thing.)
Fostering Justice and Inclusion this Christmas
We need everyone to acknowledge that America is moving forward as a multicultural nation, and to choose to be a part of the progression. Many of the movies, advertisements, songs, and marketing campaigns I used as examples in this article, do aim to promote inclusion. I commend those efforts. And, I’m saying that we have it in us to do better.
When you are at dinner this year and hear, “I’m not racist, but…”, choose courage. Discuss the undoubtedly racist statement about to be made. Do not accept racism. Instead of allowing whiteness to take up a disproportionate amount of space during Christmas, let’s embrace our multicultural world. Seek out movies with greater diversity. If you can’t find a Person of Color Santa Claus decoration at the store, make your own. Don’t buy all your gifts from stores who don’t value worker rights or fair labor; shop at locally owned businesses. Join with the Black Lives Matter movement, shop black xmas.
Think about representation when you’re shopping, watching your favorite movie, or just moving around the city. Many people find themselves at the margins of society, even during Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While still enjoying Christmas as your favorite time of the year, pay attention to people around you. At the very least, acknowledge that no matter how long a tradition has existed, it might impact people differently today.