Why is that Santa Black?

A small anecdote about race…


I work for a small branch in a huge, urban public library system.  Last Christmas the supervisor for the libraries in this area gave our branch a present….a plastic Santa face to put up as decoration.  Earlier this week, a kindergarten class came to the library for their regular visit.  One kid, very smart but sometimes irritating because he loves attention a little too much, asked, “Why is that Santa black?” 


The child was African-American as are most of the libraries patrons…..In fact, I’d say that 80-95% of the people who use this neighborhood library are African-American.  Out of a class of 22 kids, maybe 1 will be Caucasian. 


Anyway, the question took me aback.  The class was on its way out the door and I was a little flustered so the best I could come up with was to say, “Why not?  Why shouldn’t the Santa be black?”  I was also curious as to why he thought Santa’s must be white.  I guess he always saw Santa represented as white.  If I had more time perhaps I would have said something like, “Santa represents generosity and hospitality.  Santa never really existed, but everyone can be like Santa by being generous, hospitable, and cheerful.”  I also didn’t want to be the one to break it to him that Santa doesn’t exist. 


What would you have said to a six year old asking, “Why is that Santa black?”

What does this say about India and the U.S.?  For me, it was a reminder that kids notice everything.  When Satya and I have a child, we will have to make some conscious decisions about what we show our child.  Will we have a white Santa or a brown Santa?  I don’t know.  St. Nicholas was from Turkey so if we want to be historically accurate a brown Santa would be best.  On the other hand, my Caucasian family is the one that celebrates Christmas, not his Indian one.