When does race matter?

The symbolism of the most powerful TV personality in America — an African American — interviewing the First Family — African Americans — was not lost on The Nation’s Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who suggests it’s time for a black Santa:

Black Santa will not cure the fundamental inequalities that shape the lives of black children and poor children of all races. He does not bring justice in his sleigh. Still, racism’s assault on black life is not just substantive and economic; it is also symbolic and psychological. Navigating the symbols of whiteness during Christmas always make the holidays a little harder for many of us.

As I watched Oprah Winfrey chat with the Obamas in the beautifully decorated White House, I felt like this holiday season was a little brighter in a darker hue.

In Tallahassee over the weekend, Soul Santa gave kids in the community someone they can relate to, according to organizers.

“We wanted to make sure the kids in this community could identify with a Santa,” said LeVerne Payne, one of the founders and original organizer of the event. “Some of these kids don’t get the chance to go the mall and see Santa.”

When does racial symbolism matter?

While reading Harris-Lacewell’s essay, I was watching White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ daily briefing and was struck by the hue of the White House press corps.


  • Ed

    Ashen is the hue. Seriously though, the 30 or so people that are the White House Press Corp are what I assume to be the best of journalism meritocracy from the 60’s and 70’s. It is somewhat diverse, there are women, blacks, and other minorities. Its not all white males. That said it still probably does not represent America as it is today. Just as college faculties, city halls, corporate boards could use some refreshing, but there is an issue of assendancy.

  • Noelle

    This same issue can also apply to religious imagery, particularly how Jesus Christ is typically portrayed – as a Caucasian, often with blue eyes. Historically, Jesus would have much more likely looked like he was of Middle Eastern descent. I wonder how some Christian groups would react to an image of that Jesus?

  • tina

    But Santa is supposed to be from the North Pole. Are there a lot of African Americans in the North Pole? One site I looked on said no, only 2.7%.