I still remember what it felt like when I was a kid and I met a black Santa. I remember feeling upset by it. I wasn't confused by the fact that there was more than one Santa. To me, Santa had to exist in a sort-of secret fraternal organization (perhaps the Order of Saint Nick). I also knew that the real Santa was the one who led the group of mall Santas.
Still, I felt uncomfortable. It was unnerving. Santa was different. He wasn't like me and that bothered my five-year-old mind. For all the talk of kids being color-blind and color-kind, that's not how I felt. I wanted Santa Claus to be white. I wanted him to fit the stereotype that my culture had fed me through movies and books and Coca-Cola paintings.
Black Santa had somehow broken the rules, even though I couldn't articulate what the rules were. I guess he didn't look Norman Rockwell enough. I probably would have been bothered by a skinny Santa or a female Santa or a Santa who wore green instead of red. But I also knew that his skin color mattered to me and I wasn't supposed to let skin color matter (our teacher had done a "box of crayons" lesson to tell us that we were all equal).
I remember, at the time, that we had one student of color in my class. Her name was Amy and her skin was darker than anything I had ever seen on t.v. We were friends for no other reason than we both liked to play basketball and neither of us were allowed to play with the good basketball players. For her, it was the fact that she was a girl and for me, it was an absolute lack of talent. I remember realizing in that moment that Amy always saw white Santas and white superheroes and white cops and white teachers. I remember wondering how often she felt uncomfortable.
We need black Santas. It's not just so that African-Americans can feel comfortable. It's not just so that the "minority" groups can see a visual representation of themselves in a heroic role. It's so that whites can see the same thing, so that we can see just how noisy our white noise sounds when the context has changed. It's because my kids need to be made uncomfortable in order to realize the injustice of a racialized society.