Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Dear Sugar: Our Santa and Jesus Are Black

Wrapping paper from our friends at Greentop Gifts.  

When my oldest was young, she LOVED, and I mean LOVED, seeing others who looked like her:  brown skin, brown eyes, black hair.  

I remember taking her Christmas shopping when she was three years old.  As we neared the checkout counter, a Black woman strolled in with an impressive afro.  My daughter's eyes widened, and she said loudly, "That woman has a big crazy afro like me!"  

(As a white mom, I about melted into the floor.)  But the truth is, my daughter was just really, really proud of her skin and her hair.  

From the earliest days, we have told our children that their Blackness is beautiful.  In fact, we have mantras with each of our kids.  For example, my son says:  "I am funny.  I am smart.  I am silly.  I'm a good brother.  I am handsome.  And I am brown."

We are that family who shamelessly talks to our kids about Black history, Black excellence, Black Girl Joy/Black Boy Joy, Black Girl Magic, and Black Lives Matter.   My son will lovingly stroke his own forearm and say, "I am brownnnnnn."  

So we have intentionally decided our Santa is Black.

So are our Jesuses, Marys, and Josephs. 

So are the angels, the choir singers, the drummer boy.  

The music that pours through the speakers:  it's from Ella Fitzgerald, Jamie Grace, Louis Armstrong, Mandisa, Darius Rucker.

The Christmas cards?  You guessed it.  

This isn't about being politically correct.  Or pushing some liberal agenda (though I personally don't think liberal is a dirty word to be flung about).  It's not about changing tradition or disrupting history accuracy.  

It's about representation.   

It's about my kids' eyes lighting up when they see a Christmas tree covered in sparkly, detailed, stunning ornaments featuring brown-skinned, black-haired figures.  And not just ANY figures, but really important figures of fantasy (Santa) and faith (Jesus).  

I was tired of seeing the nativity sets with the one random brown-ish dude.  You know, the third wiseman who was meant to represent all other races, "ethnic" in nature.   The angel with her blond flowing hair and blue eyes.   Jesus and Mary, usually brunettes with milky white skin, both leaning over the precious baby Jesus with his equally blinding white skin.   The other wisemen, the shepherds, the sheep (OK, just seeing if you were paying attention still):  white.  (The sheep are the only ones who should be white, if we're going to talk about accuracy).  

A few years ago, we dined at the infamous Sweetie Pie's in St. Louis.  Above one of the tables was a portrait of Black Jesus. (Every time I say "Black Jesus," I think of Ruby off Black-ish...can't you just hear her voice now?)  I remember just giving Him a good, long look.  Black Jesus didn't hang above the pulpit of my church growing up.  I just gazed at the portrait and thought, "Wow.  This is different."   But it wasn't that it was different, it just wasn't my white-Christian norm.  

I know a lot of people find the idea of a Black Jesus or an all-Black nativity or a Black Santa to be controversial, even offensive.  But my question is:  Why can't depictions of historical figures, whether faith-based or just for fun, be Black?  

I know the arguments, so don't tweet me.  "Santa was an actual person, and he was white.  Why change him?"  "Jesus may have had olive skin, but seriously, you want to give Him an afro now?"

This is about representation.  It's about our children seeing that Santa CAN be brown.  (Remember the episode of The Office where Darryl and Phyllis both want to be Santa and Michael just cannot.  even. deal., because Darryl is Black and Phyllis is a woman?---Michael IS representative of many in America, yes?)  It's about Christmas being meaningful and magical for ALL children.   

So yeah, we're going to take a trip up the mall on the one night of the week that Black Santa is there.  And yeah, we're going to display our all-Black nativity scene.  And yeah, the angels?  They have cocoa colored skin. 

Because I never, ever want my children to lose their sense of racial pride.  I want them to be entrenched in the beauty of their Blackness.   And Christmas is not exception.  This month-long celebration will focus on the miracle birth and life of Jesus, of the pleasure of giving and receiving gifts, of cookie baking and music listening, of staying up too late and watching Christmas movies, and of appreciating the diversity of decorations and imaginations.   

Representation matters:  year round.  

Check out the last poem and illustration in Poems for the Smart, Spunky, and Sensational Black Girl...you may just see and read about Black Santa (*wink*), also known in our home as just Santa

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