By Rachel Garlinghouse
Every December, my kids and I have the same discussion, and it all boils down to one question: “Is Santa pink or brown?”
This year, the Mall of America has answered: Santa can be brown. For the first time ever, the mall will host an African American Santa.
According to CBS, Landon Luther, owner of The Santa Experience, met the mall’s new Santa, Larry Jefferson, at a Santa conference in Branson, Missouri this summer. At the time, Jefferson remarked that of all the 1,000 Santas present, he was the only Santa of color. And now, Jefferson has coal-black shoes and a velvet red suit to fill, having been hand-picked by Luther for one very honorable duty: For four days, customers can make an appointment with The Santa Experience at the Mall of America to have their photo taken with Larry, this season’s African American Santa.
“It gives them something to identity with, but Santa is still just Santa,” Jefferson told CBS. “Just Saturday, I was doing an event, and one child said, ‘Santa, you’re brown,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am, but Santa comes in many different colors.’ He said, ‘Oh,’ so I gave him a candy cane, he ran off with other kids.”
As a child, I loved having the experience of going to our mall and sitting on Santa’s lap. I’d pull out my folded, lined notebook paper and read to him the many things I had on my wish list. He’d always reply with a jolly “ho ho ho” and remind me to be “nice.” The session would end with him handing me a candy cane and offering a gracious smile.
Now that I am a mother, I want to give my children that same experience. After all, Santa is everything that children love: jolly, warm, kind, attentive, and magical. My children, all of whom are black, are fortunate that we live near a mall that offers the opportunity to visit a Black Santa. Seeing someone so important, so essential to the Christmas experience, who has creamy brown skin, brown eyes, and curly hair, is important.
Yet far too often, children of color are an afterthought (if they are even a thought at all) in mainstream children’s media and in toy production. There are far more choices for white children when it comes to choosing toys and watching television shows that reflect their appearance. This begs the question, why aren’t children of color like mine important enough, worthy enough, to be represented? Why have they been ignored and forgotten?
Thankfully in recent years, we’ve seen companies take note of this gap and have made strides to create toys, television shows, movies, and books that not only include but star children of color. For example, American Girl along with other companies offer “just like me” dolls, allowing consumers to find dolls that match the hair color and texture, as well as the eye and skin color of their children. Shows like Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins, a popular animated kids’ show which stars an African-American family, are also helping to pave the way. And although there were recent rumors that it would not be renewed, fans were overjoyed last month when it was announced Disney will in fact continue to produce new episodes.
Black Santas being invited to take part in the Christmas experience at malls around America is just another wonderful way that children like mine are being invited in to a place that white children have happily occupied for many years.
Because there is nothing like the experience being able to look into another human being’s eyes and seeing a part of yourself. And when that human being is Santa — the epitome of Christmas magic — the interaction is all the more amazing.
Originally published on Babble