Can Santa Be Black?

This holiday season has been eclipsed by an unpredictable election, the results of which white nationalists are celebrating in the streets and women and people of color are being targeted in a record number of hate-motivated acts of violence and harassment. In its midst, however, was a historic occasion: the first-ever African American Santa at the Mall of America. Unfortunately, that too was marked by a racist backlash.

The poem below, “Can Santa Be Black?” by B.J. Wrights, originally appeared in the December 1984 issue of Ms. In the true spirit of the season—one of hope, not fear; one of togetherness, not division; one of love, not hate—we wanted to republish it.

Dennis Yang / Creative Commons

It happened in the kindergarten class,
Right at the table where they were having snack.
Joanie asked the question and they all sat back:
“Mr. Slater? Can Santa Claus be black?”

Poor Mr. Slater didn’t know what to say,
Christmas vacation was twenty days away.
There were snowflakes to cut and
Window wreaths to be hung,
Christmas cards to be painted,
And Christmas songs to be sung.

He hadn’t time to think
What Christmas was about,
In twenty more days,
School would be out!
Why couldn’t they wait
And ask their questions then,
When mommies and daddies
Were home to answer them?
“Mr. Slater? Can Santa be thin?
Is Santa Clause always a him?”

Mr. Slater looked at twenty pairs of eyes,
Twenty children of every shape and size.
He ate a bit of cracker and finished his drink.
“Children,” he said,
“I’ll need some time to think.”
As soon as class was over,
He ran down the hall,
Skidded ’round a corner,
Crashed into a wall.
Ran up the steps to the second floor,
Rapped on the window of the principal’s door.

“Ms. Frazer, Ms. Frazer, what can I do?
The children asked these questions
That now I ask of you:

Can Santa Claus be black?
Can Santa Claus be thin?
Does Santa always have to be a him?”

“Mr. Slater, it’s a difficult task
To find answers to the questions you ask.
I think with these I’ll need some assistance,
But I’ll get you the answers with a little persistence.”

Ms. Frazer turned in her swivel chair,
Picked up the phone and dialed Mr. Dare.
Mr. Dare was the head of the P.T.A.,
He called for a meeting the very next day.

“Thank you for coming,”
He began with a greeting.
“I’d like to get right to the point of this meeting.
Mr. Slater, in charge of the kindergarten class,
Needs the answers to some questions
And he needs them fast.”

“Can Santa be black?
Can Santa be thin?
Does Santa always have to be a him?”

The parents didn’t know what to say,
Christmas vacation was nineteen days away.
There were cookies to bake and lights to string,
Gifts to wrap and carols to sing.

They hadn’t time to think
What Christmas was about,
In nineteen more days
School would be out!
Why did children have to ask questions when
Parents had no time to sit and answer them?

“Well, Parents?
Are there any suggestions?
Do we have any answers
To these difficult questions?”

“Who knows best
What Christmas is about?
Let’s ask Santa!”
Someone called out in a shout.

The secretary of the P.T.A.
Sent a letter to Santa the very next day.
The reply came back very, very fast,
Addressed to Mr. Slater
And the kindergarten class.

Dear Mr. Slater, Dear Girls, Dear Boys,
Once a storywriter caught me bringing you toys.
The year he spied me opening my sack,
My skin was white, my boots were black.
You probably know how that story goes . . .
I laid a finger aside my nose?
All these years, needlessly,
That story worries children who don’t have a chimney.
All year long I listen to the news,
Read people’s thoughts, see people’s views.
At the end of the year, when I see what’s needed most,
I take that shape, like a Christmas ghost.
I can pass through keyholes, windows and locks,
Apartment buildings, hospitals, tents, and trailer lots.

One year I used a wheelchair in place of my sleigh,
Once I was blind and had to feel my way.
It’s hard to understand when I don’t leave a toy:
You can’t unwrap a gift like hope or health or joy.
My skin has been black, white, yellow, red, brown;
My eyes have been slanted, crossed, and round.
Sometimes I have been a she:
All these things are a part of me.
You may not believe all this is true,
But that’s okay, boys and girls, because . . .
I believe in you.

December 9, 2016 by

http://msmagazine.com/blog/2016/12/09/can-santa-black/

 

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