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Why Megyn Kelly Was So Enraged at the Concept of a Black Santa (and Jesus)

And why she was so, so wrong.
 
 
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So, this is Christmas. And Fox News host “Megyn” Kelly is determined to have a “White Christmas.” Kelly set the internet ablaze when she insisted that the two biggest names of the season — Santa Claus and Jesus — are absolutely white.

I can’t really blame Ms. Kelly. Her earliest image of Jesus was probably similar to mine. I don’t remember how old I was when I came across a dusty, framed image of Jesus while exploring the old things in my grandfather’s house. I remember being impressed by it, because it was a 3D picture that changed when I moved it back and forth.

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I learned later that it was a reproduction of  Christ at Heart’s Door, by  Warner E. Sallman. Sallman also painted  The Head Of Christ, which is probably the most popular image of Jesus. It’s been reproduced over 500 million times, since Sallman painted it in 1941. If you’re African-American, you may have grown up seeing one of those reproductions hanging on your parents’ or grandparents’ walls — right between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

The first notion that I had that Jesus could be anything other than white (and blonde, and blue-eyed) was around 1974, when  the “Black Jesus” episode of Good Times aired. The Evans’ family hung J.J.’s painting of a black Jesus on the wall, and everyone had a sudden run of good luck.

ZZ61049D29It blew my five-year-old mind, at the time. While Megyn Kelly probably grew up images of Jesus looking like someone likely to show up at her family reunion, it was the first time that I even had the notion that Jesus could look like someone likely to show up at my family reunion.

That’s probably at the root of both Megyn Kelly’s “White Christmas” outburst, and the Slate post that inspired it. Aisha Harris, the author of the Slate piece, described a conversation that would never have taken place in Megyn Kelly’s house, when Harris’ father explained why Santa was white everywhere else but her house.

Seeing two different Santas was bewildering. Eventually I asked my father what Santa really looked like. Was he brown, like us? Or was he really a white guy?

My father replied that Santa was every color. Whatever house he visited, jolly old St. Nicholas magically turned into the likeness of the family that lived there.

In hindsight, I see this explanation as the great Hollywood spec script it really is. (Just picture the past-their-prime actors who could share the role. Robert De Niro! Eddie Murphy! Jackie Chan! I smell a camp classic.) But at the time, I didn’t buy it. I remember feeling slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn’t the “real thing.” Because when you’re a kid and you’re inundated with the imagery of a pale seasonal visitor—and you notice that even some black families decorate their houses with white Santas—you’re likely to accept the consensus view, despite your parents’ noble intentions.

Kelley would never have asked what color Santa was, because it was just understood that Santa was white. (As Kelly emphatically insisted, “He just is.”) The answer is as pat as the unspoken affirmation in the silence that follows it: “Santa Clause is white … just like us.” Harris knew that the black Santa in her house wasn’t the “real thing,” and was “not as good” as the white Santa she saw in her friend’s homes and just about everywhere else.

Like the children in  the classic “doll experiment” conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clarkbetween 1939 and 1940, which was cited in Brown v. Board of Education as evidence of how segregation harmed children, Harris prefered the white Santa in the shopping malls and her friend’s homes to the black Santa in her home. Almost 50 years later, a similar study designed by child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer found that white and black children are still biased towards lighter (white) skin.

 
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