By GRR Editorial Committee
“Please remove your negro Santa Claus yard decoration. You should not try to deceive children into believing that I am a negro.” Thus began the letter sent to Chris Kennedy in 2020 after he dared to put a seven-foot inflatable Black Santa on his front lawn in Arkansas. Chris responded by adding a second Black Santa to his yard. Then his neighbors showed their support by doing the same.
Buoyed by the solidarity, Kennedy decided to reclaim the power the anonymous letter writer had tried to strip away from him. First, he started dressing up as Santa for his own daughter and family friends. The enthusiastic response showed Chris that there was a real need for kids to see themselves represented in our culture.
From balmy Arkansas, news of his story spread to the members of the New England Santa Society, and in 2021, he found himself invited to Santa Camp in New Hampshire. His experiences at camp as the only Black man, along with the experiences of some of the first handicapped and transgender Santas, is being featured in a newly released HBO documentary entitled “Santa Camp.”
“I’m going to be the Santa for kids that look like me in my area and coming here has given me the tools to be able to do that to the best of my abilities,” Chris reflected in a recent Washington Post article. The story goes on to explain that since starting his professional Santa Claus career last season, Kennedy has participated in over 250 events, including home and office visits and charity functions throughout Arkansas.
Like the Santas featured in “Santa Camp,” former NBA All-star Baron Davis thinks all children should be able to see themselves reflected in the icon who represents the spirit of kindness. Davis launched the company Black Santa in 2016 to sell merchandise featuring a Black Santa and his empowered friends. The mission of the company is “to inspire the world by building diverse characters and telling contemporary stories that reflect the cultural change and future we want to build for ourselves and the next generations to come.”
Kennedy and Davis realized that for too long, others have promoted a story of generosity that excludes far too many people. They also realized that they have the power to reclaim their own stories and raise a generation of kids who don’t need to accept the message that they don’t belong.
It’s a battle that’s been fought for over a century. When the Mall of America hired its first Black Santa in 2016, the choice was met with both enthusiasm from supporters and vitriol from racists. A BBC news story covering the Mall of America response notes the same reactions dating back to the early 1900’s. But as one Black Santa in the article explains, "When it comes to the spirit of Christmas and what the spirit of Santa is all about, it's not about race, it's not about white or black, it's about the love you have and the spirit you represent."
These men inspire us because they turned hate into opportunity. They saw a void and did something about it. They stood up to prejudices and exclusion and persisted in their quests to spread joy, awareness and visibility.
Now it’s our turn. Not all of us are in a position to blaze a trail. But we can all support those who do. Our local stores have stepped up to do their part in dispelling the notion that Santa “must” be White. CVS and Target are selling Black Santas. Buying one tells the chains’ decision makers that you support diversity and inclusion. Displaying one in your home can be a reminder that the narratives we grew up with don’t need to be the narratives we pass on to our own children. If Santa figurines of any color aren’t your thing, then thank the store managers for playing a part in the effort to make our towns more inclusive. When companies hear positive feedback, they’re likely to keep doing more of the same.
We can advocate with our dollars and with our words. We can also be influencers with our clicks. You’ll notice that this blog has a number of hyperlinks. Each link will bring you to a fuller story about Kennedy and Davis and other Black Santas. Each click will be counted by The Washington Post, HBO, Inc. magazine, ESPN and the BBC. In our data-driven world, those clicks will also be votes. Media companies decide what stories to cover based on how many clicks, likes and shares a story generates. More “shares” leads to more stories with a similar focus. They turn up the volume on the kinds of stories we want to hear and help to drown out, or at least dampen, stories of hate.
So if you want to support a man in Arkansas who turned an assault of hate into a happy ending, or an entrepreneur offering an inclusive tale, you can. Amplify their messages by giving the gift of “sharing.” Speak up, not just with words, but with your holiday displays, your purchases and your social footprint. Support those who dare to re-write a distorted history by embracing the season of sharing.
While you’re sharing, feel free to “like” this post and share the GRR Building Bridges link (https://www.granbyracialreconciliation.com/buildingbridges) on your social media feeds.