Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

December 25, 2013

Santa's ethnicity

In diverse U.S., Santa Claus has many faces, races

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — In Atlanta, children of many races share their Christmas wish lists with a black Santa Claus.

In Houston, Santa dons a red zoot suit and dances to jazz as he hands out gifts in Mexican-American neighborhoods.

In Indian Country, Native American Santas add American Indian attire to their red snowsuits, visiting shops and community centers from the pueblos of New Mexico to the reservations on the Pacific Northwest.

Santa Claus may be popularly known as a white-bearded benefactor with Dutch-English origins, but multiethnic versions of Santa are making the rounds out there too — illustrating that in an increasingly diverse United States, Santa takes on whatever color you imagine him to be.

"Kids don't see color. They see a fat guy in a red suit giving toys," said Dee Sinclair, 50, of Atlanta, who bills himself as the "Real Black Santa" and sports a very real, very white beard to prove it. He said in his 12 years of Santa-dom, he has posed with children and adults of all backgrounds during appearances at art centers, private parties and the occasional suburban Christmas tree lighting.

"The character to me is all about the spirit of Christmas," Sinclair said. "If we leave Christmas to ourselves, we'd be all right."

This holiday season, however, not all reactions to non-white Santas have been jolly.

At Indiana University in Bloomington earlier this month, a dormitory bulletin board posed the question, "Can Santa Claus be a black man?" in hopes of generating fruitful discussion about racial stereotypes. Instead, it generated outrage on social media because it also asked other questions that played to stereotypes, such as whether a black Santa would only visit the ghetto. The display, which a university spokesman described as well-intended but "misguided," was taken down.

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