This post has been cogitating in my head for quite sometime. I know it will be misinterpreted by many and that I am opening myself up for vilification of the meanest sort. My intention is to provoke serious thought. The event that sparked my own self-examination was MCV and Mood Ring Momma’s recounting of their annual trip to the Nordstrom flagship store in downtown Seattle for my nephews’ annual photo with Santa. MCV was surprised to see that Santa, this year, was African-American. But only the seven year old noticed and said, “That’s not the real Santa. That’s his helper.*” Why was this Santa hired? Was Nordstrom making a statement? Maybe African-American Santa was hired because he was the only one who could legally say “Ho Ho Ho? Perhaps this gentleman just really wanted the job.
Mr. Understanding and I discussed this with Princess Ai Lin and Mr. Nuts and Bolts at our first ever annual Christmas Party for Four which started at the Shangri-la hotel and then proceeded to the St. Regis. Would it be okay, we wondered, to cast Kate Hudson as a young Rosa Parks if a movie were made? How about Denzel Washington as George Bush? Would there be an uproar? Is skin color important to authenticity? What about attire? Well, that depends. Many people will tell you that they did not buy Angelina Jolie’s rendition of Marianne Pearl, notwithstanding their close personal friendship, in the film “A Mighty Heart”. But that doesn’t really answer the question about Santa.
This was still on my mind when Thing 3 and I attended the Catholic church with our neighbors Sunday morning to check it out. I had been hesitant to do this before since we would have to remain seated during communion, a hard thing to explain to a Protestant nine year old. I do not want my children scarred by exclusion from the Catholic communion club. But whatever. Since many of my Catholic friends have been to my churches over the years, I thought I would not let a little thing like the theory of transubstantiation get in the way of church attendance, especially since it was sure not to include a surfeit of hand waving. Besides, it is no secret that I am a fan of all trappings Catholic** (love those gold medallions! the mitered corners on the Bishops hats! the rosaries!) and my name leads many, falsely, to this conclusion.
A few pews ahead of us sat an African-American family. I recognize them from the soccer pitch. They make the Obamas look like they come from a poor gene pool. The mother is stunning. The father likes to wear a cream colored sweater with a big crimson H on it that I take to mean he attended Hah-vahd. Their eldest son, well-behaved in church, routinely grabs my son’s soccer jersey on the soccer field, sometimes resulting in penalties. My son is routinely outraged at the behavior. It is against the rules, Thing 2 says.
I thought about all this as I channeled Rosa herself and a smidge of her philosophy of Quiet Strength in church while I sat in my pew as others, including the Gorgeous Family, filed around me to receive communion. Out of respect for the Catholic faith, Thing 3 and I remained quietly seated even though we really wanted that wafer. We could have gone up to receive a blessing but that seemed a little false, like we would be conning the congregation. Justice was not at stake, just my pride.
We went back to the Catholic church for Christmas Eve service with the entire family and our visitor, Ms. Duke, who is Thing 1’s godmother. I whispered in my husband’s ear the amount he should put in the offering plate. After the priest went through an extensive warning to the pagans and Protestants in the crowd about not receiving communion if one was not a confirmed Catholic, Mr. Understanding whispered back in my ear, “That settles it. I’m reducing the amount in half and giving the other portion to the hand waving church. I’ll take hand waving over no communion any day. ” My church dilemma was resolved just like that.
Inclusion v. Exclusion? Authenticity v. Convenience/Political Correctness? Following the Rules v. Fighting for Justice? Truth v. Hypocrisy? In the club or out of the club? Naughty or nice? Where and when do we draw the line and do we have to? My father once told me that the only way, and I am paraphrasing here, to attain world peace is through cross-cultural intermarriage, which will eventually end tribalism (but not sibling rivalry). If St. Nicholas, the historical person on whom the character of Santa is based, is Turkish, he most definitely did not have lily white skin. Jesus himself probably had a Mediterranean skin tone and a less than dainty schnoz. So, in the end, a black Santa is okay by me just as long as he plays the part well. It’s even better if his name is Don Cheadle and I can sit on his lap and give him my wish list for 2008.
*To be honest, he actually used a different, very high brow word that would for sure be misinterpreted and I am not going to expose the seven year old to yellow press at such a tender age.
** Thanks to Maria the Dentist for my package with the booklets and the Infant Jesus of Prague statuette!!! It arrived today!