Yes, Virginia, Santa can be black

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Heidi Stevens

— Santa can be black, and Amy Schumer can be Bar­bie, and we can all just take a deep breath about who’s por­tray­ing our fic­tional(!) icons.

For the first time in its 24year his­tory, sub­ur­ban Min­nesota’s Mall of Amer­ica — the mall-est of all malls — hired an African-Amer­i­can man to play Santa.

“We want Santa to be for ev­ery­one, pe­riod,” Lan­don Luther, co-owner of the Santa Ex­pe­ri­ence, which runs the stu­dio at the mall, told the Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune.

So he went to a Santa con­ven­tion in Bran­son, Mo., and hap­pened upon Larry Jef­fer­son, a re­tired U.S. Army vet­eran from Irv­ing, Texas, who has been play­ing Santa since 1999, ac­cord­ing to the pa­per.

“I’m just a mes­sen­ger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys,” Jef­fer­son told the Star Tri­bune.

He be­longs to the Lone Star San­tas, a non­profit that de­liv­ers toys to chil­dren whose homes have been struck by nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. He has a fluffy white beard, a bright red suit and a jolly grin.

But his skin is black, so nat­u­rally peo­ple lost their minds.

Out­raged loy­al­ists to white Santa called for a boy­cott of the mall. Big­ots had a field day on so­cial me­dia. (You can Google their re­ac­tions if you want to. I’m not re­peat­ing them here.) Scott Gille­spie, the Star Tri­bune’s editorial page edi­tor, posted on Twit­ter that the pa­per had to dis­able the com­ments sec­tion on its story about Jef­fer­son. Later he tweeted that com­ments were dis­abled “based on past prac­tice with sto­ries with racial el­e­ments.” (I’m not sure which is sad­der — the idea that black Santa would in­spire a racist del­uge or the idea that black any­one would.) This is mad­ness. Santa can em­body joy and good­will and the spirit of giv­ing re­gard­less of whether his skin matches yours. Just ask the mil­lions upon mil­lions of lit­tle black and Latino and Asian chil­dren who’ve been lin­ing up to meet him for decades. Are white chil­dren so shel­tered and in­sen­si­tive that they can’t imag­ine good­ness com­ing from a non­white be­ing? No, they’re not. Are their par­ents? Ob­vi­ously

CHICAGO

some of them are.

I don’t un­der­stand what we choose to hold sa­cred.

A m y Schumer is set to star in an up­com­ing live-ac­tion Bar­bie movie, the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter an­nounced late last week, which has prompted the dress-size po­lice to take up arms (toned, svelte arms, no doubt).

Schumer doesn’t fit the plas­tic Bar­bie mold, so her cast­ing is an out­rage. (Lots of “Bar­bie Goes to Fat Camp” jokes and the like.)

Never mind that no ac­tual hu­man fits the Bar­bie mold; the doll’s mea­sure­ments would make her 6 feet tall and 100 pounds with a 39inch bust. Bar­bie’s waist is so small, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates, that she would only have room for half a liver.

But, by all means, let’s de­fend that ideal. Bet­ter for women to as­pire to an anatom­i­cal im­pos­si­bil­ity than get the idea they can go around hav­ing ac­tual hips. What gives? If we don’t want our icons to look more like Amer­ica, what does that say about Amer­ica?

If a whiff of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion in our fic­tional char­ac­ters sets peo­ple on edge, what hope do we have for cre­at­ing a more open­hearted, open-minded, equal-op­por­tu­nity place for liv­ing, breath­ing, work­ing, lov­ing hu­man be­ings?

You can write off the Santa/Schumer blow­back as a hand­ful of nuts on so­cial me­dia. But peo­ple sim­i­larly waved away the vit­riol aimed at the new “Ghost­busters” — What’s the big deal? Some guys on Twit­ter are up­set. — and that es­ca­lated into an all­out cam­paign to take down co-star Les­lie Jones.

I’m done pre­tend­ing a lit­tle racism here, a lit­tle cru­elty there is no big deal. I don’t want to shrug off hos­til­ity and ha­rass­ment. I don’t want to place the same non­sense lim­i­ta­tions on make-be­lieve char­ac­ters that we place on real peo­ple. It re­veals an alarm­ing lack of empathy and fair­ness and cheats us out of mak­ing real progress to­ward unity.

We can’t let this stuff be­come par for the course, or the course is go­ing to lead us back­ward.

Heidi Stevens is a colum­nist for the Chicago Tri­bune. Read­ers may email her at hstevens@ chicagotri­bune. com.

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