It seems that the public’s obsession with defining the races of the inscrutable figures associated with Christmas has not abated. The brouhaha over whether Santa is white caused by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s announcement on air that he definitely is is still brewing resentments several days later.
Now, a Florida man has demanded that a children’s book be pulled from his daughter’s school library shelves for stating factually that Jesus is a white person.
The book, The Legend of the Candy Cane, has been removed from a Florida school after a parent complained about both its religious content and its assertion that Jesus Christ is white.
Controversy over Jesus’ racial description
The controversy erupted after first grade students at the DeBary Elementary School in Volusia County were read to from the book in their classroom during a lesson on Christmas traditions around the world.
Area parent Horace Hymes was perturbed at the message that his daughter, 7-year-old Erin, received, according to local news station NBC WESH Channel 2.
The most offensive passage centered around using the colors and shape of the candy cane as a symbol linking Jesus Christ to the Christian holiday that celebrates his birth.
“White is for Jesus, because he’s white, and red is for Jesus’ blood,” Erin read from the book for the WESH report. “And if you flip the candy cane upside down it makes a ‘J’ for Jesus.”
The school system maintains that the use of the book in this way was a mistake, although it was read ver batim to students. “The white represents purity and the resurrection, and the red represents his blood,” Nacy Wait, spokesperson for the Volusia County Public Schools, told WESH. “Now, should that book have been used in the classroom? Probably not. It was meant to be used as a resource, not to teach religion.”
Hymes believes that the teachers involved should be fired. “If we are teaching you one thing, and the teachers are teaching you another thing, confusion comes up,” he said.
Teaching children race and religion in classrooms?
Both the race of Jesus and the place of religion in public schools were points of contention in this story, flowing seamlessly into our current national debate about what should be expressed to our children about the Christmas holiday.
“Jesus Wasn’t White, But Santa Definitely Is,” reads the title of a Time.com column that adds fuel to the fire of this controversy. The piece goes on to describe the whiteness of Santa in unflattering terms, suggesting that people of color should let white people have him.
Yet, a New Mexico high school teacher was placed on administrative leave recently after telling a black student that he should not have dressed up like Santa Claus for a school assignment, so emphatically did she believe that Santa could not possibly be black. What gives?
Is “white anxiety” driving these stories?
Why is it so important for certain segments of the population to know for sure that their mystical figures are any particular race — to the point that teachers such as Erin’s directly — if inadvertently — affirm their whiteness to kids?
Writing for The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith theorizes that white anxiety is building over the fact that the demographics of America are slowly changing, leading to an erosion of the “white supremacy” that the majority Caucasian population has enjoyed as an uncontested element of our culture — until now.
“We are living in an age of paradox,” Smith wrote. “The old system of white racial supremacy is very much still alive and strong, but the advancements of other racial groups are undeniable. That means the government, the culture, the economy and the social order, while not even close to anything equitable, are changing and shifting towards something that’s at least more inclusive.”
This inclusiveness — for whites who are not ready — is resulting in fear. Fear that without the cultural power to claim all the most popular figures in society for themselves, some white Americans will have to give up their underlying sense of feeling “better than” other races.
Preparing children for a multicultural future
When Fox’s Megyn Kelly said that Santa is white, she also emphatically asserted that Jesus is, too, but added: “I just want the kids watching to know that.” She also prefaced her entire message as a helpful bit of knowledge to set the record straight about these figures specifically as a service to our children.
Kelly has since rescinded her statement to a degree, complaining instead that the ensuing backlash was a “knee-jerk” reaction born of “race-baiting” by opponents of Fox News. But, in truth this exchange has much more meaning. Because Kelly directed her beliefs about the race of Santa and Jesus to young people, it should come as no surprise that the school room is the space where the deliberation over this issue most potently lingers.
As America moves toward 2050, whites will cease to be the majority. Children of today need to learn to see people of different races inclusively, because our country will be more diverse than ever. It is hardly race-baiting to address this question of inclusion head on.
Now is the time to scrutinize the beliefs and images we hand down to children related to race more than ever. For Hymes’ daughter, and the white children who will share his daughter’s world as adults, this is the only way we can ever deliver on the promise of peace on earth and good will towards all people that the spirit of Jesus and Santa represent.
Follow Alexis Garret Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb