The Case for Penguin Santa: Why Representation Matters | Today Press
December 12th, 2013 was not the best moment for Fox News anchor Megyn Kelley. On a likewise ivory skinned panel, Kelley and her co-anchors responded to a Slate article titled, ‘Why Santa Claus Should Not Be A White Man Anymore’ by writer Aisha Harris. Calling for St. Nick to get a diversity themed makeover, Harris cites her father’s explanation that Santa adopts the likeness of whatever household he is visiting, as a powerful start to rebranding the Christmas legend. However, Harris doesn’t stop there, she suggests that Santa should be reconfigured into “Penguin Claus'' so as to keep his association with a cold climate (Penguin Claus would relocate from the North Pole to the South Pole for scientific accuracy) and subsequently abstract himself of any particular race associations. Although a noble idea, Kelley was not impressed by this more inclusive representation of Santa Claus maintaining that, “Santa just is white,” also adding that “Jesus is a white man too,” although the canonical figure has Middle Eastern roots.
Fox News’s short Santa segment caused a flurry of backlash for Kelley, and opened up a wider conversation about why representation matters for children of marginalized communities. Fellow commentator on the segment, Jedediah Bila, explained how at first, she thought Harris’s argument was silly, but upon further examination realized how Black children (and by extension children of color) may feel disenfranchised or excluded by holiday traditions because these folkloric figures don’t look like them.
Nude Barre’s stance on representation was inspired by the need for inclusion in the hosiery space, and ultimately making sure people of all skin tones knew they were worthy of taking center stage. We see the benefits of diversity first hand, with dancers, drag queens, flight attendants, and future CEO’s all flaunting products we made with them in mind. In a recent Today article our founder, Erin Carpenter, discussed her own experiences with Santa and how she hopes to replicate her experience with her children now. She reflects, “I grew up with my mom making sure that there were Black Santas on our Christmas tree, or even a Black angel on top of the tree… but obviously, it was pretty clear to us that that wasn't the norm and that those things were harder to come by.” With non-white Santas still being relegated to predominantly POC spaces, Carpenter hopes that diverse iterations of Santa will become more commonplace.
With many beloved childhood characters being updated to reflect the diversity of the children that love them, (Halle Bailey’s casting in The Little Mermaid live action remake comes to mind) people stuck in previous iterations of those characters have become outwardly critical of this shift in casting. Halle Bailey, a Black woman, playing the famously red haired and pale skinned mermaid Ariel and Latina Rachel Zegler being cast as the equally pale Snow White in its upcoming live action remake, have sparked twitter led diatribes about how uncomfortable modernized casting makes some fans feel.
Whiteness is not the standard or base line through which we should see ourselves, it is a global history of colonization and white supremacist ideologies that has conditioned us to believe this perception is normal. It is disheartening to see this shift in real life (diverse casting, non-white Santas, etc.) and witness a push back online. We hope that seeing different types of people (and penguins) embody beloved childhood legends normalizes diversity and stops the “other”ing of people of color.
We decide how future generations see themselves, and we should push for every child to feel like they belong. Whether Santa is a penguin, Ariel is Black, or Snow White a Latina woman, their stories are still just as enchanting as we remember, regardless of the color of their skin. It’s becoming clear that maybe magic transcends pigmentation politics altogether, and we should all go back to the real reasons these tales captured our hearts in the first place.Click here to read our founders feature on Today.com