This post is inspired by my friend Rick Ayers who wrote a post of Black representations of Santa throughout the world last year on Huffington Post. But rather than a historical look at Santa I want to look at the reality of Santa for Black children. My friends and I were raised knowing that no White man was coming to our neighborhood at night. And we definitely knew he wasn’t coming with a bag full of toys to slide down our non-existent chimneys. It didn’t matter how many times James Brown sang, “Santa Claus go straight to the ghetto the only Santa coming to our house was coming in the form of Mama or Big Mama.
Most Black children don’t have the luxury of hoping some jolly fat White man is going to be benevolent and bring them loads of toys. Instead, they see hard working parents who do everything they can to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. They know that whatever money can be sacrificed for toys is a real blessing and the person who will purchase those toys is the person who looks into your face each night before bed and first thing when you awake.
My mother’s strategy for pacifying us during the Christmas season was to take us down town and place a bunch of things on lay-a-way (for my White readers lay-a-way is what stores serving the poor and working class do so that people will place a small “deposit” on items and pay on them over time before eventually redeeming them). Unfortunately, for us my mother often never went back for the things she had placed a dollar on. The exercise of wishing and hoping was what Christmas was going to be in our house. We generally got one or two of the things we’d seen on that shopping trip. Another thing my mother was famous for was getting you a “reasonable facsimile” of what you actually wanted. We never got the brand name or designer label item. My mother always went to some discount store and got us a “knock off” and while disappointed we dare not say anything! I still remember the horrible light blue mohair sweater that looked nothing like the cool cable knit mohair sweaters that were popular in my school that year. Instead I ended up with a sweater that looked like a hair shirt!
But, Christmas was always festive in our home not because we got lots of toys and clothes. It was festive because our entire family came together, ate a delicious home cooked meal, told stories and jokes, and poked fun at each other. Every once in a while when my brother or I had some very special desire my mom would do what she could to get it but that was the ONLY thing we were getting. No chubby cheeked White man made that happen. That special gift came from long hours of overtime and side hustles and bank Christmas Clubs that required you to pay in a few dollars a week so you would have a little nest egg by December to buy gifts.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have the right to decide for themselves if they want their kids to buy into the Santa Claus myth. No, I’m saying for most of the Black children I grew up with in our working class community the very idea of Santa was a joke. The person who was feeding you was going to be Santa. The person who was putting clothes on your back was going to be Santa. The person who paid the rent so you had somewhere to live was going to be Santa.
So yes, Latonya there is a Santa Claus and SHE is Black!
Stay Black & Smart!