Thursday, December 19, 2013

White Santa in the Classroom

Curmie is way behind on his writing, but may get a little chance to catch up, at least a little over the next few days. With the nominations for this year’s Curmie Awards imminent, I’d better start there, although there’s lots of other stuff to discuss, too.

I keep a file of sorts of Curmie-worthy events: the list is currently over 70 stories long. Where to begin, then? Well, how about a variation on a theme that’s still causing ripples. By now, virtually everyone knows about the idiotic remarks of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly (as usual, Gentle Reader, Curmie apologizes for the redundancy of this description), wherein she insisted that Santa is white. Because… you know… if there’s an opportunity to say something gratuitously divisive, why not do it?

This man does not exist.
Well, Ms. Kelly’s dim-wittedness is apparently contagious. At Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, students were told they could come to school dressed as Santa, an elf, or a reindeer. But when African-American 9th-grader Christopher Rougier showed up in a red Santa cap and a bushy white beard, his teacher (who remains unidentified) decided that this would be an excellent time to say something profoundly stupid. And so Christopher was ridiculed because… wait for it… Santa is white: “Don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?”

OK, so can we agree first off that the Aisha Harris piece that started this whole brouhaha was remarkably stupid in its own right? Santa as penguin? Really? I mean, who the hell cares what color Santa is? You want him to be black? Fine, he’s black. And I defy you to find anyone—other than the ignoramuses at Fox News—willing to argue with you. An excellent “Yes, Virginia”-inspired editorial in the Des Moines Register speaks for the sane segment of the population:
Why, saying Santa cannot be African or Latino or Asian or American Indian is to say fairies come in only one shape, size or color and appear only to white, Anglo-Saxon children in America. It is to say that Peter Pan could not be a little girl dressed in red. Or that Tickle Me Elmo could not be green. Alas! How dreary and unfair the world would be if Santa only came on one shade! It would be a dreary world without a Santa that little boys and girls like you the world over could not identify with.
Boom. We’re done. Santa is whatever freaking color you want him to be, and only a yahoo like Fox’s reigning suicide blonde will tell you otherwise.

But expecting the likes of Harris or Kelly to exercise even a little critical judgment is no doubt to set the bar rather too high. Both are paid to be hyper-partisan idiots, and both perform that task admirably. But let’s look at the implications of the high school teacher’s remarks.

There are only two possibilities that I can even wrap my head around. One is that the teacher thought he was being funny (note that Kelly’s back-tracking takes the form of pretending she was joking, making “an offhand jest”) and he may have over-estimated the extent of the trusting relationship he had with Christopher. I could see myself teasing one of two or three of my African-American students about Santa being white, specifically in the aftermath of Kelly’s silliness. But there are three essential differences: 1). they’d be giving me grief about being old or white or whatever at the same time (i.e. we actually do have a relationship that allows for this banter), 2). the students in question would know the context, and would be able to understand that I was kidding; I sure as hell wouldn’t try joking around with a student whom I knew to be autistic 3). my students are in college, and their reactions aren’t going to come close to being “crushed” by anything I say.

So, one possibility is a joke gone bad. The other is that this teacher is either racist, stupider than snake spit, or both. I mean, let’s consider that comment in light of the other possibilities. Christopher can’t dress up as Santa because he’s a different race, but it presumably would have been fine for him to be a reindeer… you know, another species. Or an elf, presumably in recognition of his inherently servile condition. [Side note: one of my favorite Christmas-time jokes has been coming around on the internet again… describing Santa’s elves as “subordinate Clauses.”] Seriously, what part of dressing up as a mythical figure probably shouldn’t have racial restrictions is this guy too stupid to understand?

OK, OK. He “self-reported,” described his actions as “a stupid mistake,” and apologized. And the boy’s father is still in righteous dudgeon. Yeah, maybe it’s a narcissistic over-reaction, but he certainly has some reason to be upset. After all, there are stupid mistakes and STUPID MISTAKES, and this one was the latter.

Some people will do anything for a Curmie nomination.

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