Why the Christmas Carol ‘Santa Claus is a Black Man’ is Important

Genius Turner

History is only as accurate as his-story's author

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I. Grandma Serves a Friendly Reminder

This morning I got a phone call from my favorite person on all the world’s stage: Grandma!

Per usual, we spent about the first 5 minutes or so skipping together down memory lane, recalling Christmas past. And just as The Ghost of Christmas Past is said to have visited Scrooge, thus igniting his transformation in the process, Grandma played an oldie I hadn’t heard in years.

“Santa Claus is a Black man,” the little girl sang in the background. “Santa Claus is a Black man. And he’s handsome . . . like my daddy too!”

I held the phone to my chest and closed my eyes for a second. I simply wanted to Be, you know, fully embrace the moment. After all, Grandma is now 90, so I wanted to savor that precious moment with her.

As for why hearing what had long been considered a carol to my family stirred such strong emotions, perhaps by painting a word-portrait — I can show you better than I can tell you.

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II. A Man without a History = a ‘His-’ without a Story

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“Of all our studies,” said Malcolm X, “history is best qualified to reward our research.”

I’d like to note since having written about the tragic death of someone who was like a big brother to me, Perry (George Floyd), I’ve made a concerted effort to steer clear of touching pen to matters of race. Yet given that 'tis the season . . . to tell the truth, I'll now let my heart overflow and leak from my pen.

Never judge the actions of a starving man while you’re on a full tummy. …

Unless you’ve actually grown up in the heart of the South, where your great-great-grandparents were slaves . . . unless you’ve grown up in a city where the stunning KHOU 11 news headline read, “Remains of former slaves found hidden under Sugar Land,” unless you have — please, bear with me.

In the still of many a Texan night, while all the world lay suspended in a brief coma, I rocked and rocked in that old wooden rocking chair on Grandma’s back porch.

Lost in thought, aside from a flicker of moonlight and streetlight, I was all alone. And in the heart of that darkness, with my black feet resting atop the footprints left behind by former slaves of that very land, I — on occasion — found myself mumbling, “I see dead people.”

Unlike the film The Sixth Sense, though, these ghosts showcased before my third eye wore faded head scarfs. These ghosts equally wore exhaustion — exhaustion from being worn out by picking cotton from sunup to sundown . . . arms worn out and fingers bleeding from thorny cotton balls.

Though these ghosts had been forbidden by law to read, I — their feeling-less-than-great-great-grandchild — could read between the heartbroken lines on their foreheads. The more I listened, the more I learned the walls can talk indeed.

And here’s what I heard:

“Black boy, history is only as accurate as his- story’s author. So use that pen, and do right by us!”

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III. Santa Claus is White . . . Right?

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Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black? Megyn Kelly

“Everybody searching for a hero,” Whitney Houston once sang. “People need someone to look up to.”

Indeed, given that I grew up an only child with no father in the home, I needed someone to look up to.

Sure, I looked up to Michael Jordan for his athletic brilliance. I looked up to Michael Jackson for his dazzling display of entertainment. But aside from sports and entertainment — all my heroes were white men.

I grew up attending Lakewood Church. Yes, Pastor Osteen was a hero of mine. He just so happened to be white. And so, I figured — Santa is white, too . . . right?

From Lakewood’s lobbies to Grandma’s living room, portraits of the saintly white Jesus of Nazareth left a lasting impression on me. And so, I figured — Saint Nick is white, too . . . right?

Many a Christmas Eve I awaited Santa sliding down the chimney, armed with gifts galore.

Of course, because Santa was white and all, I remember in childhood scribbling a note for Mr. Claus, in the event he showed up. I left it on the milk and cookies. It went something like this:

Dear Santa,
I know Third Ward only got Black people, but everybody around here is cool. I promise. So make yourself at home.

I fell in love with philosophy by the time I was 11 or 12. Of course, my philosophic heroes — from Socrates to Aristotle — were all white men.

When I glanced in the mirror, the image reflected back didn’t match my heroes. Thankfully I had an uncle that helped with altering my perception of the man in the mirror.

In short, when you change the way you look at things — the things you look at change!

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IV. In Closing

It was my late uncle John who first handed me Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro.

So classic was this book, in fact, even Lauryn Hill named her debut album after it, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which became the first hip-hop album to earn Album Of The Year at the Grammys.

Within the book, Dr. Woodson essentially notes how though the pain is invisible — the descendants of slaves can’t hide the scars.

Because for ages the word “dark” has been synonymous with evil, as evidenced by the Devil’s moniker being “The Prince of Darkness,” it’s apparent centuries’ worth of whitewashing history has led to brainwashing an entire culture of people.

I once had a cousin bitterly complain to me he was disappointed to see he had a black guy for a doctor.

“Bro, listen,” he griped, “when it comes to my health — I don’t mess around! I need a white doctor who know what he’s doing!”

Amid my cousin’s incredible confession, I heard Dr. Woodson whisper from the grave, “Miseducation of the Negro.”

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Uncle John not only helped to cleanse my mind’s eye of miseducation but he also somewhat helped with healing my family as a whole.

According to my mother, long before I was born, it was Uncle John who first played that classic tune for our family at Christmas time. Grandma at the time, who also believed Santa had to be white, was initially horrified.

“John,” my mother recalls Grandma’s initial response, “turn that foolishness off!” In due time, though, not only did Grandma come to embrace the song but it also became a staple in our family home.

Teddy Vann wrote the Christmas carol so near and dear to my heart in ’73. ‘Santa Claus Is A Black Man’ featured his five-year-old daughter Akim. Today, the classic tune is known as “merging African-American empowerment with the spirit of the holiday.”

According to Akim, Vann wrote ‘Santa Claus Is A Black Man’ because he was sick and tired of being sick and tired of always seeing not a single black face gracing the popular Christmas imagery.

From jolly old Saint Nick to the blessed angels to the smiling families gathered around the Christmas tree—hers- and history was depicted as white. After all, for years I’d heard Bing Crosby sing the holiday anthem, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

Vann merely wanted to offset the subliminal messages conveyed to young and impressionable Black children, such as myself and my cousin—who subconsciously views the intelligence of black men as being inferior to that of their white counterparts.

In short, given that Perry used to love that song too, my only hope is that he’s up there in Heaven caroling along with Mr. Vann and Uncle John:

“Santa Claus is a Black man. Santa Claus is a Black man. And he’s handsome . . . like my daddy too!”

Wishing you all — my brothers and sisters — a Merry Christmas, a Happy Kwanzaa and a Happy New Year!

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My writing is popular in academia (biology, psychology, etc.) and on websites such as Quora (millions of views) and Medium. Also, I'm signed to the same literary agency as Eckhart Tolle. In short, my sole mission in life is to serve my brothers and sisters from all walks of life. http://finalspeciescode.com/

New York City, NY
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