"who would be offended by santa," joe the a.d. asked broadly.
"are you kidding me?" i blurted. "i know plenty of black people down south who would be like, 'i don't want my black child thinking some white man is going to come down our chimney and give them anything.' and i'm related to quite a few of them." strangely enough, i had just spoken to my sister-in-law who was readying her first child, a four month old boy, for his first photo with santa. over her dead body would it be a white one.
the looks on all of their faces as i said this was priceless. then came variations on the inevitable "i've never thought about it like that" remark. if i've said it once, i've said it a thousand times: tact is important, but so is honesty. don't soft-pedal it with white people. when the opportunity presents itself, let them have it -- but only if you're in the mood to do a lot of explaining. they just so happened to catch me at the right moment, probably because i love black santa a lot.
then again, i was raised in ATL and i know who matthew henson is, so black santa makes a lot of sense to me.
when i go home, i'm going to take a picture with black santa. it'll be next year's christmas card. when i told my friend, he seemed genuinely sad. "i want to take a picture with black santa," he said. hm. maybe we both will.
Some parents seek out a black Santa
Since 2003, the Mall at Prince Georges has hired a black Santa Claus to pose for pictures with children and adults. And since then, black families have traveled from across the county and from Washington, D.C., so their children can have pictures taken with a Santa who looks like them.
Keesha Crosby of Washington, D.C., has brought her 3-year-old son, Jayden, to take pictures with the Mall at Prince Georges’ Santa since he was born.
‘‘I bring him here because he identifies with a black Santa Claus,” she said at the mall on Saturday. ‘‘All the other media outlets publicize a Caucasian Santa Claus, and he doesn’t identify with that.”
Victoria Clark, marketing director for the Mall at Prince Georges, said because most Prince George’s County residents are black, the demographics most likely called for a black Santa.
She also acknowledged that the area’s demographics have been changing. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, black people make up 66.1 percent of Prince George’s County and Hispanic people accounted for 10.7 percent in 2005. In 2000, black people made up 62.7 of the county’s population and people of Hispanic origin made up 7.1 percent.
‘‘In the past we’ve had a Hispanic Santa, but we take it one year at a time,” she said. ‘‘So far there haven’t been any requests for a Latino Santa.”
However, Clark said she’s observed people of all backgrounds stop to take pictures with Santa.
‘‘I think that’s indicative of the fact that there are people who come out who aren’t necessarily seeking a black Santa,” she said.
Nicole Davis of Brandywine said she learned about the mall’s black Santa Claus from her sister, who has brought her children to the mall for the past few years.
‘‘This is the only location in the area that promotes an African-American Santa,” said Davis, who brought her daughter, 23-month-old Emma, to take pictures at the mall. ‘‘So we’re making it a tradition to come here every year. ... It’s important for a child to know that Santa Claus isn’t just one color.”
Jackie Irvine of Atlanta, who tagged along while her two grandsons waited for their turn to take their pictures, said she began the tradition of taking pictures with a black Santa when her daughter, Kelli Neptune, was young.
‘‘I started taking her as a child to a black Santa and I had to travel to do so,” Irvine said of Neptune. ‘‘As a cultural figure, Santa represents kindness ... and I always wanted her to associate those attributes with a Santa Claus who shared her ethnicity and culture.”
Neptune, a Bowie resident, said she’s passing the tradition to her children who she hopes will pass the tradition on to their own.
‘‘I want my children to celebrate a Santa Claus that looks like them,” she said.
And her mother said it’s important for her grandsons to be able to identify with Santa.
‘‘I’m very glad to see him here and I think there should be Santas of every ethnicity all over Metro D.C.,” she said.
Santa will be available for pictures at the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East West Highway, until Dec. 24. Prices range from $15.99 to $39.99.