Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What color is the Easter Bunny?

     It spoils things, when the people under the stairs complain. When their voices are heard, even softly, filtering up during the party, interrupting the festivities. They might not even be complaining—just hearing them, just being reminded of them, down there, sort of wrecks things.
     To some, that is. That's how they act. And as stupid—as staggeringly stupid—as this latest example, this Fox News Santa-is-white thing is (really, it would look trite in fiction; if Christopher Buckley cooked this episode up in his latest novel, I'd think he had turned the satire screw a twist too far)  there is an important dynamic at work here, enough that I'm giving it a second post. Maybe my mind has snapped, reading all these convoluted  responses, trying to make sense of them. 
     This young Slate writer, Aisha Harris, she suggests something—maybe kids would want a Santa that wasn't a different race, but a neutral Santa, say a penguin. A typical modest proposal, the sort of a paper boat set floating in a thousand forgettable columns and blog posts. Bound to be swamped by the next wave and never seen again. And while the risk of it being taken seriously is minimal, these TV folks at Fox, they bite, they fall on it snarling as if it were a policy directive from the White House. They hoot and holler, mocking Harris, defending their God-given right to a Santa of their own race. Doing the very thing, passionately, powerfully, that they are condemning her for suggesting mildly, timidly. And they've already got Santa, which, in their mind, settles it. Don't wreck our Santa by making him look like you. 
The Easter Bunny, right, with friend. 
     As if Santa were really, really important. 
     Which maybe he is.
     Then, when other people point out how stupid this is. How ridiculous they are—we're talking about Santa Claus— they collapse in a heap of self-justification. What's the world coming to? Is nothing sacred? We were just joking!
     The response to my reply was noteworthy— enough that I think it's worth a follow-up.  A number of nutbags, such as the guy who sent along a link to Wikipedia's entry on St. Nicholas. Mr. Nutbag writes:
     Read and learn. You can argue all you want, about Santa being mythical character. However, St. Nicholas, (a REAL WHITE PERSON) was the model, for Santa Claus. (log on to info below) 
     Why is that all you politically correct people, have to make certain, that NO ONE----is EVER offended?????

     Heaven help us, if someone/anyone is offended!!!!!!

     Deal with it. St. Nicholas was real and he was-----WHITE!!!!!! DUH!
     Aisha Harris wasn't offended. She simply pointed out that it can be difficult to live in a society where you're the after-thought, and that it might be easy to toss the untermenschen a symbolic bone. And I certainly wasn't offended—very little offends me anymore, and the raving revanchism of the right is too familiar and expected to be offensive at this point. 
     Mr. Nutbag, however, he does seem offended, does he not? All those caps and exclamation points. Do you detect a note of anger in that?  Let's think about this -- high time someone did. Whence this anger? How lousy do you have to feel about yourself, how small your source of  pride, to need to find racial solidarity with Santa Claus? Really, the heart does break. I sympathize with these people, or would, if they weren't so jaw-droppingly dumb. And spiteful. Their meanness drains any sympathy away.
     Although you can be nice and care about this. I received this from Jane Artabasy, of Glenview, who wrote:
     Neil, I love your work and the quality of thought that accompanies it, but this time I have to disagree:  Santa is white.  The fact that he's mythical doesn't change the man's look.  John Stewart says the original was from Turkey, thus somewhat "swarthy."  I always heard it was a northern European/Scandinavian legend.  Either way, the myth is deeply enculturated within us, and the guy is fat and white.
Peter Rabbit, apparently. 
        Also, while not mythological in essence, the presidents on Mt Rushmore were all white, even if that feels terrible to people of color who visit the place.  (Actually, in their sculptured state, they're all sandy in color.  But everyone knows basically what they looked like.)  If we want to keep the discussion bounded by fictional beings, the Easter bunny is white as well, while Peter Rabbit is gray. Of course, both are less burdened with intensive iconography than Santa, to be sure.  In most stories, turtles and frogs are illustrated as green.  Sly foxes are always red.  They just are, even if redheads find that insulting and negatively stereotyping.  It's not about fearing change.  It's about what's worth changing, or even thinking about, given all the real issues that really do depress, repress, and suppress various ethnic groups.
        Of course, there's always the debate about Jesus--an even more hyper-sensitive topic, given that he was real.  Shouldn't we all just agree that Jesus did not look, in any way, Eurocentric?  Not that we have photographs.  But given the geography of his birth, he must have looked Jewish/Middle Eastern, whatever.  Of course, he doesn't fit into the myth category.  The point is, to people primarily interested in the core of his life's message, his physical appearance doesn't really matter. 
        Now, dear Neil, I'm about as far to the left politically as one can go, but this question has me agreeing with Fox. Even sadder:  This silly flap about nothing is giving me a severe identity crisis!  Is this just the beginning of an old-age descent into grumpiness?  (Just so you know, I don't believe in the concept of reparations either, while I'm all for affirmative action. But that's a discussion for another day.)
        Keep up the good work, Mr. S.  I love your columns!  
     Setting aside Mt. Rushmore -- a straw man, postulating some theoretical black person standing aghast at all the whites in history, a not-sly way of diluting the point here. Let's stick with Santa. "The fact that he's mythical doesn't change the man's look." Why not? Are we not free to do with myths as we like? I thought of countering with Barbie. She's notional. She's white, or was. But now Barbie is lots of races, and the world still turns. Barbie was based on a real person, too. If Barbie can suddenly be of color—then why not Santa? Where's the harm?
     Oh right. The harm is to you, to those who want the world to stay exactly the same. But it isn't exactly the same, and really never was the way you think it should always be. 
     Didn't say that though. Instead I addressed Jane's "Easter bunny is white" remark, trying to nudge her toward the important larger issue. I replied: 
     Thanks Jane. But I think you're missing the point—let's return to the Easter-bunny-is-white aspect. Work with me here, because it gets complicated. The Easter bunny came from ... where? Parents imagining a candy-toting rabbit to delight their white kids? We agree, correct? He isn't based on a real rabbit. And as such, he could just as easily be .... oh to pick a random color... a black bunny, to delight black kids. Or a brown bunny. As could Santa. As could Jesus. That's the whole point here. The black kids exist. The Hispanic kids exist. They might arguably want a Santa/Easter Bunny/Jesus in their own image. Fox News sure does. Thanks for writing 
     I'm no fan of self-reference. If you can't appreciate those who aren't like you, it's a very limited life. In an ideal world, we would not need direct physical validation in our idols and icons. But hold the presses: we are not in that ideal world, and people, particularly those still struggling up the bottom rungs of the ladder, like to see someone ahead who looks like they do. It gives them hope. That's probably why Fox viewers are so frantic to keep things exactly as they are, or were—they are on the fringes enough themselves, living mean, small and empty lives in isolated towns in Idaho and Texas and Tennessee, robbed of the placid spirit that not being a fearful twisted fuckhead brings you. They can't bear the thought of losing Santa too. 
     People always assume that these flaps are wastes of time—I tend to assume that. But looking back, I don't know. Maybe they are training wheels for people who never think of the larger world. And maybe they give us practice beating back those who would oppose important changes as well.  It's always good to think about the world, and not just accept things at face value—even Santa. I believe that's what makes these people so angry. Their values are being doubted. Big time. 

Bunny photos courtesy of Wallpaperswide.com


  1. Neil,

    Do you think that the commentators at Fox News know yet that the so-called innocent Easter Bunny is associated with pagan fertility rites? If not, should we enlighten them?

  2. The reasonable person scares me more than the Fox whackjobs. The fundamental nature of myths is their mutability, so, yeah, we can change any myth any way we like (read the current Wonder Woman series from DC comics for a pop culture version of that sort of change, or the various versions of Batman). And we do change the old myths all the time, but this particular thing fits so much with the Fox War on Xmas bullshit that it's the perfect storm. Me, personally, I now say "Happy Holidays" because I assume anyone who says "Merry Christmas" must be a Fox-News-watching-whackjob. Kind of sad, actually. Very much looking forward to Solstice.

    And as your editor, you have an "East" for Easter spellcheck typo!

    1. See, I always say "Merry Christmas" and there's no angry, white, radical Christian agenda behind it. I don't mean to offend anyone. "Happy Holidays" is perfectly fine as well.

  3. Neil, I agree whole-heartedly with your post. Imagine how wonderful it would be for children of every race, every color, every ethnicity to be able to snuggle up with their preferred stuffed Easter bunny or to be eagerly awaiting the arrival of their favorite "Santa". I think perhaps we all need to stop and realize that we can make the world a more joyful place for everyone if we just try a little harder.

  4. Everyone who's seen the adaptation of Terry Pratchett's "Hogfather" [recommended goofy and fun with just enough murder to be a good holiday show for the whole family] knows that Santa is either a giant hairy guy with tusks or, in a pinch, a 7-ft-tall skeleton.

  5. Those who felt threatened by a Santa of color in 2013 were also threatened by a president of color. In 2016 they banded together and put Donald Trump in the White House. We never saw it coming. Post-racial America, my ass.


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