By Jashima Wadehra
My first experience of what I️ like to call “innocent, unintentional racism” was when I️ was 15 at my very first job. I️ lived in Arizona, and despite the excruciating heat and palm trees decorated with lights I️ was determined to invoke a little NYC Christmas spirit into my life. I️ decided my first job would be as an Elf on the Santa set at the mall. It was great, my boss let us work as much as we could, we snuck pretzels under the register, children screamed, vomited and snotted on me, and overworked and underpaid parents screamed at me but I️ loved it.
One day, during a busy Saturday evening, I️ stood in my red apron guiding the kids to Santa and placing them on his lap. As one child is up next, I️ hear him telling his mother that he knows that this is not the real Santa and that she’s lying. The mother, doe-eyed asked, “Well, honey why on earth do you think he’s not Santa,” and the sweet boy responds, “Because Santa don’t have brown elves!”
It occurred to me that in every Hallmark movie and Christmas story I️ read in the last 20 years, I️ have never once seen a brown Santa, or brown or black elves. No color. While we make strides in integrating people of color into mainstream adolescent and adult media, we don’t nearly put enough emphasis on integration and influences for children.This little boy did not now any better. He did not think less of me, he had just never seen a brown elf! He probably never even saw a tan, white one either.
We always say that children don’t see color. The problem is they do when it comes to recognizing that no one looks like them in notable roles. When I was young shows like Barney and Cyberchase had fairly diverse casts, they encouraged the same things as religiously rooted pieces do, good manners, love, peace and giving. Even a show like Caillou featured a little boy with cancer, so if we integrate other life issues or help normalize certain occurrences, why don’t we normalize color?
Given that holidays are religiously affiliated one could assume that if you don’t practice said religion, you need not worry. I, however, believe these holidays are also a cultural statement and I intend on raising my kids with the knowledge that every role in life comes in color, naturally. If we teach our kids that all people are created equal and that there is no hierarchy then shouldn’t we instill that in EVERY aspect of life? I was not offended by the lack of representation, but rather sad that there was such marginal change between my childhood exposure to color in media and this little boy’s several years later. My kids will celebrate Diwali, Christmas and anything else we see fit, but they’ll know people come in all shapes, sizes and colors.