Saturday, December 15, 2007

Beliefs, Blackness and Hollywood

So yesterday, I (despite voicing vociferous protests favoring clubbing) watched “The Perfect Holiday”. The movie was as unremarkable a chick-flick as any. With nary a story nor strong characters, it’s only saving grace was that it ended. Thought it boasted a cast starring Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard, Kat Williams and Charlie Murphy, it felt insipid and deprived of star power and substance.

But were the minutes and dollars another fruitless offering to the Gods of Lost Causes? In the words of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister (in Home Alone), “I don’t think so.”

The male protagonist in the movie, played by Morris Chestnut, works as a part-time Santa in a New Jersey mall. When he first came up on screen, I was a little surprised, which instantly caused me to be shocked, chagrined and curious at my own surprise. Much as I am ashamed to admit it, I was surprised to see a non-Caucasian Santa. I am not a Christian and as such couldn’t care less about a Pagan icon usurped by a religion and subsequently, exploited to be (allegedly) the most successful Coke commercial ever, a.k.a, the judgmental, elf-sweatshop-running, north-pole-dwelling, non-tax-paying, creepy-privacy-invading Santa Claus. St. Nicholas, God bless his soul, would surely be just as repulsed by his current, pop-commercial avatar.

However, I was now curious to know why I was surprised to see St. Nicholas be represented by a person of color. I thought back to the times when I was a kid and seated myself on the lap of a stranger, dressed in red-overalls and white facial hair as fake as his concern. I couldn’t remember ever seeing a St. Nick without white gloves. All the Santas I remember were definitely played by brown-skinned Indians (most happened to be Malayali Christians, if I recall my impressions correctly), yet, they had ample makeup on their skin to make them look more like the Russian/European version of a Caucasian Santa.

I don’t know how Santa is represented in other parts of the world including primarily non-Caucasian neighborhoods in the US, but it got me thinking as to why the idea of a benevolent, caring, human spirit should be limited to a specific pigmentation level. I can’t see any valid reason except brainwashing, xenophobia and insensitivity inspired by cultural ignorance.

If the argument is made that the original St. Nick is perhaps from Western Europe and is consequently Caucasian, then it would offer a weak, albeit acceptable justification for the “whitening” of Santa. However, wouldn’t the same logic apply then to Christ? Christ was a Jew in the Middle East and consequently probably looked more like Usama Laden than Jerry Fallwell. Am I well ensconced in blasphemy already or do I have room for more? If I am blasphemous, why is this logic incorrect? By way of contradiction, since logic is consistent, there is no justification to whiten Santa Claus if Christ can’t be browned. The next thing you know, God can’t be a woman or black.

My main thrust is that human ideals, spirit and concepts are colorless. They are defined by action, not by color, birth, gender, race, religion, class or caste. Anything that leads us to believe otherwise is heresy.

P.S.: T, the title is a unabashed play on your blog. Thanks! So you must comment ;)

1 comment:

kage said...

I'm not the only one who things along these lines. Black Jesus