By Alanté Millow
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As the holiday season approaches, so do the wave of images representing St. Nicholas and the nativity scene. However, just a quick Google search of either image reveals an array of white representations.
The fact that people of European descent aren’t the only ones celebrating Christmas is being increasingly recognized and celebrated as an industry is growing for festive products to which Black consumers can relate. Although displaying a Black Santa may seem like a small, meaningless gesture to some, the effect it can have on the mindsets of Black children can be quite remarkable. Multiple studies have shown that whitewashed media images have negative effects on the self-esteem of Black children.
A famous 1940’s study conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark presented Black children with both White and Black dolls. When asked which they preferred, 65 percent of the participating Black children showed a preference for the White doll.
The Clark study, duplicated in 2006, netted similar results. Kiri Davis, then a 17-year-old film student of Manhattan’s Urban Academy produced a similar study with children at a Harlem Day Care Center. Fifteen of the 21 children surveyed preferred the White doll over the Black one.
Psychologists such as Dr. Julia Hare, argue that – even today – these attitudes among children are because of the abundance of White images and lack of Black ones. At Christmas time, these images can exacerbate low self esteem unless they are reversed.
“[Black] children are bombarded with images every day that they see on television screens and on coffee tables; either the light-skinned female that everybody is pushing, or they give preference to the closest white images,” Hare told BlackEnterprise.com.
Rev. Orin Boyd Jr. of the Mt. Zion Pentecostal Church agrees that displaying Black holiday images could be beneficial to Black children.
“Most people relate the Christmas holiday to a time of joy, good things, positive things. So if none of the images look like [Black children], that association or connection is not made,” Boyd said. “But if they’re able to see themselves within it, it reinforces that people of African descent contribute to joyous positive experiences and that’s not always displayed in other areas of life.”
Mother of two, Adrienne Lynette, said she raised her children seeing positive Black images for this exact reason.
“If Black kids don’t see that their black princesses, superheroes and powerful [images] like Jesus, I think they’ll start to think that it’s not possible for them,” Lynette said. “I always tried my best to give my daughters Black dolls because I think it’s just important for their self-esteem.”
Theologians have pointed out that images of White biblical characters, such as the nativity scene and Jesus, aren’t even accurate.
“After one of my recent lectures, a Christian college student approached me and asked if black people are uncomfortable with the fact that Jesus is white. I responded, ‘Jesus is not white. The Jesus of history likely looked more like me, a black woman, than you, a white woman,” writes Christena Cleveland in a Christianity Today article titled, “Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters.”
She adds, “Not only is white Jesus inaccurate, he also can inhibit our ability to honor the image of God in people who aren’t white…Jesus of Nazareth likely had a darker complexion than we imagine, not unlike the olive skin common among Middle Easterners today. Princeton biblical scholar James Charlesworth goes so far as to say Jesus was ‘most likely dark brown and sun-tanned.'”
Regardless of how people spend the holidays, Rev. Boyd reminds, remember the true reason for the season.
“We always have to keep in mind when we discuss the ethnicity of Jesus…that we keep in perspective that it’s not as important as the central fame and purpose of Jesus Christ,” Boyd said. “It’s important that we understand it’s the divinity of Christ – not necessarily the natural ethnicity of him – that makes him a unique figure to all of humanity.”