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December 12, 2013

Just In Time for Christmas: Culturally Safe Santa!

Wethinks that someone has been dipping into the holiday egg nog with a little too much enthusiasm:

... I propose that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man and create a new symbol of Christmas cheer. From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin.

That’s right: a penguin.

Why, you ask? For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood. Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, Santa is one of the first iconic figures foisted upon you: He exists as an incredibly powerful image in the imaginations of children across the country (and beyond, of course). That this genial, jolly man can only be seen as white—and consequently, that a Santa of any other hue is merely a “joke” or a chance to trudge out racist stereotypes—helps perpetuate the whole “white-as-default” notion endemic to American culture (and, of course, not just American culture).

Plus, people love penguins. There are blogs dedicated entirely to their cuteness. They’re box office gold. Most importantly, they’re never scary (in contrast to, say, polar bears and reindeer). Most kids love Santa—because he brings them presents. But human Santa can be terrifying—or at least unsettling.

We have only one question: is Santa Penguin going to be penguin of the penis-having persuasion, or a bedazzled vajayjay-having penguin?

And don't think for one moment that this isn't A Very Important Question That Totally Deserves To Be Taken Seriously, because the Blog Princess can now confess the extreme psychological trauma she has experienced all her life, knowing the existential angst that comes from being a powerless female forced to wait submissively for a symbol of the Patriarchy to shower gifts upon her.

Gifts that only serve to remind her of the cultural and economic dominance of her Heteronormative, Melanin-impaired Overlords.

Having a female Santa Penguin could be problematic, because penguins aren't obviously male or female and the whole point of getting rid of White Male Santa is to redress centuries of cultural imperialism and sexual insensitivity. Hard to make the point that Santa Penguin could totally be female (or Trans! or LBGT!) if we can't tell without peeking. We could, possibly, change Santa's holiday regalia from red and white to pink and white. But then we run into the Angry Birds problem:

Likewise, gender is also a defining characteristic for the portrayal of female characters. Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fischer, a white female) and Padme (played by Natalie Portman, a white female) are both portrayed by pink birds. There are no other pink birds in the game. Again, the color of the bird is unimportant, unless the bird is female, in which case the character’s gender (denoted by its pinkness) becomes the essential element of that character.

This same pattern also appears in the original Angry Birds Star Wars, in which Princess Leia is the only pink bird and Lando Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams, a black male) is the only brown bird.

White privilege and male privilege persist, in part, by framing the white, male experience as normal. Even in a game like Angry Birds Star Wars II we see the invisibility of whiteness and maleness and the foregrounding of race and gender for people of color and women.

When, oh when will the White Man stop oppressing womyn and people of color with their Otherist symbology????

UPDATE: Is this the best.correction.ever or what?

Correction, Dec. 10, 2013: This article originally misidentified penguins as mammals. They are birds.

Posted by Cassandra at December 12, 2013 10:08 AM

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Personally, I'm glad they chose an animal from the South Pole and not the North.

Santa being a Northern figure just adds to the perceived indignity of those south of the equator having to live upside down.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 12, 2013 10:30 AM

On the other hand, Christmas occurs in the summertime in Antarctica (and south of the Equator generally). We're going to need to update all of our symbolism accordingly.

Posted by: Grim at December 12, 2013 11:24 AM


Maybe a penguin with sunglasses, a gold chain, and lots of chest hair... err... feathers? And one of those chichi drinks with the little umbrellas.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 12, 2013 05:54 PM

Will Mrs. Santa Claus still be making grög? Smultringer? Spritz? Bordstabelbakkels? Rosetter? Let's get to the important things.

Posted by: htom at December 12, 2013 07:18 PM

Bah Humpenguin!

Posted by: DL Sly at December 12, 2013 08:17 PM