Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Featured Readers' Comments: The Power of Racial Microaggressions and How the Debate Over the "Color" of Santa Claus is a Rorschach Test For White Racial Attitudes

The commenters here on We Are Respectable Negroes routinely offer up many great insights. I like to acknowledge those smarts. Consequently, I feature readers' comments when appropriate in order to move our conversations forward.

There was such an exchange about the Santa Claus Fox News Megyn Kelly silliness regarding if fictional characters are "white" or 'black" that are worth exploring in more detail in response to this post.

Yes, the faux debate about the racial identity of fictional and mythological character is on the surface, very, very silly. However, the "Santa Claus Whiteness Debate" is important because of what it suggests about bigger systemic and institutional issues related to white supremacy in the United States, and the West, more generally.

In our dialogue about racism, Santa Claus, and Jesus Christ, the following comments were spot on.

Black Sci-Fi made a great intervention as he observed how:
The whole Santa/Jesus = white men meme is really just an online click-bait trap for the toopid. Rather than waste more precious electrons on a fake issue, why don't we (liberals?) figure out how to increase employment in the USA. 
Race Baiting by Fox News is how they've been able to keep their ratings high. They find no shame in saying the most vile things about our President because it increases viewership, even among so-called liberals. Why? Because they aren't serious about anything except creating "high paying" sensation, not reporting news. Their entire news operation is simply "CLICK-BAIT. GET A CLUE and stop supporting their madness. If you want to stop the madness then stop buying products made by Koch, Inc and other products advertised on FOX. In America, if you want to change something, put your money where your mouth is. Imagine the headlines that would follow a successful boycott of Fox advertisers. Anything less is BS and making a noose for your hangman. 
Bryan Ortiz replied with:
I do agree this issue (non-issue really) is silly, but Megyn Kelly's remark should be seen as one of those microagrressions toward black Americans that white people do on a regular basis. It was perhaps also fodder for that teacher to ridicule his student for being black and wearing a Santa costume.
Both of them are offering up some great insights that we should meditate on.

A few weeks back, one of the friends of We Are Respectable Negroes told me over some beers, that I am like a junkyard dog who obsesses about an issue, and then stays on it long after many readers may have lost interest. I agreed.

Yes, I do tend to linger. But like a dog in a fight, I am trying to hold on as long as I can, and biting down to the bone of a subject. I do this without apology. However, I do often think about the balance between catering to a very superficial drive-by public attention span and the time needed to fully explore a subject.

Readers of WARN know that of course I tend towards the latter. I wonder what I should do in the future. Any suggestions or thoughts?

In one of my first essays on Megyn Kelly's white supremacist musings about Santa Claus, I clarified my use of the concept known as "the white racial frame". I want to do something similar by fleshing out Chester Pierce's theory of "racial microaggressions".

Micro aggressions in the context of societal power relationships have been much discussed. As it applies to race, Psychology Today offered a very accessible essay that I would like to share below.

Racial microaggressions have the following typology:
In my book, Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), I summarize research conducted at Teachers College, Columbia University which led us to propose a classification of racial microaggressions. Three types of current racial transgressions were described:
• Microassaults: Conscious and intentional discriminatory actions: using racial epithets, displaying White supremacist symbols - swastikas, or preventing one's son or daughter from dating outside of their race.
• Microinsults: Verbal, nonverbal, and environmental communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity that demean a person's racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a co-worker of color how he/she got his/her job, implying he/she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system. 
• Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, White people often ask Latinos where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.
Our research suggests that microinsults and microinvalidiations are potentially more harmful because of their invisibility, which puts people of color in a psychological bind: While people of color may feel insulted, they are often uncertain why, and perpetrators are unaware that anything has happened and are not aware they have been offensive. 
For people of color, they are caught in a Catch-22. If they question the perpetrator, as in the case of the flight attendant, denials are likely to follow. Indeed, they may be labeled "oversensitive" or even "paranoid." If they choose not to confront perpetrators, the turmoil stews and percolates in the psyche of the person taking a huge emotional toll. In other words, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Note that the denials by perpetrators are usually not conscious attempts to deceive; they honestly believe they have done no wrong. Microaggressions hold their power because they are invisible, and therefore they don't allow Whites to see that their actions and attitudes may be discriminatory. Therein lays the dilemma. The person of color is left to question what actually happened. The result is confusion, anger and an overall draining of energy.
Ironically, some research and testimony from people of color indicate they are better able to handle overt, conscious and deliberate acts of racism than the unconscious, subtle and less obvious forms. That is because there is no guesswork involved in overt forms of racism.
The debate about the whiteness of Santa Claus fits within this framework.

I would suggest that the investment of Megyn Kelly, Bill O'Reilly and other (white) conservatives in the skin color of fictitious and quasi-historical characters like Santa Claus and Jesus, is more revealing, not because of the fact claims about the latter's race, but because of the psychological investment that the Right-wing has in defending their Whiteness (and this is very, very important too, that said "people" are not black or brown).

Birtherism and the pathological hostility by the White Right towards Barack Obama as the United States' first black President is easily triangulated with the anger by conservatives such as Kelly, O'Reilly and others towards the idea that Santa Claus, a fictional character, must of course be "white".

The hostility towards the idea of a "Black Santa Claus" by (white) conservatives is a Rorschach test for white racial resentment and white supremacy in the post civil-rights era.

And as Daniel Greenfield, writing at that white supremacist website FrontPage demonstrates, most of the White Right's hostility towards the idea of a black Jesus or Santa is really a projection of their deeply held white racist understanding(s) of social reality and the world around them.

Whiteness is America's dominant social, cultural, and political force. Yet, its owners and beneficiaries are extremely insecure about their power:
The penguinization of Santa is one of the nicer progressive responses to these lingering self-esteem issues. The nastier ones counter negative perception of blackness by pushing negative perception of whiteness. The lead practitioners of white racism have become white liberals who hope that hating and degrading white people will improve black self-esteem.
In this warped world, the only way to save black self-esteem is by attacking any area where “white” is normative. Even if it’s a white Santa Claus. If black people feel self-conscious of their differences, then white people must be constantly made to feel self-conscious of the guilt they ought to feel in making everyone else feel self-conscious with their normative supremacism.
Whiteness isn’t the problem. The obsession with race is. The left has turned a social construct into the definitive lens for viewing all human relationships. And it’s that lens that causes the misery. The more you look through it, the more bitter and insecure you become.
Santa isn’t guilty of white privilege. The racialists are guilty of an obsessive resentment that expresses itself in the need to contest everything on racial grounds. Changing Santa’s race or species won’t fix anything because that isn’t the source of the problem. Any number of white characters, from Spider-Man to Kojak, Ironside and even Murder She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher, have been turned black without making a dent.
Insecurity isn’t external. It’s internal. And it can’t be fixed externally. The insecure can’t be reassured into being comfortable with the world around them. Every well-meaning act of reassurance is met with a defensive reaction that is meant to reassert their neurotic status quo because that unpleasant state is the one that they know and are familiar with. It may not be a pleasant way to live, but it’s their identity and it’s all that they know how to do.
Racial insecurity is an internal problem. It isn’t caused by Santa. It’s caused by a racialized identity which thrives on paranoia and insecurity while lashing out at black figures who aren’t insecure, like Robert Griffin III or Don Lemon, for the crime of being comfortable.
I think that many of us who write about race and white racism online are hamsters on a wheel. Our energy expended is going nowhere. We need to move from specific examples of white supremacy--which is what the Santa Claus debate is really about--upwards to a systems level analysis.

I will doing much of this on We Are Respectable Negroes during the new year. For me, such questions are often in parentheticals or lingering in the background. For 2014--where did the years go my friends?--such questions will be foregrounded.

Megyn Kelly's comments about Santa and Jesus really don't mean much of anything if we do not connect them to a larger pattern of white racism and white supremacy in the United States. Anti-racists, "racism chasers", and concerned members of the general public, can do much, much, much better in this regard.

Are you with me?


Bryan Ortez said...

Rippa on the Intersection of Madness and Reality made a lot of great points for why Santa and Jesus "just are white." I wanted to shake my head in disagreement with the idea that they ought to be respected and not ridiculed for being portrayed as people of color, but at about the middle of his piece I found I couldn't.

He mentions his grandmother worshiping to a white Jesus:
"My grandmother will be 100-years-old a few days after Christmas this year. Yes, and she still lives in the Caribbean. That said, there’s no way in hell that I or any of you can convince her that Megyn Kelly, and all the Megyn Kelly’s of the world are wrong. Forget about the whitewashing of history or that through slavery and colonization religion was introduced to Africans and their descendants in the new world by men who looked exactly like my white Scottish great-grandfather. You know, the descendants of the same white men who invented Christianity for political reasons?

- See more at:

Grumpyrumblings said...

There's some suggestive evidence that these micro aggressions lead to worse health outcomes through the channel if stress. The documentary Unnatural Causes talks more about it.

DanF said...

Part of the Santa/Jesus must remain white thing must come from some twisted form of noblesse oblige. Santa and Jesus are generous figures who give to and love everyone regardless of race and class. In Megyn's world the notion that a black or brown man could forgive ones sins and grant ones wishes is preposterous on it's face because only a white man could possibly be in such a magnanimous position. Think of it as trickle down salvation.

Black Sci-Fi said...

Thanks for the shout-out, CDV. I would only like to add one more thing to this discussion. First and foremost, the iconic status of Jesus and Santa (Saint?) Claus have been merged into one corporate "spokesmodel" to promote the ritualized corporate payday, aka: The christmas (small "c") Holiday Shopping Season.

So, the real issue is why have Christians accepted a fake Jesus (in the form of Santa "Saint?" Claus) and how did the real "Jesus of Nazareth" became the white-faced Santa Claus/Jesus of Nazareth hybrid "spokesmodel" that serves as a white consumer appeal front man for Madison Ave.

The new Pope, much to his credit, has tried to draw a firm line between morality and overt materialism and has been subjected to vile pushback from America's corporate mouthpiece, RUSH. Alas, the christmas shopping propaganda season starts earlier and lasts longer than any appeal from the Pope. Americans, and American Christians in particular have shunned the words of Jesus (ex: Ms. Kelly?) and declared their faith in the worship of MONEY. Ms Kelly is only stating the obvious: "Give us Barabbas in the form of a white Jesus/Santa Hybrid "spokesmodel".

So, if Ms. Kelly/FOX want to put a white face on overt and outsized crass materialism, despite the plea from the Pope to reject overt materialism, I'm fine with that. Just like the casting of Hollywood movies, it's all about the consumer demographics. The materialism and consumerism Ms. Kelly advocates, on behalf of her corporate masters, has clearly taken the religious morality (universal brotherhood?) out of Christmas and have overtly shunned the teachings of Jesus by replacing the moral appeal for universal brotherhood with a racist appeal to "white" American over consumption. One would think that white christian Americans would be outraged..but alas: "Give us Barabbas" .

I reject the "Santa/Jesus Hybrid" and thank FOX for, in the words of Malcolm X: "making it plain"......

KissedByTheSun said...

White supremacist propaganda is never a "non issue". The attempt to create and secure a high position on the racial totem pole by way of brainwashing the masses should always be called out. I could care less about race baiters or click bait, no one should stop attacking white supremacy until we are all standing atop its smoldering ruins. So I say speak on CDV, rip, tear, pull it apart with all tenacity. The more our generation hacks off, the less the next generation has to trample under their feet.

Justin M. White said...

Right now, I'm reading Charles Mills's "Class and Race" to get a better background on the "big picture" to help inform me on these sorts of incidents. Any suggestions as to what book I should follow it up with? I already have a reading list that includes Joe Feagin, "Whitewashing Race", Mills's "The Racial Contract", Katznelson, Ignatiev, and Blackmon. Obviously I don't have time to read them all as I'm busy getting a paper ready and a conference coming up, so any suggestions on where to start?

Also have you given any more thought to the "racesplaining" (for lack of a better term at the moment) Tumblr idea to collect stories of academics of color being undervalued or disrespected?