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Children are colorblind [Commentary]

Decades ago radio and television personality Art Linkletter hosted a television show called "Kids Say The Darndest Things." And they did. Presently many kids think adults say the darndest things or at least one adult — Megyn Kelly of Fox News who declared that Santa is white. Not just his beard, his eyebrows, his hair and the trim on his red suit, but his complexion.

The backlash was swift, and Ms. Kelly quickly became the butt of late-night liberal jokes.

Nonetheless, I have a measure of empathy for Ms. Kelly since one December mere days before Christmas, my eldest child, now in university, startled me when he asked, "Daddy what color is Santa?"

As the parent of an exceedingly curious child, my wits and patience have been put to the test by my son's seemingly endless questions. It seems we are often engaged in Socratic dialogue. While his curiosity and insights frequently please me, nothing prepared me for that question.

As a father in the United States I knew someday I would have to deal with the subject of race but not with my child at the tender age of 5 and not with a youngster whose many books depicted children of all races, colors, religions and ethnicities.

My son had and has been blessed to be loved and treasured by children and adults, including relatives and friends, teachers and classmates of all complexions, religions, races and ethnic groups. That December my son had breakfast with a Santa whose cheeks were pink and nose a bright red. He gave his list to a Santa with a complexion of mahogany, who delighted Brian so, he almost fell off St. Nick's lap chuckling. And he sat with another Santa who resembled Brian after a day at the beach with a golden tan.

But he wanted to know which crayon to choose for the picture he was engaged in, and he had turned to me for help.

I hugged my son and inquired if it matted what color Santa was? Would he refuse toys and books if Santa was brown or white? With wisdom that belied his years, he responded succinctly and sincerely, "Daddy is silly" and was soon off to bed dreaming of Santa regardless of color.

Relieved, I remembered Christmases when I was as innocent as my son and thought the goodwill and displays of kindness during the season would not diminish with the New Year.

Christmas Eve after tucking Brian into bed I sat by the tree and mused about Saint Nick. Perhaps he wasn't as portrayed in books, movies and on television. Perhaps, he is blind and reads lists in Braille. Suppose he is deaf and "signs," and all these years has been reading the lips of children. And what if Santa is confined to a wheelchair and rolls it up a ramp to his sleigh?

Would children refuse his gifts?

Ultimately, Saint Nick's complexion does not matter to children, who do not see color, only a loving, joyful, nurturing man who, if they are fortunate, leaves presents under their Christmas tree.

On Christmas morning while Brian tried to decide which gift he liked best, I realized that my most precious gift was having parents who taught my siblings and me to welcome Santa and all humanity regardless of race, religion, disabilities, ethnicity, color or who they loved. And that was a gift I could pass onto my children and my children to their children and a gift that would not break or ever become outdated.

Two millennia ago humble shepherds and esteemed wise men entered an untidy stable to worship an infant. His complexion did not matter, but his message did, peace on earth and goodwill to all.

B. Stephen McGill a social worker and freelance writer. His email is bstephenmcgill@comcast.net.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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