Like any public figure, Santa Claus has to keep up with diversity practices. Unfortunately, some adults don’t want to see a minority in the red suit.
Santa’s skin color — apart from his rosy cheeks — was a much-discussed topic in the media last year when Slate writer Aisha Harris wrote an article describing the confusion she felt as a black girl growing up with a black Santa in her house and seeing white Santa everywhere else.
Fox’s Megyn Kelly jumped into the argument by prefacing an all-white panel with the acknowledgement: “By the way, for all the kids watching at home, Santa just is white but this person is just arguing that maybe we should have a black Santa. Santa is what he is.”
Yes, Megyn, there is a black Santa Claus, and his name is Dion Sinclair.
Through his Conyers, Georgia, business, The Real Black Santa, Sinclair has worked both shopping malls and private events for 13 years. “It’s not just a job from season to season but who I am and what I do,” he said. “This is 13 years where every day of the year I’m Santa Claus.”
But the jolly old elf isn’t safe from racism and negative stereotypes. Diversity Executive talked to Sinclair about his experiences as a minority playing a role that culture has always filled with a white man.
How did you first become Santa Claus?
I used to be an insurance salesman, and a gentleman doing the insurance class I was taking was a Santa Claus. During our breaks, his phone would ring constantly. I asked if it was lucrative business to be in, and he said he made $28,000 last year in six weeks. At that point, I had a great beard, and he said black Santas were in demand. So here I am.
I got into it for the money, but at this point, it’s not even about the money — it’s about what I do. It’s the character I am and who I portray. To me, I wasn’t expecting any of what it is right now. I’m glad that it’s lasted so long, and I hope that the Lord sees fit to give me at least another 50 years to continue doing what I’m doing.
What is it like being a minority playing a role that’s predominately viewed as white?
I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you — to me, it’s just Santa Claus. I don’t know if there’s a way I should feel about being in a position where Santa’s supposed to be white. To me, it’s just Santa, and it’s not about how it should feel being black or white. The color thing is an adult thing. I do this for the kids, not the adults.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since you started?
It shouldn’t have to be white Santa or black Santa — it should just be Santa. But the problem is the culture isn’t used to it. It’s not something they’ve seen a lot of, and there’s a lot of fighting the negative that goes with it.
For example, I’ve been fighting a lot for Google to change the feedback you get when you Google “black Santa” or “African-American Santa.” If you Google black Santa, it’s usually a lot of negative connotations, like white Santa comes to deliver the gifts and black Santa comes to steal them. Fortunately when you do it now, because I’ve been doing it for so long, I tend to come up a little further in the search engine.
I’m not trying to change the world, but I want folks to know that I’m out here and that our kids should be proud of being black, white, Hispanic, whatever the case may be. It does make a difference.
How do kids react to you?
When I was sharing a mall’s Santa chair with a Caucasian Santa, I’d have parents that came out and saw the white Santa in the morning and by the time they came back with the kids ready to take pictures, I’m there. The parents would say, “No, that’s not the Santa we’re looking for.”
Kids don’t see color. They could care less until parents start putting the color issue in. They see the fat man in the red suit and nothing else.
What do you hope to achieve by being Santa?
I’m hoping that when these kids are grown and have their own kids that they’ll be able to come back and have their kids take pictures with me. I want to build a tradition. I started out doing this thing for financial reasons, but then I remembered the traditions I had with my family growing up in New York, where my dad used to always take us to Rockefeller’s Santa. I want to build something that kids will remember and have a tradition every year.