Little brown baby born on Christmas Day,
They laid you down on a bale of hay.
Do we celebrate you by building a wall-
To keep other brown people out?
Or do we freak out-
Because of a brown Santa Claus at the Mall?
Advent is arguably the busiest season of the year. We are preparing meals, preparing for guests, preparing for worship, preparing gifts, and preparing to indulge the magic of Christmas.
Christmas. A day set aside to honor the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. A brown-skinned man born to an unwed teenage girl named, Mary. He was socially marginalized and eventually killed by the authorities because large masses of other marginalized folks were empowered by the way he could rise above the hierarchical social structures of their day and find peace amidst oppressive living conditions.
Jesus attributed his joy to God and committed himself to showing people how to access God in a similar way. The authorities were threatened by the abilities of Jesus and the empowerment of the masses because they feared that those who were marginalized, if empowered, may begin to organize themselves and systematically overturn the very structures that kept them oppressed and marginalized.
And now, we have a season dedicated to preparing ourselves to be reminded of his life so that we might honor his legacy, and a day set aside to honor his birth so that we might celebrate him.
I’m brown. My mom was 16 and unmarried when I was born. My entire life has been a series of overcoming obstacles and social marginalization. In a country where 1 in 3 black and brown men are incarcerated and countless others are killed each year by the authorities, it becomes easier and easier to embrace the idea that my work or words may cost me my life. I don’t necessarily have to be a criminal to be persecuted. And I don’t have to be killed to know persecution.
Jesus’ life shows us that even the survival of some folks threatens the livelihoods of other folks. If a person’s fortune and peace of mind is made and maintained because of the disenfranchisement of a group of people, what incentive would this person have for wanting the people of that particular group to thrive?
The more I and other marginalized folks aim to thrive similarly to the way Jesus inspired his followers to live, we find ourselves in opposition to folks who would rather see us broken, oppressed, or subjugated. These are the folks who are mad that the Santa at the Mall of America is black. And to be fair, many of these folks need to look down on someone so that they have someone looking up to or at them. Because of their social conditioning, they don’t know how to see people of color as anything other than inferior.
I’ve lived in the Midwest with people like this my whole life and thankfully, their inability to see beyond conditioned White Supremacy puts some distance between us, and I spend my time instead, with people who can appreciate the diversity and complexities of difference. Besides, Minnesotans are too nice to be racist.
Since I was a child, the message I’ve received from the non-racist, non-biased culture in my home state is that, people of color are OK as long as we don’t interfere with the lives or livelihoods of “mainstream” folks or do anything to make them feel uncomfortable or challenged in any way. As people of color we know what this really means: people of color can live among white society as long as we know our place, otherwise we will be jailed, blackballed, denied employment and housing, deported, or killed.
Every Advent we read the same stories and sing the same songs that foretell of Christ’s birth, but what if this year, he actually arrived? Can you see the headline: “Unwed teenage girl gives birth to boy in barn?” Are we really prepared to receive Jesus Christ into our churches, into communities, and into our hearts?
The recent opposition to the black Santa at the Mall of America has me wondering why we celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday instead of letting it become a secular holiday branded to stimulate the economy because as much as Christians are inspired by the life, ministry, death and resurrection of a brown-skinned man, social conditioning has people wringing their hands because of an ethnic Santa.
If Christians were as excited about Jesus as they are about the color of Santa’s skin (or Starbucks’ cups), perhaps we might actually create a world kind enough to receive him when he does arrive. Instead, we allow the sentimentality of “the most wonderful time of the year” to distract us away from a truth that is challenging to hear: the conditions of the world Jesus was born into are similar to the conditions of our world today. He might not be crucified in 2016, but how likely would a radicalized, brown-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus thrive in our society?