White teacher shames his Black student for dressing up as Santa, or how the right is waging a war on Christmas

27c3a2ac-bc40-4627-993b-1d70723ffb93_christopherMegyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh aren’t the only people obsessively invested in Santa’s alleged whiteness. Just last week, a white teacher chastised his Black student for making the mistake of dressing up as Santa. 

Ninth-grader Christopher Rougier of Rio Rancho, N.M did what all of Cleveland High School students did last week: dressed up in a Christmas costume. The students could choose to be a reindeer, elf, or Santa. (No dreidel or kinara costumes allowed? So much for the War on Christmas). But Christopher made a mistake. He actually thought he could pull off a Santa costume. But everyone knows his white teacher would like to believe that Santa is white. And he made sure Christopher knew that, saying,

“Don’t you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?”

Did the same teacher chastise his students for being too big to be realistic elves? Of course not. But he did single out this student for having the wrong skin color.

According to his father, Michael, “Christopher was embarrassed; he was ashamed, like he had made a mistake.” At first the school was less than responsive to Michael, who says the principal actually hung up on him. But eventually Christopher was switched into another class, per his parents’ request, and the teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave. The school released a statement, however, that reveals neither the teacher nor the institution realizes the significance of the incident. According to Kim Vesely, Director of Parent, Community, and Staff Engagement for Rio Rancho Public Schools, “This situation involves a teacher recently hired by Cleveland High who made – and admits he made – a stupid mistake. The remark was inappropriate and should not have been made.”

But this isn’t merely a stupid mistake. It is the latest example of racism dressed up as the historical record. This happened the same week that an indignant Fox News host Megyn Kelly insisted several times that Santa was white. Responding to Slate writer Aisha Harris’s Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore article, Kelly said:

Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa.’ And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.

According to Kelly, not only St. Nicholas (a third century bishop who lived in what is now Turkey) is white, but so is Jesus Christ, the Middle Eastern Jew:

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too…. He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact — as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that.

Historical inaccuracies aside, Kelly, along with her defenders, ranging from Rush Limbuagh to The Daily Caller to Bill O’Reilly are exhibiting major anxiety and resentment over their perceived loss of white privilege, something, they of course, would never admit actually exists. And in case you’re tempted to dismiss Kelly as merely ignorant, insensitive and reactive, Media Matters points out that the host is so race-baiting that fellow Fox News colleague Kirsten Powers accused her of “doing the scary black man thing.”

The sad irony is that the very same right-wing, White-Christian fundamentalists who pretend they are defending the Republic from a non-existent War on Christmas from the left are actually launching one from the right. As Harris and Zerlina point out, insisting on Santa’s whiteness is “alienating” for Black children. Similarly, teaching a Black teenager that his skin color disqualifies him from even dressing up as Santa, sets up Santa and the holiday with which he is associated as out of bounds for certain people. Christopher’s father says that his son no longer even wants to touch the Christmas decorations at home. Michael laments, “I just want him to be back to the Christopher that was bouncing off the walls about Christmas.”

Congratulations right-wing zealots. That fantasy War on Christmas which never really existed now does. And you have yourselves to blame.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.13.50 PMKatie Halper started identifying as a feminist at the age of 5 when she attended her first pro-choice rally and began calling out the musicals she watched instead of cartoons for being “prejudiced against women.” She realizes this is a ridiculous photo.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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