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December 25, 2013

PARKER: Dreaming of a penguin Christmas

In case you missed the most pressing issue of the season — Santa’s race — Fox News’ Megyn Kelly reaped a whirlwind when she recently declared that not only is Santa white but so was Jesus.

“Santa is what he is,” she said. “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too.”

Kelly was directing her verdict to Slate blogger Aisha Harris, who wrote that Santa should be a penguin instead of a “fat white guy.” Harris recounted growing up with two Santas, one black and one white, but felt ashamed that her Santa was overshadowed by the more broadly accepted, default white Santa.

Not surprisingly, Kelly’s commentary earned her ridicule, mockery and a full-scale national debate (at least on cable TV, where time must be filled) and absurd charges of racism.

Had Kelly ignored the article, we might not be engaged in this consequential conversation. No one but Kelly even mentioned Jesus. Instead, she has learned the lesson once articulated by P.J. O’Rourke: “Just as some things are too strange for fiction, others are too true for journalism.”

A Jew living in the Middle East 2,000 years ago — pre-sunscreen, not to mention at least 40 days wandering in the desert — Jesus probably wasn’t the light-skinned, brown-haired, sometimes blue-eyed lad most Americans of a certain age thought they knew.

As a child I often wondered how black people felt about Jesus and, therefore, God being white. Didn’t they want a Jesus who looked like them? And, by extrapolation, a Santa?

Well, yes, it turns out that many did and do, including Harris.

This story would have no flippers if it didn’t hint at a larger issue that isn’t really about race. The skin color of magical elves who fly around in reindeer-drawn sleighs is a far easier conversation than the broader iconoclasm that is really at the root of what Kelly perhaps intuited but failed to convey. But then cable TV, tethered as it is to hits, blips and buzz, doesn’t often lend itself to deep reflection.

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