SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Michael Hunt

A (Colorful) Christmas Story

black santa 

When I was in kindergarten, around Christmas time my class was going to do a chorus of songs for the parents and staff.  We were all going to be wearing costumes.  The majority of my class dressed as regular reindeer, and they also included one Rudolph and Santa.  My teacher Mrs. Horn who I still hold in high regard as she was a very nice woman decided that since I was the only black kid in class that I was special and would be playing Santa.

I canít remember if I was uncomfortable with the idea initially but I do remember the reaction after I went into the bathroom and put on my Santa outfit.  When I walked out every student in class was standing there waiting to see me.  They immediately started to laugh.  Of course they would, we were all children and I was in a Santa costume, big belly and all.  This made me pretty upset so I went back into the bathroom and cried.  Mrs. Horn politely calmed me down and assured me that I didnít have to be Santa if I didnít want to.  She had a chance to explain herself to my mother and the principal which brought more to light.

Iím so embarrassed after what happened in my class.  Michael has always performed well in my class and has been a happy student.  I honestly felt that having him play Santa in the play as the only African American student in my class was in innocent decision.  I never meant to hurt his feelings, nor do I believe the children in class wanted to either.  All of the costumes are silly and fun so I didnít think it would affect him as much as it did.  Michaelís mother didnít see it this way. 

Singling him out may not have been the best course of action even though I thought it would be a nice gesture.  His mother explained to me that he was just a kid like all the other children in class and there was no need for me to make him feel special because he was the only black student.  I sympathize with her but I also feel that being different is ok and should be celebrated.  Either way I look at it the best decision is to let him make the choice whether he would like to play the part of Santa or not.

I can see how making the choice for him because I thought it would be cute to have a black Santa is not solely a choice that I should make.  Had I consulted with him or his mother prior to my decision, I probably could have avoided hurting him and having that embarrassing meeting with his mother.  Iíll be sure to avoid situation like this in the future.

One thing I always remembered and loved about Mrs. Hornís class was the brown bean jar.  The bean jar was a medium sized glass jar that Mrs. Horn would add beans to at the end of the day depending on how good the class was.  At the end of the school year if the beans reached to top of the jar she would throw her class a pizza party.  Itís more interesting to me now that I think about it at this age.  When we were young we all wanted to be good to get more beans and get that pizza party, but Iím sure she knew that we would have been good with or without the jar.


I think it was her pleasure to do it and that she probably never had a single year that the jar didnít reach the top.  After all she controlled how many beans she wanted to put in on any occasion.  I liked her a lot and that must have something to do with my issue over the costume.

I canít boldly state why this incident happened to me.  It has been difficult to decide when to say maybe and when to make a statement based on data.  I was the only black student in my class which seems normal for a place like Panama City Beach, Florida in the mid 1980ís.  Knowing that school integration reached an all-time high the year after my incident doesnít help, it only adds to my confusion.  I donít recall any other black students being in my class or even in the school.  The only reason in my mind that something like this could happen would be ignorance, but thatís because I believe or believed that my teacher was/is a nice person.

In 1986 (the year before my incident) the Wygant v. Jackson board of Education case ruled that the laying off of non-minority teachers to protect minority teachers was unconstitutional.  Knowing this I have to consider that all teachers in the country were up to date on what was happening within the school system.  Mrs. Horn could have either been watching her own back by looking progressive in light of current events, or she could have made a simple mistake.  Itís definitely more apparent to me now that race and ethnicity issues havenít been swept under the rug, but that they have been kept off the table as an issue to discuss with children.

Even if Mrs. Hornís intentions were innocent enough I already stood out.  I hadnít really noticed it until then, but I was the only black student in class with a white teacher.  If this wasnít apparent to me or the other students before the moment I walked out of that bathroom in the Santa suit it was clear afterwards.  I still respected Mrs. Horn, but in the end I decided I wanted to be Rudolph instead of Santa.  Being different is a great thing and  maybe at such a young age I could understand that even though I would have a big red nose I could still be a reindeer.

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