Soul Serenade #3

A Few Words on Scrooge and Santa

This is part of a series of occasional reflections from Pearl Cleage, Mellon Playwright in Residence at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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My sister took two of her grandchildren to see the production of A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre and reported back to me her surprise at the multi-colored children within the Cratchit family. “There were some black ones and some white ones,” she said. “Maybe next year they’ll have some Asian kids and some Latinos.”

“They already have,” I said, proud of the years of non-traditional casting of this show at the Alliance. “Last year, Tiny Tim was Asian.”

That seemed to satisfy her and we moved on to other things, but I thought about our brief exchange when I saw a video clip of a Fox News commentator trembling with indignation at an African American blogger’s suggestion that Santa Claus didn’t have to be white anymore. I was surprised. Not by her indignation, of course. Indignation is the fossil fuel that powers the Fox engine, but by a discussion of something that I thought had long ago been settled by the appearance of black Santas in every mall that serves predominantly African American Christmas shoppers all over the country. My daughter is in her late thirties and I know there have been beaming brown Santas around since she was old enough to pose with them for the mandatory Santa’s lap photo.

Apparently this woman doesn’t get out and about much in African American communities or consider that many children of color celebrate Christmas with their families. For these children, a dark skinned or Spanish speaking Santa is the norm. “Don’t worry kids,” she said looking into the camera to reassure any white children who were watching. “The fact is Santa is white!”

I wondered briefly if she could psychically survive the shock if she ever strolled through the mall in my southwest Atlanta neighborhood and encountered a rendering of Jesus Christ as a Black Messiah or his mother Mary as a sweet faced brown skinned woman who only wants the best for her son. These images on everything from greeting cards to oil paintings are almost always available for sale in the same mall where the chocolate colored Santa is patiently posing with terrified toddlers and promising to deliver everybody’s hearts delight come Christmas morning.

 

Because that was then and this is now. That was there and this is here, America 2013, a great big multi-colored melting pot where people are living and working and falling in love and having babies and making art all over the place without regard to anybody’s old ideas of whose stories are worth telling, whose eyes are worth looking through, whose symbols are worth protecting at all costs because Santa is never just Santa if he can also be a soldier in a losing battle for white supremacy and cultural hegemony.

 

 

In Atlanta this year, Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit are both African American, as my sister observed. Their children are a mixed bag, including a small brown Tiny Tim who delivers his signature line with a sweetness that could melt the hardest heart, including that of Ebenezer Scrooge. Night after night, the cast is rewarded with standing ovations at the end of every performance with nobody any the worse for wear because of the colorblind casting. At the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, my friend January LaVoy is bringing Mrs. Cratchit to lovely life with no visible trauma on the part of the audience. I’m sure that as I write this, there are numerous productions of this holiday favorite running with all manner of racial mixtures swooping about in the personas of actors in period costumes with British accents and no more connection to the London of Charles Dickens than they have to Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s. And that is as it should be.

Last year, when Tiny Tim was Asian, my grandson Michael, who at ten years old was seeing the show for the third time and had never commented on the racial mixture of the Cratchit family or the equally mixed up friends of Scooge’s nephew, leaned over as Tiny Tim was hoisted onto his African American father’s shoulder and whispered matter of factly. “I guess Tiny Tim is adopted.”

“They mix everybody up on purpose,” I whispered back. “So every kid who comes to see it can find somebody on the stage who looks like family.”

“Great idea,” he said, nodding approvingly and turning back to check out Marley’s ghost rising up with a clanking of chains and a cautionary word or two for his former partner. As far as I could tell, it didn’t disturb him one bit that when Charles Dickens wrote the original story, the Cratchit family was almost certainly all white with real British accents and more familiarity with figgy pudding and roast goose than most of us can claim these days. Because that was then and this is now. That was there and this is here, America 2013, a great big multi-colored melting pot where people are living and working and falling in love and having babies and making art all over the place without regard to anybody’s old ideas of whose stories are worth telling, whose eyes are worth looking through, whose symbols are worth protecting at all costs because Santa is never just Santa if he can also be a soldier in a losing battle for white supremacy and cultural hegemony.

Well, I don’t want to spend the holidays fussing at my television because I happened to come upon Fox News so this is my last word on the subject, for this year anyway. I’d rather take my grandson and his sister to the Sunday matinee for their fourth viewing of A Christmas Carol, and listen attentively as their generation adds the beauty of their voices to my soul serenade.

 

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Thoughts from the curator

A series of occasional reflections from Pearl Cleage, Mellon Playwright in Residence at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

Soul Serenade

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