Polite conversation, it has been said, should include neither religion nor politics. It is probably safe to say that each and every one of us has fallen out with/changed our opinion of at least one other person in our lives due to a discussion around either of these two topics. However, I strongly detest polite convo, so have decided to write a post that kind of covers both religion and politics 🤷🏾
Anyway, I was walking past a shop the other day and saw this book in the window. I was on my way to work, so couldn’t stop, but made a mental note to return. A couple of days later, I went back to the shop and purchased the book. The guy behind the counter took great pride in explaining to me that it has been one of their best sellers this year. It’s called Silent Night and it is published by Lincoln Children’s Books.
I have posted previously about the lack of positive, Black representation in children’s literature. This book, which is essentially the classic Christmas carol, Silent Night, in pictures, not only speaks to that issue but adds another dimension. How often do we see the nativity scene played out with a completely white family? That’s Jesus, Mary AND Joseph. How often are they given typically European features and characteristics, such as blonde hair and blue eyes? How accustomed have we grown to seeing that one Black king/wise man, Balthazar, who brought baby Jesus the gift of Myrhh? Well, I saw this book and my heart leapt.
The illustrations (by the über talented Lara Hawthorne) feature a dark brown-skinned Holy Family.
I’m Catholic. Yes, I am a Black Catholic. Yes, I am a practising Black Catholic 🙏🏾 We can debate all day long about that (and I promise that I will tackle this in a future blog post), but that is what I am. My children attend a Catholic school. We also regularly attend a Catholic church. It is what it is. I admit that I have looked around our church, at the imagery that adorns the walls and is stained onto the windows, and felt very conflicted. The images of Jesus that we are familiar with today are derived, not from any information contained in any holy book, but, from the Greek and Roman artistic impressions of Jesus which were derived from the way that they would depict their pagan gods. Can you imagine?! There is enough Western European iconography in any Catholic church to reassure even the least confident person that Heaven is a place where only white people tend to end up. Therefore, it is down to me to redress the balance. It’s all very well telling kids that they are made in the image of God, but if all they see when they are shown images of God is white men, women and children, then that speaks so much louder than any platitudes we might mindlessly repeat.
So, this year…
I’m Blackifying Christmas.
The Photographer has had this (often impassioned) debate with my mum, who is, what some might term, a devout Catholic. He has politely asked her not to give the girls anything that depicts a blonde haired, blue-eyed Jesus. Mummy replies that it shouldn’t matter what people think God looks like. What matters are the ideas that sit behind that image; the teachings of the bible; being a decent human being. She’s right. Whether or not Jesus is depicted with long blonde hair or short curly hair shouldn’t matter…but, unfortunately, it does.
Recent events have highlighted the importance of ensuring that EVERY child knows that she or he is special and important and deserves all of the good things. No child should feel that they are any closer to God or that they have superiority over another child, especially not because of the colour of the skin that they happen to have been born with. And, for the same reasons, no child should be made to feel inferior either. The heartbreaking suicide of 9 year old McKenzie Adams has been attributed, by her family, to the racist bullying that she suffered at school. In a world where being white is promoted as generally better than being anything else, these events will continue happening. I must do what I can to show my children, and other children I may come into contact with, that we can exist within a different paradigm.
For the first time ever, this year, Kid 1 asked if we could get hold of a nativity scene to display at home. Now, I love a good nativity scene as much as the next person and they do look super-cute below a Christmas tree, so I immediately jumped onto Etsy to see what I could find. In short, there was nothing. Nothing, at least, in the UK or that could potentially arrive in time for 25 December without an exorbitant delivery fee attached. If I happened to be based in the US, it would not be a problem. Over there, I could get my hands on a Native American, multi-racial or completely Black nativity set (complete with black sheep! 😂). The one below is available from Blessings From Heaven.
So, no nativity scene this year. But, I did manage to get my act together enough to purchase a fairy from Clarke’s Closet. Last Christmas, my Instagram feed was full of these and I was hella-green with envy. It wasn’t going to happen again! I made sure I got a fairy in good time. I was ready.
And then I saw the Elf on the website…
And then I turned green again…
Christmas 2019 will be complete, IJN 🙏🏾 (West African shorthand for “In Jesus’ Name”).
From time to time, my kids don’t believe in Father Christmas. I occasionally feel guilty about “taking the magic of Christmas away”, and have been warned not to let my children destroy Christmas for those friends of theirs who do still believe 👀 For the past few years, we haven’t tried to protect his reputation as firmly as we used to. After all, we are the ones who are rushing around during the week before Christmas clicking and collecting on Argos.co.uk or trying to locate friends and family members who have Amazon Prime membership, not Father Christmas! The Photographer broke it down to me that it was bad enough that we were unable to take the credit for the presents we bought for the kids, and it would add even further insult to injury to give the glory to some random, old, white man. I had to agree.
Oh, but, for those of you not willing to let the lie die, did I tell you that Clarke’s Closet also has a Black Santa…?
Anyone who thinks that this is unnecessary or political correctness gone mad, should either stop reading now or open your mind just a tiny bit to allow another perspective some space. We live in London, a city in the South-East of England. However metropolitan it is, white people make up the majority here, around 60% according to The Office of National Statistics (Aug 2018). Whatever attempt I make to Blackify my Christmas can only be done within the context of us living as a minority within a majority-owned media/education/political/legal/justice system that is biased towards white people. So for every young Black girl who is used to front a Christmas advert for Sainsburys (which still makes me cry every time I see it btw), there are, at the very least, another 100 advertising campaigns featuring a white fairy scattering glitter and Christmas wishes from the top of the Christmas tree or a white elf on the shelf, mischief-making. Just think about the impact all of that might have on a non-white child.
Now, I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone. You do whatever works for you. I don’t expect anyone else to do this for me. I am aware of where I live and where I have chosen to raise my children. All I can do is what I feel is best for them, while speaking my reality and my truth.
And, while I’m at it, I’m going to take the opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas!