Need stated for Santa diversity

By Justin Boron

Despite anxious attempts by children to wait up for Santa Claus, he always manages to slide down the chimney just as their eyes close to go to sleep.

The only evidence of his presence are half-eaten cookies and wrapped gifts from his bag.

Santa's mysterious ability to whisk through a house ,unseen by its residents, leaves a question mark for many about what he actually looks like and spills uncertainty into the appearance of his helpers who take gift lists from kids shopping with parents at the mall.

As the growing populations of Clayton and Henry counties continue to diversity, some prominent members of the community are concerned that the Southlake Mall in Morrow is too rigid in its racial depiction of Santa.

Pastor Hopi Strickland of the Stockbridge Victory Tabernacle Baptist Church said relegating the presentation of Santa to a white figure injures the generous spirit he represents. All races of people contribute to the spirit of giving during the holidays, he said.

"It's unbalanced," Strickland said. "People look at Santa Claus as a good man . . . you're going to have a child's mind programmed to believe one race is the good people."

But the Southlake Mall has said it is satisfied with its current presentation of Santa and believes its customers are as well.

"We want to continue to bring the real Santa," said Andrea Brinkman, marketing director for the mall. "We don't plan on changing it in the near future."

Brinkman said the personality and spirit of Santa Claus should be emphasized over race or ethnic background.

In Clayton County, where the black population has grown to be the largest majority in metro Atlanta, the president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for the mall to diversify its Santas as well.

"Santa can come in all colors," said Dexter Matthews, the president of the local NAACP. "If the majority of the population is African-American, it would make sense to have a black Santa."

At the Mall West End, Kente Santa Claus interacts with children looking to tell say what they want for Christmas.

The mall was the first in Atlanta to have a black Santa in 1972, said Richard A. Dent, the vice president of the Mall West End.

Two years ago, the mall decided to go a step further and use a Santa that dresses in Kente cloth, a textile produced in Africa that takes its roots with the Asante and Ewe people of Ghana.

"It kind of brings in an African tradition," he said. "He's a (Santa) that could be from another part of the world."

The Kente Claus also reinforces the fact that the public's image of Santa is largely controlled by traditional media depictions of a jolly, older grandfather-type with a long white beard, Dent said.

"Santa Claus could be a different color," he said.

And that color doesn't have to be black, Strickland said.

"Playing Santa should be done with diversity – white, black, Hispanic, or Asian so kids can see them all."