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'We do this for the children': Black Santa gives the gift of representation in Sacramento County

A 2021 survey by National Santa shows White people make up 75% of Santas in the U.S., while Black people account for less than 1%.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Each Christmas, Santa Claus is traditionally portrayed as a jolly, straight White man. But now, more than ever, there's a greater push for diversity and inclusion in the Santa industry.

White people still represent Santa the most, according to a 2021 "Red Suit Survey" by the nonprofit, National Santa.

Researchers from the University of Tennessee, Northern Illinois University and Oregon State University surveyed 376 Santas across the U.S. They found White people make up more than 75% of Santas, while Black people account for less than 1%.

Other communities of color remain underrepresented in the Santa industry, too. Latinos and Native Americans accounted for only 1%, each. Santa was not represented at all for Asian, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander people.

As a Black husband and father, Marcell Wilson from Elk Grove wants to make a positive change. Wilson is giving the gift of representation this holiday season. 

He partnered with nonprofit Jack and Jill of America, Inc. Sacramento chapter to be Santa Claus. It was part of the organization's 5th Annual "Cookies and Cocoa with Santa" event held Dec. 10 at the Center of Praise Ministries.

Credit: Marcell Wilson, Santa Claus

"We do this for the children," said Wilson. "We do this for the community, too. Young children, when they see a Santa that looks like them, it's relatable. As a child, I never saw a Black Santa, so I wanted to step up and take on this opportunity to become Santa for representation in our communities."

During the free community event, dozens of children and adults had the opportunity to take Christmas photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The event also included a children's storytime session, STEM activities, food and games.

Credit: Marcell and Sharie Wilson, Santa and Mrs. Claus

"It took me back to when I was a child," said Wilson. "Just seeing the kid's eyes light up. You could see their happiness and joy. Some of them even asked, 'Are you really Santa?' And of course I said 'yes.' I was really rewarded with just seeing the children happy. It was a great feeling."

Sharie Wilson, a Black community leader, acted as Mrs. Claus at the event. She says all children should have a Santa representing them and their communities. She also says representation is important in books to help inspire children of all ages, especially Black children.

Credit: Sharie Wilson, Mrs. Claus

"My job was to sit and read to the kids," said Sharie Wilson. "It was a joy because most of the books represented Black authors and Black people. We read about Black doctors, attorneys, and officers. I was raised in South Central L.A., and I do not recall ever seeing a Black Santa. Representation is so important, especially for our children."

A Seat at the Table bookstore is spreading holiday cheer through diversity and inclusion, too.

On Dec. 4, the bookstore held a separate 'Meet Santa' event in Elk Grove. The goal was to ensure representation for Black people and people in LGBTQIA+ communities.

The event included a meet and greet with Black Santa and Santa's White husband, Dave. Of course, children snapped photos with Santa and Santa's husband. It also featured story time, hot cocoa and a signed 'Santa's Husband' book for families.

Amanda Scott is the business manager at the bookstore. When it comes to Santa, she says more representation is needed to uplift historically marginalized communities. She says Santa can be a Black man, or a gay person with a husband, too.

"Stories are incredibly important," said Scott. "There are so many families that have differences, like two moms, two dads, and an array of experiences. I identify as a bisexual woman. Even though I have a hetero-presenting relationship with my husband, it's important for my children to see other types of representation. We need to normalize that for our children."

Credit: Santa and Santa's husband, Dave. A Seat at the Table Bookstore

As a White mother, Scott says she wants her children to also understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in Santa's story. During the 'Meet Santa' event at the bookstore, she says she spoke openly with her children about race and ensuring a sense of belonging for all.

"My children commented immediately that there was a Black Santa," said Scott. "They were able to have an experience of seeing Santa as a warm, loving and inviting character, as a Black man. That's going to translate into so many other experiences for them. There are stereotypes about Black men and Black people in general. So, for a Black person to be Santa and in a red suit, that's important for representation and our children, too." 

Credit: Amanda Scott, A Seat at the Table Bookstore

The Wilsons agree, saying Black people should be represented more not only as Santa, but in other positive roles in society. The Wilsons are encouraging others to give the gift of representation, too.

"I hope that we will take this further," the Wilsons explained. "There needs to be more Black men representing Santa, being part of the community, giving back, being present and bringing joy."

When it comes to Santa, other communities lack representation too, like people with special needs and people with disabilities. Community advocates nationwide say more needs to be done to accurately reflect the diversity of the world during the holiday season.

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