White Privilege and the Snow-White Santa

Santa Claus decorations are pictured on December 4, 2012 at the Galeries Lafayette Paris department store, ahead of the Chris
Santa Claus decorations are pictured on December 4, 2012 at the Galeries Lafayette Paris department store, ahead of the Christmas celebrations. AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

White privilege refers to the many, many benefits of being white in a society dominated, both culturally and materially, by other white people. The notion was popularized by Peggy McIntosh in a 1989 essay titled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."  One benefit is that most fictional characters, unless otherwise specified (and sometimes even so), are assumed to be white. Growing up non-white in a white-dominated world, then, means that  most of the mythological figures of your childhood do not look like you in one important way.

Santa, of course, is a fictional figure whose appearance is invented.  Theoretically anyone could be Santa. Yet, while we may see the occasional non-white Santa at the mall or in novelty holiday stories, he is unbearably and overwhelmingly white in our (google-able) imagination:  The first three pages of a google image search for "Santa":

For more examples, see all of our posts about white privilege.  Thanks for Martha Pitts at Ms. for this post idea.

Originally posted at Sociological Images.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the principle writer for Sociological Images. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.