(CNN) — Ho ho — huh?
The family of an African-American high school student in New Mexico says he’s crushed after a teacher questioned why he was wearing Santa garb during a school holiday dress-up day last week, CNN affiliate KOAT reported.
The teacher told Christopher Rougier, a freshman at Cleveland High School, that he couldn’t be Santa because Santa is white, the student’s father, Michael, told KOAT.
“He was embarrassed,” he told the station.
Now, his son doesn’t want anything to do with Christmas.
Michael Rougier said the teacher called his wife to apologize, but that’s not enough.
“He needs to be fired,” Rougier told KOAT. “For him to make a comment like that, there has to be at a minimum prejudice in him, and we don’t have room for that.”
Kim Vesely, the director of Rio Rancho Public Schools, released a statement to media about the incident.
“This situation involves a teacher recently hired by Cleveland High who made — and admits he made — a stupid mistake,” the director said. “The remark was inappropriate and should not have been made. The teacher feels very badly about what occurred. He self-reported the incident to the principal and has apologized to the student and to the student’s parent. Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken.”
The boy’s family has asked that he be moved out of the teacher’s class, and the school has complied, Vesely said.
The teacher’s remark came amid something of a dust-up over Santa’s skin color after Fox News Channel picked up on a Slate.com writer’s piece questioning the mythical character’s ethnicity.
Writer Aisha Harris, who is black, wrote about growing up wondering why Santa was depicted as a white man, and argued for something less definitive: a penguin.
In a widely viewed segment reacting to Harris’ piece, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly said on air: “And, by the way, for all of you kids watching at home, Santa just is white, but this person is arguing maybe we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is. And so, you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.”
Harris said Kelly’s comments are part of the reason she felt the need to provoke thought about Santa’s race.
“To me, (it) just spoke to the reason why I wrote the piece, is that there are a lot of people out there who automatically assume that Santa must be white and there’s no way — it’s laughable that he could be anything else,” Harris said Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
“The point I was trying to make was that I think that we have, the world has changed a lot over the last 50, 100 years, and Santa Claus is a fictional character,” Harris continued.
“He is nothing like the original historical figure he was based off of anymore,” she said. “We’ve kind of evolved him into this magical mythical figure, and for kids, I think it’s important that they don’t have to feel necessarily bogged down that Santa is always white, and that’s the way he should be.”
Kelly shot back at her critics, telling them to get a sense of humor.
“Humor is what we try to bring to this show, but that’s lost on the humorless,” she said Friday on “The Kelly File.”
“This would be funny if it were not so telling about our society, in particular, the knee-jerk instinct by so many to race-bait and to assume the worst in people, especially people employed by the very powerful Fox News Channel.”
She wasn’t motivated by racial fear or loathing, she said. “In fact, it was something far less sinister: A lifetime of exposure to the very same commercials, mall casting calls, and movies Harris references in her piece.”
“We continually see St. Nick as a white man in modern-day America,” Kelly continued. “Should that change? Well, that debate got lost because so many couldn’t get past the fact that I acknowledged, as Harris did, that the most commonly depicted image of Santa, does, in fact, have white skin.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, said a network makeup artist told him “Santa Claus is what every child needs him to be, and the children get to decide Santa Claus, not some TV commentator.”
“I thought it was beautifully done,” Gingrich said.
At least all adults can agree on one fact: Santa Claus isn’t even real. So why the brouhaha?
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the debate is “much ado about nothing” because there’s no doubt Santa is white.
“(St.) Nick was Greek. The last time I checked, Greeks weren’t black,” Donohue told CNN’s Don Lemon on The 11th Hour.
According to the St. Nicholas Center, which says it’s dedicated to “discovering the truth about Santa Claus,” St. Nicholas was indeed Greek and lived about 1,700 years ago in an area that is now southern Turkey.
But author Reza Aslan said he doesn’t think many Greek people would be accurately portrayed as the “rosy-cheeked Santa that we’re all used to.”
“White has more to do with sociological, economic, cultural considerations that go far beyond just the simple color of your skin,” Aslan told Lemon.
Amy Holmes, anchor of “The Hot List” at TheBlaze.com, acknowledged that most depictions of Santa feature a white man.
But in addition to being fictional, “traditionally Santa has also been an obese, alcoholic elf who lives in the North Pole, who has very questionable labor practices — not to mention animal cruelty, lashing those poor reindeer through the sky all night long.”
“This is ridiculous that we are even having this debate,” Holmes said. “Everyone knows that Santa is your parents. So whatever race they are is the race that Santa is.”
–By Michael Pearson, CNN
–CNN’s Holly Yan and Martin Savidge and contributed to this report.