Can Santa Be Black Racist Overtones on College Billboard Spark Outrage

By Chris Hoenig

We’ve seen racist stereotypes promoted with distasteful costumes on Halloween, but a billboard posted inside an Indiana University dorm used Christmas to cause anger over the same thing.

The board, posted inside Harper dormitory, asked “Can Santa Claus Be a Black Man” in an attempt to spark a discussion on race—but it backfired when it used racist stereotypes to try to make a point. On the board were several stockings, each with a follow-up question printed at the top. One asked, “Wouldn’t all the presents be stolen” On another: “Would you let him come down your chimney” “Would he only visit the ghetto” was printed on a third.

A social-media firestorm ensued, with students expressing anger over the negative stereotypes the board reinforced. “It really hit home for a lot of students and it really hurt a lot of students,” IU senior Leighton Johnson said. “They’re just angry about this poster being up.”

“I was completely appalled with it,” added IU freshman Alexus Johnson.

Even the school used social media to address the controversy, announcing first via Twitter that the billboard would be taken down, within two hours of it going viral …

… then announcing that a forum would be held in light of the controversy to discuss both the billboard as well as race and stereotyping.

“Stereotypes need to be brought up in discussion because they do exist, but they need to be done in a tasteful manner,” freshman Destani McGruder said.

“They’re shocked because it was expressed so openly and in such an insulting fashion,” Fred Diego, co-president of the Student Organization for Cognitive Science, said of the billboard, which was posted by the CommUNITY Education Program, a group of undergrad and graduate students who aim to foster respect and understanding among dormitory residents. “These are issues that do need to be addressed and it’s a conversation that needs to be had. It needs to be an ongoing conversation that takes into account some critical race theory.”

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