Racism Row Erupts Over Mall of America’s Black Santa Claus

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By Emily Zanotti | 5:12 pm, December 5, 2016

This year, the Mall of America cast a black man as its official Santa Claus, hiring retired US Army Veteran Larry Jefferson to fill the role of the “jolly old elf” for hundreds of children who will pass through the nation’s largest shopping center on one weekend during the December holidays.

But some people on the Internet weren’t happy about Jefferson’s new job, and a wave of abject racism forced the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to close comments on their story.

Jefferson was among MoA’s top “Santa finalists,” one of only a handful of lucky St. Nicks selected from thousands of Santa impersonators nationwide, to post for free photos in the Mall’s annual Christmas display. This year, MoA specifically looked to add diversity to its selection of Santas, and found Jefferson, who’s been a department store Santa in Texas since 1999, at an annual Santa Convention in Branson, Missouri.

Jefferson was booked solid for his stint. But some people simply couldn’t handle the news.

The Star Tribune was besieged by racist commentators. CBS Minnesota managed to capture some of the worst.

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A number of commenters turned their attention to Minneapolis’ Somali population, blaming them for the MoA’s decision to bring diversity to their Santa program. Some referenced an incident in September, where a Somali immigrant stabbed shoppers at a different Minneapolis mall. A few called for a boycott.

“Stupid. Incredibly stupid. Santa is WHITE. BOYCOTT Mall of America. Maybe they should change their name to MALL of RAGHEAD LAND,” spat one commenter.

The anger carried over to social media.

Other Twitter users quickly fought back, pointing out that not only is Santa a fictional character—the product of folklore that varies from nation to nation—but that St. Nicholas himself was of Middle Eastern descent. The modern conception of a red-cheeked Santa is from an early 20th-century advertisement for Coca-Cola.

They also had a great deal of fun at the complainers’ expense.

Fortunately, Santa Larry (or #SantaLarry as he’s known on social media), isn’t bothered by the brouhaha. After fulfilling his Mall of America duties, he’ll return to the Dallas area, where he’ll finish out the Christmas season.

“Kids love Santa no matter what color you are,” Jefferson told the Huffington Post. “If you’ve got candy you’re a winner.”

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