Teacher to student: You can't be Santa -- you're black!

Incident resparks debate on recent FOX News comments

Michael Pearson | 12/18/2013, 6 a.m.
The family of an African-American high school student in New Mexico says he's crushed after a teacher questioned why he ...
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. CNN

— 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.

Reality check

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."

CNN's Holly Yan and Martin Savidge and contributed to this report.