Monday, January 15, 2007
A Multi-Ethnic Nativity
Given that it's Martin Luther King Day, and just a few weeks after Christmas, I guess it would be appropriate for me to post a reflection both on Christmas and on race. This past season we got the Fisher Price Little People Nativity set for Emma. She loved it, but I was struck by the obvious attempt by Fisher Price to make it multi-ethnic. Check it out below:

and the Li'l People Shepherds accessory...
We have black, Asian, and white Magi (not "Wise Men", as several of them appear to be female). A white Mary and Joseph with a pale, blond-haired blued-eyed Jesus, and a white, blond angel. However, the shepherds are Hispanic.

While I'm sure the manufacturers were doing well by including so many different races, I'm not sure they fully thought through their decisions. Does it subtly communicate cultural biases that the divine and heavenly beings (i.e. Jesus and the angels) are pale white and blond, and the other main characters (i.e. Mary & Joseph) are also Caucasian? And why automatically make the bottom-of-society manual laborers (i.e. the shepherds) Hispanic? Or the exotic but wealthy and successful Magi Asian? It seems beyond coincidence that these choices match up perfectly with our own cultures' stereotypes of each of these ethnicities.

If the manufacturers were going for accuracy, Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the shepherds should have all looked the same - i.e. like dark skinned Palestinian Jews. For that matter, the Magi should have been darker skinned as well, as they were probably Persians (i.e. where Iran is now). As for the angel, who knows what they look like, but in any case it's doubtful that they appeared to the shepherds as a pale northern European.

Not that any of this is a really big deal. It's just a subtle reminder that our society is still in many ways captive to ethnic stereotypes and assumptions. Even three decades after Dr. King's famous speech, we are still judging people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.


posted by Mike Clawson at 8:34 PM | Permalink |


At 12/25/2011 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Jenny

I stumbled across your blog post looking for a "ethnically accurate nativity." I'm so tired of blond hair and blue eyed baby Jesus, etc. Great post!


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