12/27/2012 12:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

White Privilege and the Snow-White Santa

White privilege refers to the many, many benefits of being white in a society dominated, both culturally and materially, by other white people. The notion was popularized by Peggy McIntosh in a 1989 essay titled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."  One benefit is that most fictional characters, unless otherwise specified (and sometimes even so), are assumed to be white. Growing up non-white in a white-dominated world, then, means that  most of the mythological figures of your childhood do not look like you in one important way.

Santa, of course, is a fictional figure whose appearance is invented.  Theoretically anyone could be Santa. Yet, while we may see the occasional non-white Santa at the mall or in novelty holiday stories, he is unbearably and overwhelmingly white in our (google-able) imagination:  The first three pages of a google image search for "Santa":

For more examples, see all of our posts about white privilege.  Thanks for Martha Pitts at Ms. for this post idea.

Originally posted at Sociological Images.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the principle writer for Sociological Images. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.