(RNS) Fisher-Price’s deluxe Little People Christmas Story playset features a light-up star, a musical stable, three wise men and a number of animals, all fashioned in their beloved round-bodied figures that are easy for little hands to hold.
The playset also features a white holy family.
Faithful America, an online community of Christians of all denominations advocating for social justice, is encouraging Fisher-Price to change its depiction of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus before the start of the 2021 holiday season, saying it “fuels white supremacy.”
“Most of the time we only see white Jesus, and every new image of white Jesus just reinforces that. We’re not making these toys in a vacuum, they’re adding to all the other toys and every church painting and every Renaissance painting that already exists,” said the Rev. Nathan Empsall, an Episcopal priest and executive director of Faithful America.
Faithful America is circulating an online petition asking Fisher-Price and its parent company, Mattel, to portray the holy family as people of color in its Nativity sets and commit to no longer selling products depicting Jesus as white.
“This doesn’t just get history wrong; it also fuels white supremacy, as many theologians and historians have noted,” according to the petition.
The petition points to statements by well-known Catholic scholars and theologians Anthea Butler and the Rev. James Martin saying images of Jesus as white in particular have been used to promote the idea that “white is best.”
And it’s personal to Empsall, whose toddler received the playset from a relative last Christmas. It’s “adorable,” he said, but it also is an image that will stick with children throughout their lives.
The priest has heard from too many people of color that they hadn’t seen a Jesus that looked like them until they were adults, he said.
“If we really saw a plethora of Jesus images in our churches and books and whatnot today, it may not be certainly accurate, but it would be OK. It would send that wonderful theological message that Jesus loves everyone and is for everyone, which is very true,” he said.
“But that’s not the reality. That’s not what we see. Artists depict Jesus in every culture, but those images don’t get through in mainstream American Christian culture.”
In addition to the petition, the organization has reached out to Mattel. The company seemed receptive to Faithful America’s letter raising the issue, Empsall said, and he believes it wants to do the right thing.
Already, Mattel has taken similar steps to make its popular Barbie dolls more inclusive, he noted.
“Faithful America would really like to hear Mattel say publicly, ‘We recognize that white Jesus is problematic, and we will have a revised toy at the earliest possible date.’”