Culture

'Jingle Bells' Is Racist?

A Boston University professor asserts that the classic Christmas carol harbors racist roots.

Culture Beat · Dec. 19, 2017

Jingle Bells is racist — who knew? Well, honestly nobody did until one Boston University theater history professor made the assertion in her research paper on the beloved holiday song. Kyna Hamill explained, “The legacy of ‘Jingle Bells’ is one where its blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history.” She added, “Although ‘One Horse Open Sleigh,’ for most of its singers and listeners, may have eluded its racialized past and taken its place in the seemingly unproblematic romanticization of a normal ‘white’ Christmas, attention to the circumstances of its performance history enables reflection on its problematic role in the construction of blackness and whiteness in the United States.”

So what is the history of “Jingle Bells”? It was written by James Pierpont and published in 1857, but there is debate as to exactly where it was created — either in Medford, Massachusetts, or Savannah, Georgia. It was the latter location at which Pierpont was employed as the organist and music director at a Unitarian church where his brother served as the minister. As tensions over slavery mounted, Pierpont’s church eventually closed due to its abolitionist leanings. So much for the racism angle.

Pierpont originally intended the song as a holiday celebration focused on Thanksgiving, but it was eventually associated with Christmas. The song’s lyrics and imagery of a snowy day sleigh ride had an obvious romantic allusion. Much as it is understood today, it was meant to be a fun, light-hearted song. So it’s really absurd to retroactively insert implications of racism into a song that neither references such bigotry nor even mentions race. It is the racially obsessed who seek to paint all history as merely the systematic oppression of one race at the hands of another. Life is simply too complex for such a shallow, lazy and vindictive worldview.

“Jingle Bells” is a fun song expressing the joy of the holiday season — just the same as “White Christmas.” Enough with these bah humbug racialists.

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