Last Saturday’s “Parade of 3s” may never become as infamous for crass public behavior as when Philadelphia Eagles fans booed Santa off the field during the last game of the 1968 season, but some parade-goers tried to make sure this year’s parade is remembered for an even more disturbing takedown of the jolly old elf.
The holiday parade took a wrong turn when some of those standing along the route made racially insensitive remarks about the man playing Santa Claus this past weekend, going as far as actually throwing MoonPies at him. Apparently for those people, a white Santa Claus had no business trying to entertain the majority-black audience gathered along Dauphin Island Parkway.
When I first heard about Santa being treated so poorly, my mind immediately went to that still infamous moment when Eagles fans booed Santa and threw snowballs at him, enraged by their team’s lousy two-win season. It’s hard to believe we, as a genteel Southern community, could ever approach the loutish behavior common to Eagles fans. (Sorry Philly, I’m a Cowboys fan.) But it appears we have.
Bob Montague — the man behind the beard Saturday — was still fuming when I spoke with him Monday morning. Bob, a colonel in the U.S. National Reserve Corps and a Bronze Star recipient for his years of service in the U.S. Air Force, isn’t new to public performances and events. He has entertained for years as “Dr. Bob,” and has participated in myriad events over the past 45 years. The Reserve Corps, 80 percent of whom are retired military, was asked to help out with the Parade of 3s. Montague said they were told the parade needed a Santa and the entire group immediately decided he would be the perfect fit. But nothing’s that easy these days.
“To be shat upon because I was white was utterly ridiculous, especially since it was by adults standing around children,” Montague said.
Montague said the event started out well as he met State Representative Barbara Drummond at the float he would ride and took pictures with her. The Parade of 3s is named after Drummond’s House District 103 and City Councilman C.J. Small’s District 3. Montague said his meeting with Drummond was “lovely” and it was her office that had requested the Corps provide a Santa. Montague said he was also excited to hear a number of “elves” would be joining him on the float.
As parade time neared, though, he said the elves were a no-show so he asked if it would be OK for his wife, young son and daughter to join him for the ride. They climbed aboard, armed with about 150 candy canes to throw along the route. Montague said he typically wouldn’t expect a Santa in this kind of parade to throw anything to the crowd, but he wanted to have a little something, even if the throws had to be made sparingly.
“The first incident was a guy standing with his arms wide open, eating a MoonPie. He yelled, ‘Aww godd**n Santa, throw me something!’ I waved at him and then he chucked a MoonPie at me and almost hit my wife. Then two more things were thrown at us,” Montague said.
Throughout the parade, Montague said people were yelling things like “He ain’t the right color for this!” “What’s that white man doing? You aren’t supposed to be here!” and “What’s a white Santa doing here?” As the remarks were made, Montague said his children — particularly his 10-year-old daughter — were “awestruck with disappointment.”
He said during the course of the 90 minutes his float moved along the parade route, he began to notice parents taking their children away as Santa’s float neared. Montague said he felt like it had to do with them not wanting their kids to see the white Santa Claus, although he also thought it could have to do with he and his family not throwing much of anything.
Montague said the experience was particularly galling because he felt judged by the crowd when he was there hoping to give their children a fun experience.
“Those people don’t know me!” he said.
Born in 1956, Montague said he was raised by an African American stepfather and white mother during a time when society was far less than accepting of an ethnically diverse family. He recalled he and his siblings being attacked both verbally and physically by both blacks and whites for his family’s racial mix.
“I know what racism is!” he said. “All that’s left today is entitled ignorance.”
The Corps’ deputy commander, Anthony Clarkbanks, took to Facebook Saturday to denounce the actions of those who insulted Santa Claus at the parade. Clarkbanks, who is African American and lives near where the parade took place, pointed out the Corps had been asked to provide a Santa Claus for the parade and “he just happened to be white.” He said when parade organizers asked for a Santa Claus “you get what you get,” and stressed that the Corps is a multicultural group.
“This doesn’t reflect the whole county, this reflects those ignorant folks …,” Clarkbanks said. “In the future, you people in Mobile, Alabama, you should keep your comments to yourself and you should keep your mouths shut. Veterans don’t need to hear that.”
Drummond also denounced those who made racist comments, saying she was “disgusted by such behavior and actions from parade-goers.”
“It is inappropriate, not to mention unacceptable, for our volunteer Santa or courtesy parade-goers and starry-eyed children to be subjected to such ugliness,” Drummond wrote in a statement. “Our Santa represent the goodness of the season — the spirit endowed in our hearts to love each other. For those who exhibited this behavior, SHAME ON YOU!”
Councilman Small expressed similar sentiments, citing the diverse social and economic backgrounds of people in District 3 and saying the parade is designed to be family oriented and inclusive.
“We will not let a few sick individuals ruin what is the happiest time of the year and this wonderful event,” he wrote.
While Montague remains upset by the incident, he said there was a silver lining. Once the parade was over, one parent brought a young girl up to see Santa and the child gave him a big hug. Another man grabbed Montague and brought him over to a float full of children who all told him what they wanted for Christmas, so all was not lost.
It’s sad to think some people are too “woke” these days to even enjoy Santa Claus. For some, everything must pass through the prism of race and politics, and what’s left is seldom beautiful to behold.
But you know what they say, Santa’s making a list and checking it twice …. You Santa bashers enjoy those lumps of coal.
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