This image was presented to America four months after Sonny Liston won the title off Floyd Patterson, and that was back when “the title” meant more.
On Sept. 25, 1962, Liston flipped the bird at those impeding him, for having ties to organized crime, for being big, black and scary, and the editors at Esquire played along.
On the front of Esquire's December 1963 issue, you saw Sonny, and maybe didn't see the fable of Santa Claus the same way after, especially if you were privileged to be light skinned.
You'd rather The Grinch slithered down your chimney over Liston, yes? It wasn't until two years later that black women were allowed to vote, because the Voting Rights Act pushed by Lyndon Johnson…so, one could argue, Liston had every right to glower, on behalf of people not afforded equal rights in the “land of liberty.”
Here we are all these years later, and it can be argued that the image of Sonny as Santa is not a vestigial symbol. The Supreme Court in 2013 decided on a 5-4 basis that America had made such strides, that protections for minorities in the voting realm were not needed to the same extent as in decades past.
Bah humbug…Voter suppression, blatant gerrymandering, laws and rules to disenfranchise non property owners, other means to shove aside “have nots” from having a say in elections local and national are today in play.
See Sonny (below, posing with Dana Resnick, daughter of his friend Ash Resnick) as Santa? Does he look jolly?
Think he knew that more of us are acting naughty than nice too often, and that the game is rigged hard against people not born with the “right” skin tone, or into the favored families?
The Liston cover cost the magazine $750,000 in dropped advertising, but the publication's leaders were mostly pleased with the buzz stemming from adman George Lois' concoction.
That was then, this is now, and now is more like then than we'd hope. The old grey guard is working harder than ever to maintain a status quo dominated by light skinned people. Ignorant and malevolent insistence that Santa is a white dude continue to be furnished to self righteous consumers belonging to indignation nation, who lap up propaganda (ie “the war on Christmas”) peddled by savvy cynics who succeed at conquering through division.
So…Merry Christmas, happy holidays, we say, to all good people.
And to the merchants of division and adherence to white supremacist values, may Sonny as Santa….
…be lodged in your subconscious…and may those of stout character continue to agitate on behalf of the children not nestled snug in their beds, because discrimination and callous treatment towards persons deemed “other” continue to flourish.
This time is supposed to be a time to ponder and fixate on good tidings; but we the people have probably been doing enough of that, and have not been as cognizant of those less fortunate.
For the new year, my hopes are for more social justice advancement and inventive and effective civil disobedience, and for inventive persons of good conscience, like George Lois.
Let's all make such a clatter, to shine light on the less fortunate, and those good souls shunned for being different, because kindness and decency do still matter.