Default White Christmas

I read a great article by another white dude recently about something he called "Default White" (Brett Rybeck, "On Decentralizing Privilege in Your Writing"). The idea is that some of us (myself included) have a tendency to assume whiteness unless someone (such as a character in a book or play) is otherwise defined. Considering that we white people are actually the global minority and real unity and understanding has never been more important, it may be time for us white folk to shift our behaviour away from Default White.

The example of Default White I recently uncovered in my own behaviour is in my rendition of The Christmas Song which I call "The Vegan Christmas Song" (clever title, right?). Vegan bonus points for me changing the lyric "some turkey" to "Tofurky"! However, I missed an opportunity by not updating "and folks dressed up like Eskimos," which always irked me a bit, even though I couldn't really pinpoint why. With all due respect to Wells/Torme for this brilliant song, Default Omnivore and Default White do both indeed rear their ugly heads in the lyrics.

When I arranged this song for my choir a couple years back, I changed "some turkey" to "Tchaikovsky" (because really, what is Christmas without The Nutcracker?) and "dressed up like Eskimos" to "dressed warm from heads to toes." I knew "Tofurky" would be lost on both my choir membership as well as my audience, so there weren't really a point in slipping that in there. And by using "folks dressed warm from heads to toes," Eskimos get to be "folks" as well, and non-Eskimos don't have to rush to conjure up a stereotype image - probably gleaned from some racist and/or reductionist cartoon - in order to grasp this "colourful" metaphor.

Sadly, The Vegan Christmas Song, as uploaded to YouTube in 2016, doesn't rise above Default White. I'm learning as I go. We evolve, and our lyrics, and even our ethics, can evolve right along with us. I've never heard anyone sing the original lyrics to "Oh Susanna" (thank God), and if "Baby, It's Cold Outside" can be updated by Idina Menzel so that it's no as hell (and that's being generous), then any good start can be updated so that it's no longer hurtful. Like eating a Tofurky Roast instead of a slaughtered animal.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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