British Columbia

Canadian professor faces far-right backlash after research uncovers Jingle Bells' racist past

A Canadian professor teaching at Boston University is coping with online attacks and threats after her research paper outlined the racist origins of the Christmas song Jingle Bells.

'I've had a lot of hate mail and harassment because of it. All for Jingle Bells.'

Kyna Hamill says Jingle Bells was originally performed in blackface in a minstrel show as 'One Horse Open Sleigh.' (Ramil Gibadullin/Shutterstock)

A Canadian professor teaching at Boston University in the U.S. is facing severe backlash online after she published a research paper outlining the racist origins of the beloved Christmas song Jingle Bells.

"It has been quite surreal. It's been a crash course in public relations and internet trolling," said Kyna Hamill, a lecturer at Boston University.

For years, Hamill has been studying the history of the song Jingle Bells, but only recently uncovered the song's racist past.

In a peer-reviewed research paper published in September, she says the song was originally performed in blackface in a minstrel show as One Horse Open Sleigh at Ordway Hall in Boston, Mass., in September 1857.

She writes that the composer "capitalized on minstrel music and entered upon a 'safe' ground for satirizing black participation in northern winter activities."

Kyna Hamill says at the time Jingle Bells was composed, there was a culture of 'satirizing black participation in northern winter activities,' as in this image 'A Team Fast on the Snow.' (Museum of the City of New York)

Hamill gave what she calls one "benign" interview to a local news website about her findings, but the response was beyond anything she could have predicted.

Hate mail, threats, internet trolls

She says the story was picked up and misrepresented by right-leaning news outlets across the U.S., including Fox News and Breitbart. Her name  — #KynaHamill — has also become a hashtag on Twitter.

"It seems that the work that I've been talking about on Jingle Bells ... has been absolutely misreported or reported very irresponsibly," she tells CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker in her first interview since the backlash.

"It's been pretty stressful because I've had a lot of hate mail and harassment because of it. All for Jingle Bells."

Certain media outlets have characterized Hamill as saying the song itself is racist and should be shunned, which Hamill denies.

Breitbart, a far-right news outlet, said Kyna Hamill declared the song racist and said she wants it shunned. (Brietbart)

She has received so much hate mail that she stopped reading it and filed a report with university police as a precaution.

'Everything I said is true'

Hamill says her research is simply being used as fodder as "a way to politicize the Christmas season."

While she says she is "still processing" the fallout, she stands behind her research and still plans to enjoy the holidays.

"Everything I said is true. I haven't really done anything wrong. If people don't want to be comfortable with the truth, then that's not really my problem."

With files from CBC's Daybreak South.