Fort Mill Santa quits after controversial online criticism

A Charlotte man said he quit his job as a store Santa after what he believes were online comments directed at his race.

Tony Harkey, Sr., who is biracial but identifies as African-American, said he had been hired at the Cabela's in Fort Mill to play the part and his first day was this past Saturday, November 23.

Harkey said he spent hundreds of dollars and hours of work to bleach his hair to look the part.

"Everything you could be as Santa, I felt I was," said Harkey.  "It wasn't until late that afternoon that it was brought to a downward spiral."

Harkey said he noticed online comments on the store's Facebook page. 

"One of the people posted, 'don't bring your kids here, he looks nothing like the picture', and posted my picture," said Harkey.  "Another said, 'oh my gosh, how horrible.  I would never.'"

Harkey screenshotted the posts and showed them to FOX46, which appears to have been deleted from the store's Facebook page.  A corporate spokesperson, while not referring to this specific situation, noted that, in general, individual stores reserve the right to remove any controversial posts.

Harkey believes those comments were directed towards his race, using coded language.

"Who is going to say bluntly on Facebook, 'I don't want a picture with a black Santa?'  No one is going to say that," said Harkey.

Harkey quit the job the same day he started.

Cabela's corporate office spoke with FOX46 about the situation Wednesday, saying that none of the complaints they received about Harkey dealt directly with his race--and if they had, those claims would have been dismissed and they would've stood by Harkey.

Instead, Cabela's said customer complaints centered more on performance and overall appearance.

Harkey said managers at the store, who he said were in close contact with him throughout his day there, never noted anything awry with his conduct or performance.

"You say, 'oh, I don't look like Santa.  Well, you could've said what doesn't look like Santa," said Harkey.

Harkey, who noted that his main complaints are against the customer criticism.  He said he had hoped to have the job through the holiday season, but now has other opportunities lined up.