One Book, Two Books, A Racist Few Books
I read an article about the recent controversy over the family of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and their recent decision to stop production of six titles from the beloved author. The article wasn't favorable about the decision, and though the author definitely has a right to their opinion, so do I. And since this is my blog, here it is.
The author focused on the claim that Dr. Seuss is the latest victim of the cancel culture that has taken the world by storm. Yes, I agree that cancel culture is a problem today sometimes and we can get carried away in the wave of self-righteous anger and desire for much needed change. But in the case of Dr. Seuss, it wasn't the so-called liberal snowflake fanatics who targeted Dr. Seuss. It was his own family that decided to stop production of 6 books (some of which haven't sold a copy in years) that they felt had racist tendencies. And racist they are. They need to go. The author failed to mention this in their article (which prompted my response because I am a snowflake who seeks to point out misinformation) and instead blamed a nameless "leftist" for the action. Let's get the truth out there from the start. K? Thanks.
Was Theo racist? That's not for me to decide, but you can do plenty of research to find his own confessions of mistakes made in the past. Here and here are just two examples of some places to start looking. Dr. Seuss himself apologized for some of his early political cartoons that were obviously racist and blamed his use of stereotypes against marginalized people on the "views of the times". After drawing many cartoons that portrayed the anti-Japanese propaganda and perpetuating hate for an entire group of fellow humans, Seuss visited a war-torn Japan. He saw for himself the devastation caused by our attack on Hiroshima and that made an impression. He did something almost unheard of today... he admitted he was wrong. He made up for his mistake by writing Horton Hears a Who, a children's book that promotes equality and acceptance instead of the bigotry and hatred of his political cartoons. So, was he racist? Seems like it, but that doesn't mean he stayed that way.
As for this comment in the original article...
[Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it prompts us to become suspicious of ourselves. “I grew up loving Dr. Seuss,” you might think. “How did I overlook this racism? What else am I not seeing now?”]
YES! That is the point. This is white privilege. As a white person, I can look at my past growing up and not see the racism that surrounded me because I'm not marginalized. To me, the "views of the time" were a reflection of a society that favored white people. I don't get to decide what is offensive to a black or Asian or Latinx or any other person of color because I'm not one of them. All I can do is respect their feelings and do better myself. As an author, if I write something and am told it is offensive or racist, it's my job to change it and learn from my mistake. Not defend myself and say I didn't MEAN to be racist. And trust me, I don't, but the path to Hell is paved... well you know the saying. If I accidentally step onto that path, I WANT to be deterred by a well-timed slap on the face telling me to wake up.
I think Geisel's family has taken a moment to stop and look around, realizing their product went in the wrong direction. They should be commended for their sensitivity and willingness to take that hard step toward healing. There are so many other great Dr. Seuss books out there and as a teacher, I will continue to read them to my class, but we all need to make a conscious effort to do better in the future so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. If we want people to change their views and make better choices, when they do, as is the case here with the Geisel family, we can't condemn their actions. If we do, that's not much incentive for people to change, is it?