It was only a matter of time until the culture war came for Dr. Seuss aka Theodore Geisel. The old critiques that he was a racist are as baseless as they are inescapable in academic circles which are dedicated to deconstructing everything. The Dr. Seuss books sit atop children’s literature like King Kong. And while they often have a political subtext, it’s far too subtle for contemporary lefty standards. As the culture war kicks into gear, so does the purge.
But, unlike the Little House on the Prairie books, a major target of institutional purges, whose co-author was a key figure in the libertarian movement and whose work was at least, to some degree, like Little Orphan Annie, a rebuke of FDR and the New Deal, Geisel was a lefty with impeccable credentials on racism.
Geisel’s was one of the few editorial voices to decry the US military’s racial segregation policies. He used his cartoons to challenge racism at home against Jews and blacks, union-busting, and corporate greed, which he thought divided the country and hurt the war effort… In a university lecture in 1947 – a decade before the modern civil rights movement – Geisel urged would-be writers to avoid the racist stereotypes common in children’s books and opined that America “preaches equality but doesn’t always practice it.”
Of course, that won’t save his books from stuff like this, “The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books”.
Or this from Teach for the Change.
In 2019, The Conscious Kid published a study where they analyzed fifty of the fifty-nine Dr. Seuss books through the lens of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and Orientalism. Of the 2,240 human characters that were depicted in his books, only 2% represented POC. BIPOC characters are basically obsolete from Dr. Seuss’s books, and his few inclusions of these characters promote racism and white supremacy.
And this AJC op-ed.
Nearly seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, and filled with all the wonder and anticipation of an inexperienced mom-to-be, I was gifted a lovely hard cover collection of Dr. Seuss “classics” by a dear co-worker and friend. From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to “The Cat in the Hat,” this anthology of Seuss favorites struck me as a thoughtful and generous gift, as we were both high school English teachers, with a shared love of language, literature, and reading. I was eager, as is to be expected of any new mom, to read to my soon-to-be-born baby, a boy, and Dr. Seuss’ famous and well-known stories seemed a wonderful start. I proudly displayed the book on a shelf in his nursery and, though I rarely pulled it down to read, I always thought it a beautiful addition to my son’s personal library.
Little did I know, at the time, and honestly, even up until recently, the racist and damaging history of Dr. Seuss and his work, which included many famous children’s stories, illustrations, and minstrel shows. I am inclined to believe that the friend who gave me the book was also ignorant of the harmful and destructive stereotypes Seuss used.
Inclined to believe.
Sorry, “friend”, you’re about a year away from being purged.