Should six Dr. Seuss books be discontinued based on ‘racist’ imagery?
- Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, was an American children’s book writer and illustrator known for quirky creatures and made-up creatures.
- He wrote 44 children’s books under the pen name, Dr. Seuss. Of those, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and Oh, The Places You’ll Go! are his most popular.
- Tuesday, March 2, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced they would be discontinuing six of Seuss’ books because of “racist and insensitive imagery, two being “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo.” The decision came after months of discussion via teachers, specialists, and review of titles.
- Forbes lists Dr. Seuss as the second leading highest-paid dead celebrity of 2020, worth $33 million.
According to The New York Times, the 6 books in question contain oppressive and stereotypical representations of Asian characters. A character described as a 'Chinaman' in And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street 'has lines for eyes, wears a pointed hat, and carries chopsticks and a bowl of rice.' Stereotypes like these fuel the fire of racial injustice that we all see in the United States, such as the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Dr. Seuss has plenty of other children's books that young readers can enjoy without perpetuating racial imagery.
Discontinuing titles by a beloved author isn't something that could be done without serious consideration. CNBC reports how 'the decision to cease publication and sales of the books was made last year after months of discussion,' which was based on input from the company's audience, 'including teachers, academics and specialists in the field.' Company associates didn't just make a decision; they considered their reading community's best interest, not just the company's legacy.
2020 sparked a resurgence in the US's attempt to eliminate racial injustices from our country, and that endeavor has carried into the new year. Children's books that perpetuate racially insensitive ideas are not exempt from this movement. According to The New York Times, 'the decision to stop the publication of some Dr. Seuss books helps revive a debate over classic children's titles that do not positively represent minority groups.' Discontinuing the books reinforces the idea of not just frowning upon these issues but actively taking action against such racially insensitive representations and attitudes.
Whitewashing history serves no real benefit other than that of (temporarily) appeasing the current prevailing opinion. Dr. Seuss's canon of books should not be pushed into the dustbin of history because several contain insulting illustrations and descriptions by modern standards. It's true the depictions can be jarring to people with today's sensibilities, but it's also true that Seuss himself (born in 1904 when societal racism was still sadly normalized) evolved over his life, as we all do, and came to regret the racial imagery. Horton Hears a Who, for example, is dedicated to a Japanese friend and is considered a quiet apology for some of the earlier viewpoints presented during World War II. Seuss's own nephew has stated he remembers conversations with his uncle where he referenced regret over previously held opinions.
As important as it is for individuals and society at large to no longer accept certain stereotypes and prejudices, it's equally important that we acknowledge that those things existed. If we insist on erasing, rather than recognizing and discussing either directly or allegorically, things we find offensive, we limit our ability to grow and learn from past mistakes or see how far we’ve come. Thankfully, few alive today would argue Seuss's early views should be perpetuated. And Seuss should not be remembered only for his failings, but for all the good his work has done for children. Even his 'problematic' content should not be discontinued. Publishers could add a page to the beginning of the offending books where Dr. Seuss Enterprises can acknowledge the racial depictions while recognizing that Seuss himself changed. The whimsy and imagination he possessed and passed on to children worldwide should not be erased.