It’s nothing new that Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel used racist stereotypes, particularly in his wartime political cartoons. I’m seeing social media chatter from people who a few days ago were up in arms about the gender of a potato (which was overblown, manufactured hype) and who are now leaping to the defense of Dr. Seuss, who is (according to the memes) being “banned” or “cancelled.”
In fact, it was the company Dr. Seuss Enterprises that voluntarily decided to stop publishing six books because they include racist stereotypes. That’s not how I define “banned.”
If people really need to read rhymes about people in Africa drawn to look like monkeys or slanty-eyed lemon-colored people from China, I’m sure they can still buy a used copy or check one out of a library.
As a grad student I was shocked to learn of T.S. Eliot’s anti-semitic beliefs, and more recently disappointed to read about Flannery O’Connor’s casual racism. Great artists and thinkers of all kinds are all products of their times. Sometimes they can transcend the biases of their time, and sometimes they conform to them, and sometimes they help shape them.
When Sesame Street released a DVD of some of its earliest episodes, they put a “for adults only” warning on it. One of the early segments showed an inactive child getting fat and losing her friends. (As I researched this blog post I came across that clip, which featured a little girl’s knees with faces on them, talking to each other, and I suddenly remembered seeing that clip over and over.) While the point of that clip was to encourage kids to be active, child development experts today recognize there are better ways of conveying that message without relying on fat-shaming.
In the early seasons, Big Bird — the character who most frequently represented a child’s point of view in the years B.E. (Before Elmo) — would repeatedly try to convince the adults on Sesame Street that Mr. Snuffleupagus was real. I remember as a teenager reading news stories about how PBS and the Children’s Television Workshop wanted kids to feel that adults would believe them if the kids said someone was abusing them.
While Dr. Seuss himself isn’t writing any more books, the copyright owners are managing their brand so that it continues to be relevant to the needs of today’s children — and also in line with the values of people who are today buying the books to read to their kids.
That’s not a ban. It’s not a violation of anyone’s rights. It’s a laudable, anti-racist action.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced this morning that they will stop publishing six of Dr. Seuss’ picture books amid accusations of racist imagery.
The company that seeks to preserve and protect the author’s works released a statement explaining that these six books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong. The titles being discontinued include “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.” —Variety