Publisher Cancels Books by Dr. Seuss for Being Racist

Source - Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong," the business that preserves the author's legacy said.

The titles are: 

  • "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street"
  • "If I Ran the Zoo"
  • "McElligot's Pool"
  • "On Beyond Zebra!"
  • "Scrambled Eggs Super!"
  • "The Cat's Quizzer" ...

The announcement was made Tuesday, the birthday of the famed children's book author. ...

Dr. Seuss had a long history of publishing racist and anti-Semitic work, spanning back to the 1920s when he was a student at Dartmouth College. There, Dr. Seuss once drew Black boxers as gorillas and perpetuated Jewish stereotypes by portraying Jewish characters as financially stingy, according to a study published in the journal "Research on Diversity in Youth Literature."  ...

Two specific examples, according to the study, are found in the books "The Cat's Quizzer: Are YOU Smarter Than the Cat in the Hat?" and "If I Ran the Zoo."

"In ("The Cat's Quizzer"), the Japanese character is referred to as 'a Japanese,' has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji," the authors wrote.

Regarding "If I Ran the Zoo," the study points out another example of Orientalism and White supremacy.

"The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in 'If I Ran the Zoo.' The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance. The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as 'helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant' from 'countries no one can spell,'" the study authors wrote.

The study also argues that since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss' books are White, his works -- inadvertently or not -- center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy. 

Well this is certainly disconcerting. The kind of news that when you first see it you think you're seeing a headline in The Onion. But here we are. Banning books by the single most beloved, popular and celebrated children's books author of modern times. And I use the word "celebrated" quite literally, because the elementary schools in my town are observing Dr. Seuss' Birthday Week, with kids dressing up in wacky clothes and Cat in the Hat lids and so forth. And I can't help but wonder how many of their parents and teachers know about gorilla boxers, tightwad Jews and "a Japanese" with slant eyes. I introduced two kids to reading using his most popular half dozen works, never took  a deeper dive into catalogue, and literally this is the first I'm hearing about this. 

That said, while it might sound ridiculous in headline form. And yes it's idiotic to argue that the majority of his characters are white and therefore that constitutes White Supremacy. Hell, in the majority Dr. Seuss books I've seen, the characters are green, orange and covered with fur. Still, I honestly don't see how you argue with the decision. First and foremost, publishing houses are a business. I don't see how it helps the profit margin to be cranking out material that sounds like it's from a pamphlet being handed out in Berlin in the lead up to Kristallnacht. And they're under no moral obligation to do so. Because who's the target audience for cartoons of boxers portrayed as gorillas and stingy Jews with hook noses? Why publish them if no one but some really twisted crackpots would buy them? 

And just to address the indignant moral outrage that is already flying around the internet, let's define our terms here. These are some historical work that needs to be preserved for the sake of liberty and freedom of expression. They're 100 year old racist baiting illustrated rhyming books. If they were some work of influential fiction I'd die on that hill with everyone else. But unless I miss my guess, "McElligot's Pool" and "Scrambled Eggs Super!" aren't "Huck Finn" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin." 

I mean, keep them in a museum, fine. I'm all against erasing the past. That gets really Orwellian really fast and once you start rewriting history, there's no stopping it. But if you're truly, genuinely upset about the fact new copies of "On Beyond Zebra!" won't be rolling off the presses, feel free to buy the rights and publish it yourself. Good luck making enough to pay back the business loan. 

In the big picture, this is just another of those moments when you're confronted with how objectively nasty parts of entertainment were back in the day. In a way, reading that an Ivy Leaguer was playing up vicious stereotypes to make kids laugh is a better window into those times than anything you'll find in a history book or a documentary. Like those old movies Disney+ has had to slap a disclaimer on or Bugs Bunny's hijinks running around with an African tribe. Blatant racism was part of the zeitgeist. We should recognize that and commit to memory. But selling it? Pass. 

It just truly sucks that the same guy who was making ethnic doodles at Dartmouth is the same author who penned universal, inspirational truths every parent tries to teach their kids:

  • Don’t give up! I believe in you all. A person’s a person, no matter how small. 
  • You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. 
  • You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?
  • Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.
  • Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.
  • Step with care and great tact, and remember that life’s a great balancing act.

And maybe most fittingly:

  • Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Human beings are bizarre creatures.