As you can tell from the title, I am no Dr, Suess. I do need to talk to you today about him. By now we all know that Dr. Suess has come under attack for his books having “undertones of racism.” While others have mentioned in the past some of the imagery in Dr. Suess books did portray racial stereotypes, the main study being used today is an article in “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature,” by Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens.
Since the authors have reached back to Suess’s past to prove a racist predilection it is important to look at the authors past and current positions. To their credit they mentioned it in the paper “Katie is a director and Japanese American researcher for the critical literacy organization, The Conscious Kid. Her grandparents were incarcerated at Manzanar and Minidoka concentration camps during World War II, so her family was directly impacted by the anti-Japanese rhetoric and hysteria that Seuss fueled and espoused. Ramón is a director and Black male educator for The Conscious Kid. A CRT (Critical Race Theory) framework was employed due to his professional training and to address Black teacher advocacy in teaching.”
March 2nd is Read Across America Day; the date was picked because it is Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday. This year he would have been 117, which means he was born in 1904. He was raised in Springfield MA and went to Dartmouth College as an undergrad and then attended Lincoln College, Oxford. Intending to be an English teacher he was diverted by another student, Helen Palmer who would be his wife, to use his skills at drawing and illustration. Following collage, he launched a career doing Political cartoons and illustrations for marketing. Now we have a Youngman in the mid-1920s to early 1930’s working in advertisement the authors of depict it as “In spite of Dr. Seuss’ extensive body of explicitly racist published works dehumanizing and degrading Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and people from other marginalized groups (including Jewish people and Muslims), many differentiate and defend the author’s children’s books as “promoting tolerance,” and even “anti-racist.” This last, seems to piss the authors off to no end.
I will admit I did not read every word of the paper but read most of it and understand the intent of the authors. In explaining how they went about their study; “Our study sought to evaluate the claims that his children’s books are anti-racist, and was shaped by the research question: How and to what extent are non-White characters depicted in Dr. Seuss’ children’s books? We designed our study to provide important insights into the manner and extent to which White characters and characters of color are portrayed, and assess their implications to the development and reinforcement of racial bias in young children.”
The question is, did they really search out the truth or did they look for information that supported their predetermined conclusion? In the background of the paper under Seuss’ History of Publishing Racist Works they go back to his Undergraduate days; “In the 1920s, Dr. Seuss published anti-Black and anti-Semitic cartoons in Dartmouth’s humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. He depicted a Jewish couple (captioned “the Cohen’s”) with oversized noses and Jewish merchants on a football field with “Quarterback Mosenblum” refusing to relinquish the ball until a bargain price has been established for the goods being sold. In the same issue of Jack-O-Lantern, Seuss drew Black male boxers as gorillas.” I cannot defend these images they are fairly common for the time. If the depiction of the Quarterback causes censorship we will need to ban “The Merchant of Venice.” Much of what he did as a political cartoonist and illustrations he did in marketing reflected mass appeal and that is what politics and marketing is all about. Most of the advertisements in the 50’s and 60’s depicted women in subservient roles wearing stings of pearls while in house dresses. Should we ban everything Mary Taylor Moore did because she once dress as a fairy and danced around a refrigerator? Ishizuka personalizes his anti-Japanese work during the war and talks about his work with Frank Capra to dehumanize the Japanese. I am sorry but this was a war and Pearl Harbor was very fresh in the minds of America. If Suess is to be punished let us ban the works of Capra such as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The paper starts out with the premise that Suess was an unrepentant racist. The biases of Ishizuka and Stephens runs through this paper, In particular we must address the concept of Critical Race Theory which deep in the assessment. Stephens academic career has focused on race and CRT as well as critical literacy. These subjects have been subjected to the complaint that they are too judgmental based on the assumption that all white people suffer from white privilege and support in one form or another white supremacy. These terms run as a consistent theme in the paper. When researching this subject, the authors point out that the cat in the hat is based on blackface and minstrel shows indicates a deep-seated misunderstanding of the books. They also state that any defense of Suess in based on whiteness.
Keep reading Suess to your children, it encourages reading and teaches tolerance.