Dr. Seuss books being recalled for racist images
On Mar. 2, the Dr. Seuss Foundation pulled six of its books from publishing: 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.
As the Dr. Seuss Foundation owns the copyright for these books, no other publishing company can publish these books, making the existing copies of the books the only ones that will ever exist.
The reason for pulling the books was due to racist imagery. An example includes a picture in the now-banned The Cat’s Quizzer depicting “a Japanese” with a bright yellow face and standing in front of Japan’s Mount Fuji.
A 2019 study cited by the Dr. Seuss Foundation stated, “since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss’ books are White, his works —— center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy.”
In a larger escalation, sites like eBay have pulled ads selling used copies of the books despite having no legal obligation to do so.
The question as to if this move was good or not has fuelled a raging debate on news channels, Reddit forums, Facebook commentsand even the dinner table.
The extremists on one side are quick to label people who support this move as promoting censorship and being against freedom of speech. The other extreme is quick to call out the dissenters for allowing the promotion of racism and offensive stereotypes.
Do the books present harmful stereotypes? Yes, I think some of them do. The portrayal of Asians with long eyes and yellow skin is objectively a racial stereotype. Though I would, in my opinion, disagree with the study that just because his books mostly have white people, doesn’t mean it promotes white supremacy.
The books that were banned were written from the 1930s to the 1950s. The reality of this time was that racism and stereotypes were common amongst almost all cultures of the world, especially in America, due to the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese empire in 1941.
I am not trying to provide an excuse but to explain the context which I think is very important. Dr. Seuss, along with his other contemporaries, was someone who fell into the fervour of war-based sentiments.
However, the media tends to focus on the headlines that grab people’s attention, quick to label Dr. Seuss himself as a racist.
The book Horton Hears a Who, for example, came into creation from Dr. Seuss’ change of heart when he visited Japan post-World War II. The book came from his regret about how he viewed minorities after meeting with the Japanese people.
Dr. Seuss, in fact, dedicated Horton Hears a Who to a friend he made in Japan. Further, his change of heart is what lead him to write his now-famous phrase, “A person is a person no matter how tall, so share a good deed that made you feel tall.”
It is hard for us to imagine today in 2021, but in the year 1950, in a time of apartheid and segregation, this view truly was unique.
However, this discussion about Dr. Seuss’ books being banned lends itself to a much larger discussion about the ethical consequences of banning any book.
A private organization does have the right to not publish a book as the law is right now, but the question of whether a private organization should have that ability is the topic of debate.
In my opinion, the banning of a book for being offensive lends itself to some dangerous precedents.
What if major publishers such as Penguin Random House or Simon and Shuster decided not to publish copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for its portrayal of African Americans? Or Dante’s Divine Comedy for its portrayal of homosexuality?
These books are a product of their time, but anyone who has read them can tell you that their messages and themes are still important today.
The banning of Dr. Seuss’ books is not “modern-day book burning,” but dangerously flirts with this idea.
Though in discussing my opinion, I need to address some of the other views. I disagree with people who say anyone who supports this is pro-censorship. I think the view of the other side is much more humanized than that.
They see people getting offended and thus getting sad: the people who support the banning of books like Dr. Seuss simply do not want those people to be sad anymore. In my opinion, however, this view does not consider the dangerous precedent being set.
Finally, it is also important to remember the context of 2021. The context is that we’re in a pandemic and economic depression. There are bigger fires that need putting out, but this fire is a growing one and is getting larger every day.