Dr. Seuss books pulled from production provoke debate on cancel culture

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Crystal Chunnu

Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that it will cease the publication and licensing of six of Dr. Seuss’ books due to depictions of racial stereotypes on March 2, the author’s birthday.

The six titles halted from further publication 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.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong. Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, or more commonly known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, published his first book in 1937 and continued to publish more than 60 books before his death in 1991. He sold 700 million copies globally.

Racial depictions in the book If I Ran the Zoo include a man with a turban on display in an animal zoo, a group of African characters illustrated as monkeys and a group of Asian characters described as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell.”

In And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, a character is described as “a Chinese man who eats with sticks.”

Seuss also wrote in The Cat’s Quizzer, “How old do you have to be to be Japanese,” a joke most likely alluding to the stereotype that Asians do not age.

After the estate made the decision to stop licensing these publications, some were quick to label this as an effect of cancel culture.

“Dr. Seuss was a man of his time, born in 1904 and shaped by the events of his life,” wrote Dan McLaughlin in the National Review. “He was also very much a lifelong man of the Left himself. Many of his best-known tales, like the Cat in the Hat books, are entirely apolitical. But many others teach moral lessons that have a decidedly political cast to them.”

While only 2% of Seuss’ human characters were people of color, they were all caricatures of racial stereotypes, according to a study conducted by Research on Diversity in Youth Literature in February 2019. Many have argued that accurate representation of cultural diversity in literature positively impacts a child’s social development and vice versa for negative representation.

“Seeing yourself reflected in others can help to promote pride and self-esteem. It helps a child to feel visible, to know that they matter, and to dream of all the things they can accomplish,” Lakeisha Johnson, an affiliate faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research and an assistant professor in the Florida State University School, said.

“All children should be able to see themselves in what they read, as well as be introduced to stories that feature characters who differ from them.”

This is because characters in books provide a “mirror to identity.” According to NPR, regardless of the few instances of racist depictions in his works these books must be removed because “Research shows that even at the age of 3, children begin to form racial biases, and by the age of 7, those biases become fixed.”

Philip Nel, a children’s literature scholar at Kansas State University and the author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon pointed out that many Seuss fans may feel conflicted at the decision to pull some of his books off shelves or for some schools to completely shift away from teaching with any of his books at all because Seuss managed to produce books with anti-racial narratives as well.

For instance, Horton Hears a Who is about the protection of minorities and their rights. The Sneetches and Other Stories opposed anti-Semitism and Yertle The Turtle opposes dictators in government.

“You can do anti-racist work and also reproduce racist ideas in your work. And Seuss wasn’t aware that his visual imagination was so steeped in the cultures of American racism,” Nel told The Slate. “He was doing in some of his books what he was trying to oppose in others.”

The rest of Seuss’s works other than the aforementioned six titles in the Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ announcement will still be available for consumers.

“There are parts of his legacy one should honor, and parts of his legacy that one should not,” Nel told The New York Times.