The company that preserves Dr Seuss’ legacy announced Tuesday that six of the legendary children’s books will cease publication due to racist images. This decision provoked negative reactions from the conservatives who call it the ‘cancellation culture», And revived the debate on the promotion of classic books, but problematic.
The announcement took place on Read Across America Day, an initiative to promote reading among children, which falls on the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss.
Dr Seuss Enterprises admitted that the books – published between the 1930s and the late 1970s – “portray people in a hurtful and false way.” The decision may have prompted a refocus on classic works, but the conversations about racism and prejudice in the author’s books are hardly new.
“In Dr. Seuss’ books, we have a kind of sensitivity that is geared toward centering the white child and off-centering everyone,” said Ebony Thomas, professor of children’s and young adult literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of “The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games”.
“Dr. Seuss was shaped by a completely immersive white supremacist culture, ” Thomas said. “Even then, our ancestors and elders were protesting racist works and producing alternative stories for our children. How do we decide what lasts and what doesn’t? It is our responsibility to decide what kind of books to present to children. “
The debate is complicated because it must address the courage of classic books while taking into account the place of such stories in a world of diverse readers. A 2019 survey of Seuss’ works found that only 2% of human figures were people of color – 98% were white. The study found that the portrayal and references to black figures relied heavily on anti-darkness and images of white superiority. In “And Thinking I Saw Him On Mulberry Street”, a white man is shown using a whip on a colored man. In “If I Ran the Zoo”, a white boy holds a large pistol standing over the heads of three Asian men. “If I Ran the Zoo” also features two shirtless African men, without shoes and wearing grass skirts while holding an exotic animal.
While all of Seuss’ work has been called “dehumanizing and degrading” to blacks, indigenous people, Jews, Muslims and people of color, according to the survey, he is commended for promoting universal values. in children. President Barack Obama praised the author in 2016, saying, “Theodor Seuss Geisel – or Dr. Seuss – has used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers the universal values we all cherish.”
The books that will no longer be published are: “If I ran the Zoo”, “And think I saw it on Mulberry Street”, “McElligot’s Pool”, “On Beyond Zebra !,” “Scrambled Eggs Super! , ”And“ The Cat’s Quizzer ”. The company said it made the decision last year after months of discussions and hailed the decision as “part of our commitment and broader plan to ensure that the Dr. Seuss Enterprises catalog represents and supports all communities and families.
“I absolutely think this is a commitment to a better, fairer, and inclusive world of children’s literature,” said Ann Neely, professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, of the decision to the company. “We have so many great books for children today; there is no need to continue publishing books which are now inappropriate. We must evaluate children’s books according to today’s values and not according to our own nostalgia. Children need to see themselves, and others who may be different from them, in a specific and positive way. “
Seuss’ books have come under intense scrutiny in recent years. In 2017, a Massachusetts school librarian rejected Seuss’ books by then-first lady Melania Trump, saying they were “steeped in racist propaganda.” That same year, a Seuss museum in Massachusetts promised to replace a mural that featured images of “And think I saw it on Mulberry Street.” A 2019 book titled “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?” maintains that “The Cat In The Hat” was based on anti-black stereotypes and black-faced minstrel performances.
Besides the beloved books, Seuss also published anti-black and anti-Semitic cartoons in which he portrayed black people as monkeys and called them with the N word. Other cartoons featured sexism and racist depictions of Asia. , according to the 2019 analysis. Thus, the National Education Association – which manages Read Across America – has distanced itself from Seuss in recent years.
Criticism of Seuss’ works dates back to the 1980s. Today, parents and teachers wonder about the impact his works can have on impressionable young children. Children begin to form racial prejudices as early as the age of 3, and these prejudices are corrected by the age of 7, according to a study. By age 10, children exhibited levels of racial prejudice in adults, according to research.
“Today’s children are not us. We cannot continue to give our babies the same contribution as we do, ”said Thomas. “We now know there are anti-Asian stereotypes in ‘And Thinking I Saw It On Mulberry Street’, ‘The Cat In The Hat’ is minstrelsy, ‘When we know better, we can do better. “
Neely added: “By today’s standards, several of his books contain some pretty racist illustrations. These outdated stereotypes do not suit today’s children. “
Follow NBCBLK on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.