It seems that Dr. Seuss has fallen on hard times. His estate is pulling six of his books from production because of hurtful race representations. This has, of course, sparked the debate between period pieces and the clearly necessary reeducation that has to take place regarding race itself. I don’t have a solution here, but children raised on these books are among those who realize the dangers of racial stereotypes. In fact, even those of us who try to keep a weather eye on our own thinking process can at times get caught in the trap of thinking that “white” is “normal” and everyone else is a “variation.” The truth is we are all variants and political power, with its not-so-subtle adjunct money, have embedded racist thinking throughout our society.
Theodore Geisel was a broad-minded individual. His works often advocate for inclusion. He was also a product of his time, even as we are. The struggle to do right in the midst of a corrupt world is constant. None of us, I fear, have risen to perfection. The roots of racist thinking run deep and they re-sprout if just a fragment of a rhizome left behind. We should all know by now that slavery was evil and that a system that devalued other humans for money was clearly wrong. We should know that government policies that keep American Indians repressed and do so secretly are unethical. We should know that people from Asia have as much right to opportunity as those whose ancestry lies in Europe. Why is this so hard to learn? Why do we still have to fight to dismantle systemic racism in this “land of the free”?
Dr. Seuss has taught generations of kids that “a person’s a person” and that persons deserve fair treatment. He did it in the language and idiom of his own era. Those making the decisions for his estate are not trying to destroy his legacy. They are, however, asking us to look forward and to try to figure out where we go from here. Half a century ago we knew that civil rights were the only fair way to live. We’ve experienced globalization since then and we’ve been made better for having done so. Yet we are mired in preconceptions that can only damage our collective sense of justice, often falling along party lines. Dr. Seuss taught us well—shouldn’t we implement what we’ve learned?