Manifestations of Racism

What To Do?

The scene of a white cop physically killing a subdued black man is validly and rapidly becoming the icon of racism in American.

And then there’s Dr. Seuss.

Suess’s children’s’ books have been educating and amusing generations of well- brought up kids.

Now, some self-appointed geniuses noticed that a few of his drawings contained figures of Asian people, which they then labeled RACIST.

To my knowledge nothing of substance in any Seuss books ever approached overt intentional racism. Nevertheless, the author’s estate has decided to permanently remove six books from the market. Five you’ve likely never heard of, with one of his first — “And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street”, from 1937 — rounding out the list.

Is it a good idea in battling racism to exaggerate and oversell?

It seems to me that trying to tag a dead writer as racist weakens the credentials of accusers and potentially does harm to the cause.

Suess worked in a time when there was not a wide awareness of racism as we know it well today. And, his writing (and perspective) shifted over the years, much as the country itself did. Later works like “Horton Hears a Who” (1954), “The Lorax” (1971) and “The Butter Battle Book” took on “otherness”, environmental protection and war and peace.

That, of course, is not an excuse—particularly if, in fact, Suess did harbor those feelings and thoughts. There is, though, no evidence of that.

While racism in all its forms must be challenged, there’s a world of difference between ill-considered illustrations in an 80-year-old book and the publicly funded tributes to treasonous racists dotting public squares that we’re only now beginning to rethink.  Both contribute to a culture of systemic racism that makes the deaths of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor possible.

The real issue, though, is that we cannot simply wash away our history. Indeed, denying it is famously said to ensure we will repeat it.  Our struggle against racism has not yet found the right balance between erasing our past and using it to illuminate a better, more progressive future.

Imagine a pre-school reading program that took “Mulberry Street” and other children’s books to trace the nation’s evolution on racial matters. That, it seems to me, would be a far better approach to making real progress than the Orwellian “it doesn’t exist, it never existed” decision of the Seuss estate.


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