Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–91) wrote and illustrated more than sixty books under the pen name Dr. Seuss. By the time of his death, his books had sold more than six hundred million copies and had been translated into more than twenty languages.
Geisel was a graduate of Dartmouth with graduate studies at Oxford. His work received two Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. For decades, Read Across America Day has celebrated his birthday while encouraging children to read. Like millions of others, I read Dr. Seuss’ books as a child and then read them to our children.
Then came recent accusations that some of his books depict characters in racist ways. A school district in Virginia dropped Read Across America Day as a result. While President Obama marked the Day with a proclamation calling Dr. Seuss “one of America’s revered wordsmiths” and President Trump cited his “motivational words,” President Biden omitted any reference to Dr. Seuss in his recent proclamation marking the day.
In response to this controversy, the company that oversees the author’s estate announced that it would no longer publish six of his books, citing what it called “hurtful and wrong” images.
The company did not elaborate, but the New York Times reports that one of the books portrays a “Chinaman” with lines for eyes who is wearing a pointed hat and carrying chopsticks and a bowl of rice. Another book depicts two characters from “the African island of Yerka” as shirtless, shoeless, and resembling monkeys. National Review notes that another Dr. Seuss book seems to have been targeted for a depiction of an Eskimo and still another for an Arab-looking character.
Then eBay joined the controversy, announcing that it would purge all listings for the six books from its site. Notably, the e-commerce giant will still allow you to sell pornography, Mein Kampf, and Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.
The Sneetches and the United Nations
I understand the sentiment against cartoons depicting ethnicities in unflattering or discriminatory ways, especially in books that could be influential for children. When the company that owns the formerly branded Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup products changed the brand and dropped a logo known to perpetuate racist stereotypes, I wrote an article supporting their decision.
However, there’s more to the story, a dimension that affects every evangelical Christian in America.
Writing for National Review, Dan McLaughlin focuses on another book by Dr. Seuss that has recently come under fire, The Sneetches. He describes the plot: The Sneetches are identical birds, except that some have stars on their bellies while others do not. The star-belly Sneetches look down on the star-less Sneetches. Then a monkey named Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers to add stars to bellies for a fee.
Now that the star-belly Sneetches are no longer superior, McBean talks them into removing their stars so that they can declare star-less bellies to be the new grounds for supremacy. Eventually, everyone loses track of who had what, while McBean makes off with all their money. Poorer but wiser, the Sneetches abandon star-based classification altogether and live in star-blind harmony.
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SOURCE: Denison Forum, Jim Denison