Families, students, and teachers across the nation have long embraced the brilliance of Theodor Geisel, commonly known as Dr. Seuss. But the famous author and his iconic literature are problematic in the current year, of course.
A study published this month and authored by self-described "critical race scholar-activists" Katie Ishizuka of The Conscious Kid Library and University of California PhD student Ramón Stephens dives into such allegedly problematic and racist facets of Seuss and his work. The study is aptly titled, "The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti- Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books."
As noted by The College Fix, Ishizuka and Stephens "interpreted the late author’s works as 'dehumanizing and degrading' to 'Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and people from other marginalized groups (including Jewish people and Muslims),' largely because non-white characters were illustrated in stereotypical fashions, they argued. They also claimed the books included 'white savior' heroes as well as dehumanized characters of color. The study found Seuss ... published 'anti-Black and anti-Semitic cartoons' and 'sexist depictions of women.'"
Ishizuka and Stephens also condemned Seuss for his underrepresentation of minorities in his works:
White supremacy is seen through the centering of Whiteness and White characters, who comprise 98% (2,195 characters) of all characters. Notably, every character of color is male. Males of color are only presented in subservient, exotified, or dehumanized roles. This also remains true in their relation to White characters. Most startling is the complete invisibility and absence of women and girls of color across Seuss’ entire children’s book collection.
As noted in the study, literary critics have applauded “Horton Hears a Who!” as an important book in promoting tolerance. “Several Seuss scholars infer that the Whos symbolize the Japanese and that the book is an apology for his anti-Japanese WWII propaganda,” explains the study. “Dartmouth professor and Seuss biographer Donald Pease calls Horton Hears A Who! ‘an explicit act of recantation of the caricatures of the Japanese that he had constructed.’”
The study’s authors, however, are unimpressed: “Seuss never issued an actual, explicit, or direct apology or recantation of his anti-Japanese propaganda or the calls he made to ‘kill Japs!’” they said.
"One of the reasons for that is the images and experiences that they're exposed to regarding marginalized groups and people of color," said Stephens, according to NPR. "And so [Seuss' books] being mainstream, and being spread out all over the world, has large implications.”
In 2010, then-First Lady Michelle Obama read Seuss’ work to schoolchildren to celebrate the apparently racist author’s birthday in connection with the Read Across America program. Mrs. Obama read “The Cat in the Hat” and told elementary schools in Washington and Arlington, Virginia, that Seuss’ “Horton Hatches the Egg” was one of the Obama family’s first beloved books, reported The Seattle Times.
But, as highlighted by NPR, in 2017, the National Education Association “rebranded” Read Across America, which included a distance from Seuss’ books and “Seuss-themed activities.” Instead, the organization “introduced a new theme of ‘celebrating a nation of diverse readers.'"