Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump strongly backed the move to stop the publishing of six Dr. Seuss books in a column published Tuesday, arguing that the scrubbing of the books has nothing at all to do with “cancel culture,” and if you think it does, that’s because your culture is the problem.
“If curtailing racist imagery in Dr. Seuss is ‘cancel culture,’ what, exactly, is your culture?” questioned Bump.
Look, man, if you think obviously racist imagery is an essential element of your own culture, that says more about you than about Dr. Seuss. https://t.co/3t0Vra8XF5
— Philip Bump (@pbump) March 2, 2021
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced Tuesday that they will stop selling six titles, citing racist and insensitive imagery. The announcement came on the heels of an anti-Dr. Seuss campaign in Virginia and President Joe Biden’s pointed decision to leave out the prominent American author in his presidential proclamation for Read Across America Day, which is celebrated on Dr. Seuss’s birthday.
Bump argued that Dr. Seuss can’t be “canceled” because he’s already dead, adding that the “vast majority” of his books are still in circulation, anyway.
“No one is ‘canceling’ Dr. Seuss, a phrasing by now so detached from reality that it doesn’t even make any sense,” wrote the Post correspondent. “The author, himself, is dead for one thing, which is about as canceled as a person can get. The vast, vast majority of his books, the ones without racist images or references, will still be sold.”
“If Dr. Seuss’s profile wanes a bit as a result of the attention being paid to his drawings — the only form of ‘canceling’ at play here — to whom is harm being done?” he asked.
The answer, according to Bump, is the people with the messed up culture, those who are “afraid” of progress, those who value “traditionalism” — and you guessed it, he’s talking about Trump supporters:
The answer, of course, is people who perceive criticism of the casual racism of the past as criticism of their own behavior or as a reminder of how the world around them is changing. It’s not that some Dr. Seuss books are being taken out of rotation. It’s that Seuss is a benchmark for a particular sort of American upbringing. Calling out Seuss’s — infrequent! — racist imagery is therefore an attack on that view of American identity.
It’s a short hop from here to rhetoric demanding that we make America great again. This, as I’ve written before, was always the value that Donald Trump offered to his supporters: unwinding the clock to a point in which everything was stable and unchanging and systems worked explicitly, if often unwittingly, to the advantage of White men in particular. Challenging Seuss drawings exposes the racism that usually undergirded those advantages.
This has been an undercurrent to our political conversation for decades. It used to be that “political correctness” was the poison undermining the United States, a phrasing that emerged in response to a limited effort to change how things were described but that eventually served as a shorthand for “attacks on traditional culture.”
While bashing conservative Americans as backward rubes who hate change, Bump offered one sentence acknowledging that speech-policing and cancel culture can go too far, writing that some “efforts to police language or actions that, intentionally or not, risk chilling people’s willingness to speak frankly.”
Bump did not provide any examples of this, nor did he acknowledge that assessing past works by current social standards is asinine, or that if we were to actually do this with all past works, we’d have very little left to read or view.
Instead, he continued to slam conservatives.
“[U]ntil a few weeks ago, my son didn’t know this book existed. So where’s the harm in his not seeing its images?” he argued. “Why would anyone think it is less problematic for a kid to be exposed to racist caricatures of African (or, at a different point in the book, Asian) people than for him not to be?”
“This isn’t some toxic ‘cancel culture.’ If it were, what would that say about the culture that you’re defending?”