Most of you are probably aware of the controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss, especially with this week’s announcement that six of his books will no longer be published.
This is not a unique dilemma, and it is not just a literary one, either. When it comes to creative work, can we separate the person who made it from our appreciation of the product itself? And, if that work was once hailed as iconic in our history, can we cancel it when our interpretation changes?
First of all, let’s talk about Dr. Seuss, a complicated human being who some may argue evolved in his personal opinions about race over time. The evidence of some of his later books and stories, such as The Sneetches, Butter Battle, and The Lorax, certainly seem to reflect a view that humans should put aside our differences and take better care of each other and our environment. After a visit to Japan following World War II, he wrote Horton Hears a Who, and dedicated it to a friend he made in that country.
But, whether or not he was a good man should not be our concern. We need to stop glorifying human beings because we will invariably be disappointed when we dig deeper into anyone’s life. So, let’s stop seeing this as choosing sides for or against Theodor Geisel. He wrote and illustrated many racist materials. But he also created some incredibly thoughtful stories.
We don’t need to idolize this man who most of us never knew. Whether or not the 6 books that have been removed from publishing will be part of his legacy is up to the company who is in charge of his legacy. If you thought those books were so important, you have copies of your own – but I don’t think any child will lead a deprived life if he or she doesn’t read them.
If you are worried about censorship, you may want to read this article, which shows how many libraries are tackling the issue of these books and others that are coming to light as problematic in their depictions of non-white people. Basically, there is only so much room in a library, so decisions need to be made on a regular basis what goes and what stays. But we can also use these as lessons in history, pair them with more contemporary books to compare perspectives, and recognize that there are many issues that determine what is “art.”
The bottom line is that if we leave these books “loose in the wild” we perpetuate stereotypes for anyone who reads them without context. Would I still read a Dr. Seuss book to my class? Yes, but not one of those. Do I love Dr. Seuss? No, and never did. I admire his talent, and find some of his books to be masterpieces of children’s literature, but he wasn’t perfect.
And neither am I.
I will be adding this post to my growing collection of Anti-Racism resources. Please take a look, and feel free to offer suggestions!