I will admit that before this year, I had not heard too much about Theodore Geisel’s racist past. Of course, this showed up on my feed as cries of “cancel culture” claiming that people want to do away with teaching Dr. Seuss. Now, I am experienced enough not to ever take a social media post headline at face value, so I did some reading on my own, and you know what … he did have racist cartoons.
I had to do some very specific googling to find them, they don’t show up if you just search Dr. Seuss or Theodore Geisel because of the huge number of articles about him, but once I added the term “racism” I had a lot to look at. So, it turns out that Dr. Seuss was racist leading up to World War 2. He worked as a cartoonist for newspapers creating editorial cartoons and comics to help sell war bonds, as well as other advertisements. These cartoons are horrible. He had no qualms at all about the Japanese Internment Camps, and many of his cartoons had very offensive stereotypes of Asians and Black people. So, do we stop teaching about Dr. Seuss?
To me this subject falls in line with our “teach the good” goal at Baking History. I’m not going to stop teaching about Dr. Seuss, but I am going to start educating about his comics and the systemic racism of society.
Popular culture in 1937 when “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”, Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book, was published most people did not even blink at the stereotyped yellow “Chinaman” running with sticks in his bowl. Neither did they cry out at the comics that showed Black Americans as monkeys in blackface.
I am going to teach the good, that Theodore Geisel is not a perfect human to be put on a pedestal, but that he learned to move past what was accepted in society and later to write books such as the “Butter Battle Book” about the arms race, and “The Sneetches” as a story about equality. Eventually Dr. Seuss had “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” republished, replacing “Chinaman” with “Chinese Man” and removed the caricature’s yellow skin color. Dr. Seuss’s most well-known works, “Horton Hears a Who!”, “The Lorax”, and “The Sneetches” were published after 1961 and all teach about inclusion and acceptance of others and are great starting points for young readers.
We don’t need to stop teaching Dr. Seuss, but we cannot teach about Dr. Seuss the philosopher without also teaching about his racist past. As Yiffe said this morning when we were discussing this post. we “weren’t born woke, we were willing to listen”. We need to teach about learning to listen when you discover that your thoughts/beliefs/actions are hurtful and becoming a better human.