TO The leading expert on racism in children’s literature has said that the Dr. Seuss Foundation’s decision to recall six books should be viewed as a “recall” and not, as many claim, an example of a cancellation culture.
Philip Nel, English teacher at Kansas State University, is the author of Was the cat in the hat black? The hidden racism of children’s literature and the need for diverse books. He told The Guardian of the six Theodor Geisel titles published between 1937 and 1976 that Dr Seuss Enterprises said it would stop printing stereotypes that contained stereotypes of a clearly racist nature.
“Dr Seuss Enterprises has made the moral decision to choose not to benefit from working with a racist cartoon and they have held themselves accountable for the art that they are putting out into the world and I would support it,” said Nel.
The titles in question are And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, If I Managed The Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra !, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer. Dr. Seuss’s books have sold some 700 million copies worldwide.
After this week’s announcement, amid a scandal fanned by conservatives in the media and Congress, Dr. Seuss’s books quickly dominated the sales charts. On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even shared a video of himself reading Green Eggs and Ham, a strong and perennial salesman.
“I still like Dr. Seuss, so I decided to read Green Eggs and Ham”, McCarthy saying, inviting viewers to respond “if you still like him!”
Geisel’s stepdaughter, Lark Gray Dimond-Cates, told the New York Post “There was not a racist bone in that man’s body,” but he also said that suspending the publication of the six titles was “a wise decision.” But the controversy left many stumped, as the decision was made by Dr Seuss Enterprises and not as a result of the public pressure that has preceded other similar decisions.
Nel said the decision not to publish more titles that include cartoons of people of African, Asian and Arab descent showed only one way to address the problematic material.
“[The books are] it’s not going to go away, ”he said. “They are not prohibited. They are not canceled. It’s just a decision to stop selling them. “
Geisel died in 1991. Later in his life, he strove to tone down racial stereotypes in some of his books. Such revisions “were imperfect but intentional efforts that softened but did not erase stereotypes,” Nel said, noting that Geisel also joked about the changes, “which only served to trivialize the significance of the alterations.”
Movements to correct dated or offensive cultural material take different forms. Turner Classic Movies, for example, has introduced Reframing: Classic Movies in the Rear View Mirror, a series dedicated to “problem” films. TCM identified 17 films that five presenters will discuss, including Gone With the Wind, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Tarzan, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Searchers and Psycho.
“We hear more and more from audiences about moments that really baffle them, if not offend them, in light of all the broader cultural and political conversations we’re having,” said University of Chicago film studies professor Jacqueline. Stewart, Host reformulated, he told Variety.
TCM’s decision to seek to contextualize the films but not alter or discard them may reflect the importance of the works and a more mature target audience. Nel said that placing contentious work in a broader context and inviting discussion can be risky when the work is aimed at younger consumers.
“Children understand more than they can articulate,” he said. “If you impose racist images on them before they can express what they are articulating, they may suffer harm that they cannot process.”
In Dr. Seuss’s case, Nel said, that “is in itself a reason to remove the books or bring in books or art that counter stereotypes with the truth.”
He pointed to statistics showing that the publishing industry still has a way to go. According to a recent Study on diversity in children’s books, only 22% of children’s books published in 2018 featured non-white characters.
Nel pointed out The Indian in the closet Lynne Reid Banks series, Penguin Random House titles about a Native American toy figure brought to life, first published in 1980, as an example of a book remaining in print without comment or apology.
“There are many examples of old and contemporary work that the publishing industry should address,” he said, “and there are different ways to do it. There is a debate about what the answer should be, but there should be an answer. “
Simply asking parents the question of what a child can or cannot see would not be an adequate solution, Nel said.
“Parents may not have training in anti-racist education,” he said, “or they may not know how to have these conversations. So in Dr. Seuss’s case, it’s a way of addressing the gap between what one might expect a responsible adult to know and what we can expect a responsible adult to know.
“Either way, children’s book publishing faces a reckoning, as indeed it has been for some time. I hope that this decision and all the attention it has received will generate a broader settling of accounts in the publishing industry: the need for more diverse books and to address the problems of the books that are currently being published ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism