Cancel culture is now hitting iconic children’s books author Dr. Seuss.
For more than two decades, American children have celebrated the famed author of such classics as Cat in the Hat, The Grinch That Stole Christmas, The Sneeches, Yertle the Turtle, and Green Eggs and Ham by honoring his birthday on March 2 in schools with a “Read Across America” day.
But now, teachers are being encouraged to distance themselves from books by Dr. Seuss. In Loudoun County, Virginia, the district writes, “as we become more culturally and racially conscience, all building leaders should now that in recent years there has been research revealing racial undertones written and the illustrations drawn by Dr. Seuss.”
The controversy began in 2017 when the National Education Association, NEA, announced that it was distancing itself from Dr. Seuss books in an effort to encourage diversity. There were growing concerns about the author’s much earlier works because they were shown to have depicted Asians and blacks in racially insensitive stereotypes. Seuss Enterprises addresses the conflict directly in its online essay writing, “These racially stereotypical drawings were hurtful then and are still hurtful today.”
However, the organization also notes that Dr. Seuss changed.
He went on to write the anti-facist tale Yertle the Turtle which warns against the rise of Hitler, as well as the book The Sneetches which tells the story of how sneetches with stars on their bellies were treated differently than those without stars. These were the stories that gained popularity.
But, nowadays, it isn’t enough. In fact, The Sneetches, despite its message of anti-racism, isn’t woke enough for today’s culture. According to a columnist writing in The Washington Post, The Sneetches “oversimplifies by presenting the constructs, such as race, in all their complexity, as being primarily about superficial outward appearance.” The story, the columnist concludes, lacks authenticity.
Given that most children are about five or six years old when they read “The Sneetches” maybe the beauty of the story lies in its simplicity. Maybe the story need not be so complex. After all, people are people, regardless of whether they have a star on their belly or not.
Theodor Geisel, the creator of the books himself, actually supported so many of the causes that those who want to cancel him hold so dear; The Lorax is a story that showcases the danger of abusing the environment. The Butter Battle Book is a parable against the arms race. And, yes, Yertle the Turtle is a warning against fascism.
Of course, the real question may be: are those that are in favor of burning Dr. Seuss books, actually the real fascists themselves?
It might be worth rereading Yertle the Turtle again.