Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

In a world where racism spreads faster than a pandemic, mere words are no longer enough. To eliminate a disease, one must tackle the source while treating the symptoms. Teaching young correct behavior is the duty of any responsible parent or teacher. Furthermore, since children’s books are some of the most ignored sources of racism, eliminating the racist and insensitive portrayals from them is one of the most essential steps in fighting against racism. Therefore, Dr. Seuss Enterprises have announced that they will no longer publish or license six of the author’s books due to racist portrayal of people of color.

Preserving the author’s legacy

While celebrating the 117th anniversary of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that they will no longer publish six of the author’s children’s books. The books concerned with the announcement include If I Ran the Zoo, Scrambled Eggs Super, McElligot’s Pool, The Cat’s Quizzer, and On Beyond Zebra!

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises elaborated in a statement. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the company said in a statement. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Insensitive portrayals

Though Dr. Suess is known for revolutionizing the children books industry and creating unforgettable beloved characters, many experts have criticized the portrayals of the non-white characters in his books. The books have not only been translated into numerous languages, as well as in braille, but they are also sold in more than 100 countries. 

However, despite their enormous popularity, experts, parents, and teachers argue about hidden propaganda affecting his young audience. Many of the portrayals are either cartoonishly stereotypical or blatantly racists. For example, in his book “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”, there is a Chinese character wearing traditional Japanese-style shoes while carrying around a bowl of rice and some chopsticks. The character also has two lines for the eyes. Another example is found in the book “If I Ran the Zoo”. The book portrays two African men being shirtless, shoeless and wearing grass skirts. 

After a backlash from educators, Dr. Seuss enterprise listened and determined to be on the positive side of change. “Dr. Seuss Enterprises listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics, and specialists in the field as part of our review process,” the company told the Associated Press. “We then worked with a panel of experts, including educators, to review our catalog of titles.”

The problem of scarcity

While Dr. Suess’s enterprise is taking some of the first steps toward creating a better children’s books industry, the problem is far more rooted.  According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), the representation of ethnic and people of color in children’s books is very scarce. Even when represented, these characters are often portrayed either stereotypically or wrongly. Even when these characters are represented rightfully, they often only take the part of the minor character. 

Furthermore, according to Varian Johnson, author of The Great Greene Heist, the lack of diversity in children’s books is very damaging. “You walk into a bookstore and it’s a sea of white. It’s tough when you’re not represented out there in the world—it makes you feel very strange about yourself like you don’t matter.”

Moreover, the founding member and VP of development for We Need Diverse Books further elaborated on the issue while talking about her own experience. Growing up with no in-depth characters representing the Asian community only served in making her accept erasure mentality as normal. 

“I turned to books to figure out how to navigate life and relationships,” Gregorio said. “And as a result of reading so many books with white characters, I internalized that role. I became a ‘banana’: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Self-hating.”

A generational problem

The problem of false and racist portrayals in children’s literature is an old one. However, the public is finally gaining awareness and demanding change. Though some of the criticized Dr. Suess books will cease publication, other children’s books harboring the same issues won’t. However, that doesn’t change the fact that this generational problem is finally receiving solutions. 

References:

a, L. E. A. H. (2015). I never noticed how racist so many children’s books are until I started reading to my kids. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2015/7/10/8901109/childrens-books-racist-sexistBBC News. (2021, March 4). Dr Seuss: Six books withdrawn over “hurtful and wrong” imagery. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-56250658Charles, R. (2021, March 2). The time is right to cancel Dr. Seuss’s racist books. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/dr-seuss-books-canceled-notebook/2021/03/02/b3496b98-7b55-11eb-a976-c028a4215c78_story.htmlHuber, L. P. (2021, January 4). Rooting out racism in children’s books. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/rooting-out-racism-in-childrens-books-149432