Dr. Seuss’ racial history ignites controversy
SAN DIEGO — He was a doctor who made house calls, millions and millions of them, and his unique and wildly popular prescriptions influenced the way generations of children see and understand the world.
Now Dr. Seuss is undergoing his own posthumous examination.
Twenty-six years after the La Jolla, Calif., children’s book author died, some of his most beloved creations, including “The Cat in the Hat,” are being re-evaluated because of imagery that some consider racist.
The controversy comes amid a longstanding effort to correct a lack of diversity in children’s literature, which is itself part of the ongoing and often explosive debate about race in America.
On Thursday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the San Diego-based company that oversees the author’s estate, decided to remove a mural from the recently opened “Amazing World of Dr. Seuss” museum in Springfield, Mass., the writer’s hometown. Taken from the pages of a 1937 Seuss book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” the mural depicts a slant-eyed, chopsticks-carrying Chinese man in a way that critics called “deeply hurtful.”
“While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017,” said writers Mo Willems, Lisa Yee and Mike Curato in a letter explaining why they had decid- ed to bow out of a literary festival, since canceled, that had been planned at the museum for next Saturday.
In a statement, Seuss Enterprises said the mural would be replaced with images from later works like “The Sneetches” and “Horton Hears a Who!” that contain lessons about tolerance and inclusion. “This is what Dr. Seuss would have wanted us to do,” the company said.
The mural controversy came two weeks after an elementary school librarian in Cambridge, Mass., turned down a donation of 10 Seuss books from First Lady Melania Trump.
“Many people are unaware,” librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote, “that Dr. Seuss’ illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and racial stereotypes. Open one of his books (‘If I Ran a Zoo’ or ‘And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,’ for example) and you’ll see the racist mockery in the art.”
Her comments drew the attention of media around the world and sparked an uproar in all the usual places where America’s cultural and political disputes get aired.
While supporters praised Soeiro for raising the issue — “You rock,” read one posting, “My hero,” read another — critics accused her of being rude and ungrateful, of “political correctness.” They called her a hypocrite after a photo surfaced of her at a school event wearing a Cat in the Hat stovepipe and clutching a Cat in the Hat doll.
Her school released a statement saying she had been out of line.
Cover of “The Cat in the Hat”