Dr. Seuss’ racial his­tory ig­nites con­tro­versy

The Korea Times - - BOOKS - By John Wilkens

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”

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