Oh, the Books You Won’t Read!

When people cry out against a film or book’s contents, often those critics never saw the film or read the book.

So, upon hearing the news on March 2 that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, who controls the publication of Ted Geisel’s (his real name) books, would no longer print six of his titles due to racist images, the first thing I did was reserve them at my local library so I could see for myself the controversial drawings.

Let’s take a look at all six books in order of publication date and the questionable material.

And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937)

There is a drawing of “a Chinese boy who eats with sticks.”  Don’t some Chinese use chopsticks?

One image not labeled as offensive is a Rajah who is pulling a wagon of seven musicians, all white.  Does that indicate that the white men are enslaved by the Rajah?  I guess that’s okay.

What makes this book’s demise worse than the others is that it was Dr. Seuss’s first book.

McElligot’s Pool (1947)

I had to research the offensive image since I couldn’t find one.  It turns out that on the page which reads “Eskimo Fish from beyond Hudson Bay” the fish appear to have oval not round eyes.

If I Ran the Zoo (1950)

This is the only book on the list that I would agree has two troubling racist drawings:  one of Africans and another of Asians.

Scramble Eggs Super! (1953)

An Arab-looking man in a turban.  Don’t some Arabs wear head coverings?

On Beyond Zebra! (1955)

An Arab-looking man sitting on a camel.  Don’t some Arabs sit on camels?

The Cat’s Quizzer (1976)

On page 11, a question asks, “How old do you have to be to be a Japanese?”  Answer on p 58: “All Japanese are Japanese the minute they are born.”   What’s wrong with this?

On page 28, “Do the Japanese eat with pogo sticks or joss sticks?”  Answer on p. 58: “Pogo sticks they jump on.  Joss sticks they burn.  They eat with chop sticks.”

Seuss does draw the Asian characters with narrower eyes than Caucasian’s.  So, what should a cartoonist do?  Draw Asians with Caucasian-like round eyes?

By the way, in none of these images are the characters portrayed as villains.

And who is picking up on this so-called offensive material?  The kids?   You mean, a child is going to ask his parent, “Mommy, why does this man eat with chopsticks?”  And if this ever did happen, the parent has a teachable moment that is now never going to be there because that book from 1937 with the one image will no longer be there.

Also, why aren’t those who are supercritical of Dr. Seuss books concerned about the non-stop gutter language and other images that permeates all media these days?  Surely, that is causing more damage to young people.  Think of how many parents don’t monitor their children in their own homes using cell phones and laptops and the content that they are absorbing.

Another criticism of Dr. Seuss is that he mainly drew white people thus perpetuating white supremacy.  First of all, these are not history books but fun, light-hearted children’s books. All the characters are drawn in fantastical ways not meant to resemble photographs.

Second, Dr. Seuss was white so it makes sense that most of the humans in his books are white.  How does make him a racist?   If the illustrator was black and drew only black characters, would that artist also be viewed as a racist?

Seuss drew mainly men with very few women. Does that mean Dr. Seuss was a sexist?

The absence of certain sexes and races does not denote a sexist and racist person.  Like any good writer, he wrote based on his experience.

 What the publisher should have done is followed the lead of companies like Warner Brothers who have disclaimers on DVDs of old cartoons, some of which were propaganda during World War II, but allow the uncensored material to be seen in its original form.

Look, we all can do better when it comes to treating all people with respect and dignity.  But for critics to seek out in all the nooks and crannies every dot of possible insensitivity and to obliterate the book, the movie, the statue, such action is doing much more harm than the image itself for those who are “woke” are determining what future generations will know about the past.

And then do you know what you are left with?  Nothing.  No history of how people lived in a certain time period, or insight as to what people were dealing with in that moment.

What is preventing future generations from destroying the concentration camps in Europe so that the German people don’t feel victimized?

Sounds farfetched?  Not when Dr. Seuss books are being canceled.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises has caused more damage to Geisel’s reputation than these few images ever did.  Plus, they are benefitting financially at the expense of his reputation since once people heard about the banned books, they became hard to find items. 

What the publisher should do is collect all the money that is pouring in for these six titles and donate it to groups promoting tolerance such as the Anti-Defamation League. 

But I wouldn’t hold your breath of this ever happening.  It turns out that Dr. Seuss earns the most money of any deceased celebrity except for Michael Jackson; according to Forbes, in 2020 he earned $33 million, with more coming in for 2021, I’m sure.