While I am not a huge fan of censorship, I am even more adamant about eliminating racism. And for this reason, I could not hold my tongue. When I read that some of the Dr. Seuss books were being pulled from the public, I had to investigate. After all, it was Dr. Seuss books which fueled my interest in poetry, right behind Poe. So, it was a shocker to learn about this removal of books. Of course, there is a big rush on book sales for the censored books. I must wonder what that is about, but this is not the place to research that.
With cancel culture at a high point, it is easy to simply say, I am not going to have anything to do with Dr. Seuss. Rid my shelves of his books. Well, that is easy enough as I do not have one single Dr. Seuss book on my shelves. But let us hold on for a moment. As that old worn-out cliché of “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” comes to mind, that is what seems to me to apply in this situation.
On the Seussville page of the Random House website dedicated to Dr. Seuss, there a statement about the removal of the six books: “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.” Stating this is because: “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
Was Ted Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss indeed a racist man? After reading this well-written article on Dr. Seuss Art I learned a lot about how Ted Geisel evolved. And I had to reflect how, personally, I was also affected by the evolving of influences.
As a child and a baby boomer, I saw and heard so many expressions and artistic depictions of characters which would make my heart hurt. For many years, there were some expressions of which I was naïve, but once I learned what they meant, I no longer used them. Ironically, I also learned some expressions from people who were making jokes about their own heritage. What I did learn is that if you are of a certain culture and you make a joke about yourself, then that is retaining your own power, but do not tell that joke to anybody else, because it is hurtful, disrespectful. That is how I learned about self-deprecating humor. I have a hard time even uttering some expressions, such as in reading poetry and would rather not. It physically hurts my brain and heart.
As an in-home influencer, my father was heard making some expressions, but over the years he evolved. And when I read about Ted Geisel and how he evolved, I must believe it to be true. He was a military veteran, and he earned the highest honor of the Legion of Merit, same as my father did. Dad’s was for exemplary service throughout this military career. Both Dad and Geisel were praised for raising the morale of the troops.
Troops were of many races and cultures and I lived amongst all of these folks in school and in neighborhoods. And in these neighborhoods, the kids got close to each other. One of my first best friends was a black girl and her mother welcomed me, fed me, and encouraged the relationship as did my own mother. Mom had evolved, as well, as she grew up in a time when there were race wars and she was called “poor white trash” and had a scar from a brick hurled at her on the way to school. She did not fight back. She could have held that as a reason to hate, but she released it to us as a reason to love.
I am still mixed about my feelings about Ted Geisel, but I will always appreciate Dr. Seuss for those books which influenced me as a writer, and who helped me to expand my imagination, and to see possibilities with word play. There will be no books purchased by me. I have evolved, in a way, and this is because I no longer read Dr. Seuss, but if a child puts the book in my lap, it is pretty much a sign that it is time to read and to be sure and animate. But, if they happen to have a copy of a book with expressions or photos which are racially wrong, I will give them a good reason why it is a book which I do not support. And I do believe that education is the key to awareness and making each of our own decisions.