Read Across America is celebrated each year on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel. For years, Dr. Seuss has been the go-to book for early readers–books that kids loved and would actually read. Recently, Dr. Seuss has fallen out of favor with many educators because of the way he portrays people of color.
In a study published earlier this month in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramon Stephens found that only 2 percent of the human characters in Seuss’ books were people of color. And all of those characters, they say, were “depicted through racist caricatures.”
Last year when Melania Trump tried to give some Dr. Seuss books to the Cambridgeport Elementary School Library in Cambridge as part of National Read Day on September 6, the librarian turned the gift down because she considered the books to be racist. These books were the same titles that Melania had read to her son when he was young. This was the first (but not the last time) I heard about Seuss as a racist.
Seuss is supposed to have have written “an entire minstrel show in college and performed as the main character in full blackface.” And Suess wasn’t even a politician….
Seuss is not the first American children’s author who has fallen out of favor because of racism. Laura Ingalls Wilder, the long time popular author of the Little House series, was labelled a racist last year because of the way her books portrayed Native Americans. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has long been on and off banned book lists for years.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been contested for many reasons. Some readers object to the strong and sometimes racist language and think it’s inappropriate for children. However, most educators think given a proper context the book is a great read.
When is the right time for child to read books that many percieve to be racist? Does the child need to be old enough to understand that harmful stereotypes are not true and may be hurtful? In the case of Dr. Seuss, could his books that feature animal characters and not humans be more acceptable? ( I have heard of people who think that Cat in the Hat is racist so that may not be a suitable idea either.)
Do you think that Seuss was a racist and should not be taught to children?