To the Editor:
On March 2, the publisher of the Dr. Seuss books announced it was pulling six books off the market due to cultural insensitivities. March 2 was also “Read Across America Day” — a day to celebrate children’s literature on the birthday of celebrated writer, Theodor Seuss Geisel. Some school districts discouraged the reading of any Dr. Seuss books that day. And the battle over “cancel culture” went into overdrive.
In reality, the most offensive examples of Geisel’s racism stem back to cartoons drawn in the 1920s. One cartoon depicts a department store advertising the sale of high-grade n-----s. Nearby, stand rich, white men considering the purchase of silly-looking black men. The joke is that wealthy men tend to purchase things they don’t need and do them no good. These earlier cartoons are shockingly racist by anyone’s reckoning. Nothing in the recently discontinued books comes close to the vile and naked racism of Geisel’s early cartoons.
It is well known that the later mature Geisel was strongly disturbed by his earlier racism and cultural insensitivity. Some of his later work can be seen as a public apology. Many of his books shaped our childhood imagination for good. Horton reminds us that “a person’s a person no matter how small.” The Lorax conveys a message of care for the environment. “The Butter Battle Book” takes aim at the dangers of unending war. The Grinch reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Dr. Seuss provides a potent, singular example of moral progress. His life’s work displays a trajectory from racial contempt to neighborly kindness. He embodied the lesson that we can all grow, fix mistakes and reinvent a better version of ourselves. To reject the whole because of the worst obscures the story of his moral maturation and generates contempt rather than compassion. We should open the doors on the whole of his life. We should read Geisel’s life compassionately and as a potent example of increasing cultural awareness and perhaps even a secular repentance. Dr. Seuss should be placed on a lampstand and not under a bushel.