Dr. Seuss Was a Racist

The Racist Side of Dr. Seuss You Didn’t Know About

Before Dr. Seuss was famous, he drew racist political cartoons during the 1920s through the 1940s. Was Dr. Seuss himself a racist, or did he just draw these cartoon for a paycheck? He was a racist.

Dr. Seuss racist illustrations

Geisel himself was vocally anti-Japanese during the war and had no trouble with rounding up an entire population of U.S. citizens and putting them in camps.

But right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: “Brothers!” It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not. We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.

Geisel was hardly alone in such beliefs but it’s still disconcerting to see ugly cartoons like these drawn in the same hand that did The Cat in the Hat. from Open Culture

Dr. Seuss World War II racist cartoons against Japanese Americans

Rather than in World War II where the Germans were seen as innocent, but led by an evil ruler, Hitler, the Japanese were all equally seen as evil, from the common citizen to the emperor. The distinguishing characteristics were also seen in Japanese-Americans, which caused the hatred and racism to extend from the Japanese to the Japanese-Americans. Attitudes such as these that classified all Japanese as the enemy allowed internment camps to be used and accepted by Americans, although just recently the American people had learned of the inhumane concentration camp the Nazi regime had used. from Dartmouth.edu

Dr. Seuss Racist Cartoons against Japanese Americans

His racist views were not limited to Asian Americans however. In his illustration, Dr. Seuss draws African Americans as apes in blackface. This drawing went to auction recently, where no one bought it.

Dr. Seuss racist cartoons

This panel, a hand-drawn, hand-painted illustration by Dr. Seuss that dates back to 1929, features individuals in blackface as objects for sale. It’s titled: “Cross-Section of The World’s Most Prosperous Department Store.”

Dr. Seuss racist drawings

For those unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss’ [white] supremacist tendencies, we regret to inform you of his heavily documented penchants. Beyond this image, the author and illustrator drew anti-Japanese cartoons during World War II, and was wont to express his prejudiced views vocally. from The Huffington Post

Dr Seuss Racist drawings

I personally don’t think that Dr. Seuss should be representing NEA (National Education Association) Read Across America program. Dr. Seuss’ heritage should be recognized in its entirety, and that includes his racist past. It’s amazing how this remains unknown to the general public. I only recently came across it when researching books for Banned Book Week but I have to say that I can’t look at Dr. Seuss in a favorable light anymore.

Dr. Seuss Was a Racist


By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

41 Comments

  1. Erika Finn

    This is terrible, Mia!!! What should I do with my Dr. Seuss library? I own every single one of his books! ๐Ÿ™

    • Hi Erika,
      I own at least three dozen books too. Honestly, they are great books. I’d keep them. I’m keeping my collection. What I am doing though is not promoting posts about Dr. Seuss on social media (which I’d normally do). So, bloggers if you wrote a post on Dr. Seuss, it’s nothing personal. Your blog is great but I just am not sharing on my social media.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…The Racist Side of Dr. Seuss You Didn’t Know AboutMy Profile

  2. Dee

    This breaks my heart! Especially since his wife/estate fought to keep the film version of Horton Hears a Who from becoming pro-life propaganda. I even share a birthday with Dr. Seuss! I’m scared to see what comes next. What’s hiding in Mr. Rogers closet? ๐Ÿ™

  3. I only just learned about this recently after my daughter did a research project on internment camps during WWII–so horrible. I’ll never look at his work the same way again–how can we??

  4. Erika M Finn

    Mia,
    That’s a really good point and a good strategy going forward. I will not be posting about Seuss anymore – and not including his books in photos on social media, etc. There are just too many amazing children’s books out there to promote and honor. We need to promote those books that empower all kids – and that we can be proud of. Speaking of – did I tell you that I JUST published my own children’s book? Haha! I wanted to promote positive, diverse stories – so I started my own mystery detective series (ages 8-12) and it focuses on positive sibling relationships as the detectives travel the world. I’ve got a whole series planned (three books written so far). I figure if you can’t find the books you want to read to your kids, then you should write them! LOL ๐Ÿ™‚ Here is the first book – I intentionally made the children in the book multicultural – so many different races of kids can identify with their story… not that I’m promoting my book here- just thought you’d be proud of me! Lol hahaha. It’s been really fun to get that creative side of myself going. It’s called The Mardi Gras Mystery – (The LOL Detective Club Book 1) by E.M. Finn and it’s available on Amazon… ๐Ÿ™‚
    Erika M Finn recently posted…Paprika’s Trip To DWTS!My Profile

  5. Wow. Mia, this is so important. SO important. I am definitely sharing this everywhere possible because I also feel I can’t support someone so clearly racist and negative. It goes against everything we are striving for right now. This is heartbreaking, but needs to be shared. Thank you for being brave and taking a stand. xoxo

  6. I think I’m the only person in America that didn’t care for Dr.Seuss to begin with, but this is just disgusting. I realize it was “a different time” back then, but there’s no excuse for it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Alicia,
      You can count me in on your side! I’m no longer a Dr. Seuss fan. He played a role in my mother’s forced internment during WWII for being Japanese American. She was born in San Francisco and her brother was a decorated member of the 442nd. I think Dr. Seuss should be outed for the racist that he was and the role he played in forcing Japanese Americans into concentration camps.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Restaurant Games to Get Kids Off ScreensMy Profile

  7. Thanks so much for writing about this! I never promoted his books on my site anyway as he hasn’t written any multicultural ones (now we know why). And I totally agree, with this past he shouldn’t be representing the Read Across America program.
    Svenja recently posted…Multicultural Book of the Month: Hip Hop Speaks To ChildrenMy Profile

    • Hi Svenja,
      I love your blog and book lists! You are amazingly thorough!! I was shocked to learn about Dr. Seuss recently too though the articles have been out for years. I’m not sure if the people who made the decision from Read Across America knew about his racist beliefs. It’s not widely known so I’d understand if they didn’t know. But I’m hoping that next year, there will be a new mascot!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Kid Lit Blog Hop!My Profile

  8. Whoa. I never knew this. What I think really shocks me (besides the racist side of him) is that the Japanese in his cartoons look a lot like his book characters. ๐Ÿ™
    Erik – TKRB recently posted…“Inspiring Future Scientists” – my latest Scholastic News articleMy Profile

  9. Wow. This is really eye opening. Thank you for sharing this, Mia.

  10. P.S. I feel pretty vindicated for hating Dr. Seuss’s books all my life!
    Erica at WDWDAD recently posted…Game of the Month: BananagramsMy Profile

  11. Thank you for sharing this on the DIverse Children’s Book Linky – I had no idea. It makes me feel ill… Although Dr Seuss was not big numbers-wise when my sons were small, Green Eggs and Ham and Horton Hears a Who were definite favourites. But as has already been pointed out, there are other great books out there so those are two books I won’t be saving for when I have grandchildren!
    Marjorie (MWD) recently posted…Review: Non-Fiction Photographic Story ‘The Lucky One’My Profile

    • Hi Marjorie,
      We own dozens and dozens of Dr. Seuss and my kids grew up reading and loving him. And now I learn that he played a role in my mother’s forced internment during WWII. I think it’s important for my kids to know about this too. I think I will still keep the books and the lesson is how media can influence the masses into acceptance of something that is wrong: movies, theatre, books and publications. And for the reader to be discerning when reading.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Taking a Children’s Book Writing ClassMy Profile

  12. Wow, I didn’t know this!
    Jodie recently posted…Classic Books for Kids: Oldies But GoodiesMy Profile

  13. Pam Bartusiewicz

    Racism is horrible – no doubt above it. I am very upset to learn about this dark side of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss in my book is a genius. We are criticizing a man from the 1940’s wih the opinions and mindset of 2016. What Americans did to the Japanese Americans is unexcusable. Japanese-American Interment Camps is an embarrassment upon our country and a great injustice. People were scared and rightfully so. Hitler, Stalin, etc. were horrible threats to mankind. Does this justify what Seuss or the Americans did to the Japanese-Americans – NO!

    No one is perfect.

  14. OMG . Thanks so much for opening my eyes.
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…Why I LOVE Saxon MathMy Profile

  15. It’s weird to me that the person who wrote Horton and STar bellied sneeches had this mentality because those seem to be celebrations of differences and diversity.
    I agree that we do need to look at things in context but hate is hate – something just being insensitive is one thing but those drawings are not simply insensitivite or uninformed. (For example, mark twain using the n-word needs context but was not hate-filled or done with malice.)
    Thank you for getting this in front of us so we can make more informed choices going forwards.
    My kids do love his books but there are plenty we love so it won’t be a loss if I decide to remove them…

    • Thanks Jennifer,

      Some think that Horton and Star Bellied Sneeches was Dr. Seuss’s mea culpa as he grew older for the racist cartoons he drew before he wrote books. He never did publicly apologize or explain himself. He dedicated Horton, I think, to a Japanese man from Japan — not Japanese American and visited the Hiroshima Bomb museum. Once a racist, always a racist?? I don’t know. I do know, though, that a Japanese national has never experienced racism in his own country so that’s not really convincing for me. That his racist cartoons against Japanese Americans contributed to their incarceration … does he have remorse for that? I don’t know.

      I just think that he’s tainted and should not represent Read Across America. That’s sending a statement of white privilege and that past racist acts can be brushed aside. I don’t think that’s a good message to send kids.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…The Nian Monster Chinese New Year Author EventMy Profile

  16. Wow, 32 comments and I don’t see any mentions of how many facts are either wrong or left out. Theodore Geisel first made his living creating advertising and political cartoons for a living. He was catering to the audience of his day. He was very much against the dictators of the time, including Mussolini and Hitler, whose presence you mentioned was in world war 1, which is wrong. I would recommend reading this article in the Atlantic that shows a more balanced side and explains the story behind the cartoons mentioned and many others that were left out that show his heart. http://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/515031/ there are also many in depth books that thoroughly examine his work as a cartoonist before he became a children’s author.

    • Hi Liza,

      “They also have their own flaws, most notably their racist portrayal of both Japanese citizens and Japanese Americans. Geisel’s bigoted treatment of both only a few months before the forced internment of Japanese Americans was something many believe he tried to atone for in his later books.” from The Atlantic. I corrected the typo for WWI vs WWII, thank you. But where’s the evidence that Dr. Seuss ever apologized or showed remorse for his racist political cartoons? This “interpretation” of his books such as Horton Hears a Who is not convincing.

      That he was catering to his audience of the day does not justify his racism, particularly when he is the featured author for Read Across America. Seriously, catering to his audience of the day in our times would mean that authors who are White Supremacists could also use the same argument.

      The article that you point out does not justify Dr. Seuss’ racism nor does it claim that he wasn’t a racist. Perhaps you should read about Americans during WWII who quietly stood up for Japanese Americans. Read Sylvia and Aki, for example. The banker who helps Aki’s father purchase land in the name of his son and rents the property during the time that they were forced into concentration camps is an example of “the audience of the time.”

      I would also want to point out that my own family was affected by Dr. Seuss’s dehumanization of Japanese Americans. Dr. Seuss portraying African Americans as monkeys also is an unjustifiable racist depiction that furthered support of Jim Crow laws.

      Dr. Seuss’s depictions of Mussolini and Hitler in his cartoons are a moot point: no one is claiming racism for that BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT PEOPLE OF COLOR.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…10 Books Featuring Kids with Incarcerated Parents & GIVEAWAY!My Profile

  17. melissa iwai

    So amazing and disturbing…. Thanks for sharing, Mia. People should know this.

    • Thanks Melissa!
      I’m working with another blogger to really address this for the upcoming Read Across America. I hear that they are discussing this issue at their upcoming board meeting. I honestly think that Dr. Seuss should be replaced by another author. There are so many great ones without racist baggage to build a literacy event around. Why not Eric Carle?
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…The Nian Monster Chinese New Year Author EventMy Profile

  18. A biracial librarian

    I am disgusted by Dr. Seuss’s racism and have just learned that the Cat in the Hat may have been inspired by minstrel shows! This was in Time Magazine, so it’s out there for all the world to see. I used to dress up as the Cat in the Hat on his birthday but will do it no longer. It makes me sad because I love the face of the cat and his smile….but I will always associate it now with a minstrel show, which makes me angry.

    And then seeing his advertisements in which Black and Japanese people are drawn grotesquely and the n-word unapologetically out there.

    The NEA has to retire the Cat. Perhaps they can use Pete the Cat instead or really get into the 21st century and feature books written by a woman (perhaps Doreen Cronin and her wonderful “Click Clack Moo” characters) or a person of color (I’m thinking of Floyd Cooper and his vivid illustrations of his African American characters).

  19. Carolyn

    I too am disgusted at the learning of this about him. It I did research further about this and found that he later in life regretted his racist views and the work he did depicting it. Which supposedly resulted in him writing Horton Hears a Who in which he even dedicated the book to a Japanese friend. Then there’s The Sneeches written about racial equality. I do believe in the ERA in which he did the controversial work, helped contribute to the things he did, unfortunately. If u look at a lot of cartoons back in those days, a lot of things were depicted(both in writing and drawings) in the same type of manner. For example look at Warner Bros and Disney’s early work. I am in NO WAY making excuses for racism at all, that is TOTALLY WRONG!… but I do believe people can change and repent of their wrong doings, and maybe he did that. Only he knows for sure.

  20. Chloe

    Wow I just learning something today about Dr.Seuss I never have own a book. But I have always read them in school or from a family members OR tv show. Just wow and wow

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