If you are the new Dr. Seuss Museum, do you acknowledge Dr. Seuss’ racist past or not? What’s the argument for either side?
Don’t Include Dr. Seuss’ racist political cartoons or racist books:
- The museum is about the author and not the person. Except … that the website specifically addresses Ted Geisel: The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is a permanent, bilingual museum designed to introduce children and their families to the stories of Ted Geisel, promote joy in reading, and nurture specific literacy skills.
- The museum only features original art by Dr. Seuss and does not own any of his political cartoons. Except … Dr. Seuss’ racist cartoons are being sold at auction and no one is buying them.
- The museum doesn’t cover the racism because the museum is geared towards kids. Except … The Smithsonian via the National Museum of African American History and Culture engages children in reflecting on and raising their awareness of racism. They opt not to display the devastating photograph of Emmett Till’s body at his funeral in the room in which his original casket is displayed. They explained it’s because they want to present the history in an age-appropriate way for kids to be able to see and acknowledge what happened. They are engaging with critical issues of racial injustice and intentionally choose not to shield children from confronting the realities of racism in America and American history.
Include Dr. Seuss’ Racism in the Museum:
Springfield Museums is missing a powerful opportunity to raise awareness of racism, and how stereotypes and propaganda operate.
Most people don’t know that Dr. Seuss drew racist political cartoons during WWII that dehumanized Japanese and Japanese Americans. Six days after his political cartoons were published in national newspapers, Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to Internment Camps.
The Racist Side of Dr. Seuss That You Didn’t Know About
Rethinking and Examining Dr. Seuss’ Racism
Many of Dr. Seuss’ books are also problematic.
Critical Analysis of Race in 50 Children’s Books by Dr. Seuss
- Of the 2240 human characters, there are 45 characters of color, representing 2% of the total number of human characters.
- Of the 45 characters of color, all 45 (100%) are depicted in a racist manner.
- Every single character of color is portrayed through at least 3, and sometimes all 5, of the following themes:
- Subservience: “Useful in an inferior capacity: subordinate: submissive”
- Dehumanization: “To deprive of human qualities, personality, spirit / to treat someone as though he or she is not human”
- Exotification: “portrayed as originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country / very different / “other””
- Stereotypes: “a standardized mental picture that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment / to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same”
- Caricature: “exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics”
- Of the 2 “African” characters:
- Both are depicted as monkeys (in the same likeness that Seuss depicted Africans and African Americans in his racist political cartoons).
- Both are depicted in a subservient role, carrying an animal to a white male child’s zoo.
- Of the 14 “Asian” characters:
- Eleven of the 14 “Asian” characters are wearing stereotypical, conical “rice paddy hats”.
- The three (and only) “Asian” characters who are not seen wearing “rice paddy hats”, are carrying an animal in a large cage on top of their heads. There is a white male child holding a gun, standing on top of the animal cage that is being balanced on top of their heads.
- Twelve of the 14 “Asian” characters are featured in subservient roles, hunting down or carrying exotic animals for a white male child. They are described by Dr. Seuss in the text as “helpers that all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell”.
- Of the 29 characters wearing turbans:
- Fifteen are riding exotic animals, including camels, elephants and zebras, and four are playing exotic instruments.
- Seventeen of the “turban-wearing” characters are in a subservient role, “fetching” something for the white male child; driving a cart full of white males; or, carrying something for a white male child.
- One of the “turban-wearing” characters is referenced as being suitable to bring back, along with the exotic animals, to be on display in the white male child’s zoo. In the book, If I Ran the Zoo, Seuss’s text reads “A Mulligatawny is fine for my zoo And so is a chieftain (referring to the turban-wearing man), I’ll bring one back too”. There is a notable history of white people putting people of color on display in zoos (see David, 2013).
Horton Hears a Who: White Savior
The Cat in the Hat: Blackface Minstrel
The Sneetches: Self Hatred of Oppressed Communities
If I Ran The Zoo: Racist Depictions of Asians
At the Dr. Seuss Museum: Oh The Places You Won’t Go by Sopan Deb, New York Times
“But the museum, which opened on June 3, displays a bit of amnesia about the formative experiences that led to Mr. Geisel’s best-known body of work. It completely overlooks Mr. Geisel’s anti-Japanese cartoons from World War II, which he later regretted.”
Oh the Places You’ll Go! Dr. Seuss museum opens its doors Associated Press
“The first national museum dedicated to the beloved children’s author and illustrator Dr. Seuss has opened in his hometown of Springfield, Mass. But Theodore Geisel’s early controversial political illustrations are conspicuously absent.” (June 5) AP
Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons re-emerge amid criticism of Donald Trump by Josh Hafner, USA Today
“Little-known editorial cartoons by Dr. Seuss re-emerged online this past week, as critics of President Donald Trump’s order on immigration and refugees drew parallels between the beloved children’s author’s warnings and America’s current political climate.
Yet Geisel fell victim to the very ignorance he fought: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, some of his cartoons took a bigoted turn with racist portrayals of Japanese and Japanese-American characters.”
Complicated Relevance of Dr. Seuss’s Political Cartoons by Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic
“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. But the body of work he created during the war helped establish the foundations of what the writer Philip Nel has described as “America’s first anti-Fascist children’s writer and it helps explain why Dr. Seuss continues to resonate now, more than 25 years after his death, and as American nationalism gains momentum once again.”
What do you think? What would you do If You Ran the Dr. Seuss Museum?
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
14 thoughts on “What would you do If You Ran the Dr. Seuss Museum?”
Thanks for drawing attention to this Mia – I read Dr Seuss repeatedly with my children when they were young and now feel somewhat mortified … Your post has prompted me to look again through our Seuss books collection which are a treasured part of our family’s personal history …. I think if I had been aware of the background to this author, I would not have introduced my children to those books in the first place and there are so, so many fantastic books for us to share with children it doesn’t really seem to make sense to keep looking backwards – at texts that are problematic – even if they are excellent in part and we share some nostalgia for them. In short, I think it’s maybe time we just moved on from these books …. another interesting case is Herge (TinTin) – also great and much loved stories (including in my house) but also with problematic depictions of other races. I don’t really know how the museum can ignore the racism of the author …. and yet of course if they acknowledge it, then they have to work out whether, given that racism, they should be celebrating his work – back to my original point!
I think you’ve very neatly summed up why the Dr. Seuss Museum is avoiding his racist past. Thanks for your insightful comment!
You can’t call it a “Museum” and leave out the racist past. Dr. Seuss did lots of great things for children’s literature, but all the lines they keep drawing and excuses they’re making appear arbitrary and self-serving.
If it’s about Dr. Seuss and not Ted Geisel, then make sure not to include any books written under that name (Ten Apples Up On Top) – or any history of the MAN behind Seuss at all.
If it’s just for kids, then call it a The Dr. Seuss Children’s Museum or the Dr. Seuss Play Place – but they know that would cut down on adult tourism … because WE know it’s not “just for kids.” And even if it were just for kids (which I’ve established that it’s not) – kids can learn about racism. Find a way to put it into a context that’s age appropriate. I’ll bet Seuss would have tried to do that.
So if I ran the Dr. Seuss Museum … I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling it a “Museum” leaving out the racist past. Call it a “Gallery” or a “Playhouse” – or add a respectable wing.
The way the Dr. Seuss Museum is reacting make me wonder if there is any diversity among the decision makers: the executive level team and the board. I asked for that info but no one has gotten back to me including their PR person who seemed so eager to meet me.
I think it would be appropriate to at least dedicate a room (near or at the entrance to the museum) to discussing this.
A room would be a great way to segment this part of Dr. Seuss’s racist history but I don’t expect that to happen.
It’s hard to read his books now, knowing this. I think we’re doing kids a disservice. This is a form of censorship in a way–not putting his work into historical/cultural context. I think the appropriate thing would be to display things and not “tell” the audience what to think, but raise questions. Place the book art and the propaganda next to each other. Museums tend to want to glorify the artist–but this makes him real, and flawed.
I hope that they will do as you suggest but I don’t expect it to happen. In that case, I can’t recommend visiting the museum to the moms in my area, and we are about two hours away from Springfield. I’ve shared my thoughts on various Facebook moms groups: Brookline, Arlington, Newton, Needham, Wellesley, Belmont, Somerville, Waltham, Watertown, etc.
I really do think that this speaks to a real lack of belief in children and their intelligence – just because a museum is “for kids” doesn’t mean that it can’t address important issues, challenges and controversies. Those of us who work with kids know that they aren’t stupid, and that they don’t need to be “shielded” from “adult topics” – in fact, kids are more than capable of questioning, critiquing and having thoughtful discussions and conversations! I really feel that they’re missing an important opportunity to talk about the complex realities of both the man and his time – the reality is that human beings can be capable of both wonderful things and terrible things, often at the same time, and that’s something I think kids can handle, and should explore. Such a shame, and a real wasted opportunity.
Thank you for sharing your perspective Jane! I’m actually not sure if the Dr. Seuss museum is using “kids can’t understand” as an excuse for not doing an exhibit or if they are afraid that if it is common knowledge that Dr. Seuss was a racist and some of his books are problematic that his books will no longer sell.
Mr. Geisel was writing these caricatures during WWII to warn of the dangers of Hitler and Tojo. Those getting hyperventilated are making a fuss just to make a fuss. Calm down, lefties.
What you fail to realize is that Dr. Seuss demonized Japanese Americans, making no distinction from Japanese as a danger. His anti-Japanese American political cartoons helped to pave the way for Internment camps. Notably though, Dr. Seuss made great effort to do the exact opposite for German-Americans and Italian Americans. His political cartoons were specific to demonizing Hitler Mussolini. Why the difference? Dr. Seuss himself was German-American and bullied during WWI for his ethnicity.
Until you brought this to my attention I had no idea. I cherish and applaud your courage to bring light to this very famous children’s book author. Thanks for you all you do.
Thanks for your support Valarie! It means a lot to me!