The Seuss Books Are Not Racist
Are Dr. Seuss books racist? According to Sandra Sturdivant, as reported by BBC News, when Professor Sturdivant from University of Michigan investigated the works of the Seuss character, he found that the main characters and scenes depicted in Seuss’s books were rarely stories of racism, and were instead stories of acts of oppression, and of people coming together. Which is an interesting statement. But then, surely, though the author was not racist, the story was just a regurgitation of the craziness of racism in our culture.
Of course, you may challenge Sturdivant’s findings. And you may start to read the books and go, “Yes, but really?” Or you may be the one who casually dismisses them by saying, “You know, he doesn’t say that he’s racist and he never writes about people’s race.”
Before answering your question, it’s worthwhile to pay attention to how the texts are read today. Consider:
Karthewell and Barcroft are religious superstitions from the Middle Ages. They are seen as curses against vices – gambling, for example – and are primarily rooted in superstition. Historians note they are simply repurposed forms of the Dark Ages belief system, like abominations, which still exist today.
It is often believed that Aryans once practiced Papalism. But John Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and The Hollow Men are all uncharacteristically dour and dark for 18th century authors. And all were published in 1716. If those texts you were taught as childhood were all dour and dark, and if the books used in your education were never dour and dark, then I believe you would not accuse the Seuss characters of racism.
Another possible argument is that the Seuss books aren’t about being racist, but rather about making heroes of minorities and ostracizing those who don’t see themselves represented. This doesn’t mean the text is appropriate, just that it’s not what the author intended. However, the argument is simply without merit. Readers are fine with accepting that they are seeing a twisted version of history.
It’s often said that the worlds we are born into are seriously altered by our views and perceptions of ourselves, and that we are just trying to learn about the world. Therefore, we must struggle with past versions of our own world. As Shakespeare writes, “How Great Thou Art!”
Many books contain racial, or other forms of bigotry, because they are being studied by scholars who understand that it has not gone away; that young people have different ideas about race and other forms of discrimination. And it is as many as we need to come to some sort of understanding.
All that being said, I believe reading these books will help students learn not only that they are viewed differently, but also that that’s OK. Learning how to see ourselves from other’s perspectives is a difficult task, and it can take years of learning to make it easy. The Seuss books are, however, perfect for this purpose, and they are perfect for any young person who really wants to learn how others see them. And who is really capable of seeing their own attitude of racism as something they need to change.
While we are discussing this, consider two other essays on our website that help illustrate this.
Harriet Wrangham’s publication, “We All Do Racism: How to Stop Feeling So Afraid” explains that we can’t change other people’s thoughts about us just because we feel we need to. All we can do is learn to want more from them – and then we can make it happen.
In the “Free From Racism” section, a piece from Charles Johnson highlights a column I wrote discussing how we can get more fair workplaces. It’s a call to the private sector and the public sector. We both agree that fairness is important, but that action should be taken.
It’s this last page I’d like to emphasize. In the Seuss books, a white child is exposed to a story about a poor young black boy, and that’s what sets off the many pieces of the “no” response that young white children are taught about race at school every day.
If we continue reading these books, we are hopefully seeing instead a world of more fair employment practices, higher wages, and more inclusion. And more races and genders are able to be leaders. And there, right there, is a clue. When a white boy is present in the