6 Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published due to racist images

Published 2021-03-04 07:41

Expert explains why images are harmful

If you’re a kid, or ever were one, you probably know all about Dr. Seuss.

The whimsical author — who died in 1991 — wrote about 40 books, including famous titles like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who!

But now, six of those books will no longer be printed.

On March 2, coinciding with Dr. Seuss’s birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that it had stopped publishing six of his books because racist images appear in them.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a division of Random House Children’s Books that manages the author’s legacy since he died.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises said that the decision to cease publication and sales of the books was made last year after months of discussion.

The six books are:

The six books include And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot's Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat's Quizzer.

What’s wrong with the books?

Although Dr. Seuss is adored by millions around the world for the positive values in many of his works, including environmentalism and tolerance, some say several of those books have caused harm with how they depict people of colour.

In If I Ran the Zoo, for example, there are characters referred to as Africans who wear no clothes except for grass skirts and are drawn with ape-like features.

Illustrations of African characters in Dr. Seuss’s 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo (Image credit: Dr. Seuss Enterprises)

Another example comes from a book called And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in which a character is called a “Chinaman who eats with sticks,” with slits drawn for eyes.

Why are these images harmful?

Lance McCready, an associate professor and director at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said these images are harmful because they draw on racist stereotypes.

According to McCready, a stereotype is a widely held, oversimplified and overgeneralized belief of a particular person, group or thing that is simply not true.

He said that stereotypes, like the ones Dr. Seuss uses, are harmful because people end up believing those stereotypes.

Lance McCready is an associate professor who specializes in social and cultural studies. (Image submitted by Lance McCready).

“When a child learns to read, and those reading materials contain stereotypical images, and there isn’t an opportunity for them to actually interact with the people or groups they’re reading about, then that becomes how they see those people, ” McCready said in an interview with CBC Kids News.

McCready explained how stereotypes of Black people, like the images of Africans from If I Ran The Zoo, have affected him in his own life.

“When I was in first grade, I’ll never forget when a kid, who was white, told me that I was stupid, and I said, ‘I’m not stupid, I know where I come from, I know my heritage,’” he said.

“And then he said, ‘You come from mud huts in Africa, you don’t know anything.’

“What that story shows is that that student, after viewing so many stereotypical images of Black people, really began to believe that this was not oversimplified, but that Black people all just lived in mud huts in Africa,” said McCready.

McCready said that because these books are still in circulation, and ‘there are movies that continue to be made based on Dr. Seuss,’ it’s important we address them now. (Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

McCready also said that just because we are talking about these images now, it doesn’t mean they were OK back then.

"Those were always stereotypical, oversimplified images of people …. they never reflected the rich diversity of those groups,” he said. “We’ve just become more attuned to the harmful nature of these images.”

So what’s next? Do we cancel Dr. Seuss?

McCready said that we don’t need to stop reading Dr. Seuss, but we do need to talk about the harmful images he created and learn from them.

According to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the author’s books made $33 million US before taxes in 2020 alone. Forbes listed him No. 2 on its highest-paid dead celebrities of 2020. (Image credit: Erin McCracken/The Associated Press)

“I think many people underestimate the depth of the racist, sexist, homophobic, abelist and anti-immigrant representations that really run through so many of the books and curriculum we use in education. We need to discuss them a lot more and confront them.”

McCready said that as we continue to learn about why these stereotypes were wrong, more beloved authors will likely be criticized and “we shouldn’t shy away from that.”

Other books and illustrations, including The Cat and the Hat, have also been criticized for depicting stereotypes, but for now only six titles will be discontinued.

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press

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