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Dutchess_III's avatar

What content in the Dr. Seuss books that are being discontinued is offensive?

Asked by Dutchess_III (43228points) 1 month ago

I’ve read them all but I can’t really remember any details.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

34 Answers

Zaku's avatar

Good question. Googling, I find many articles on the subject that at most list the books, but all seem to avoid telling us what’s supposedly objectionable.

Ironically, this makes me want to go find and read all of those books! I wonder if anyone knew this was coming and starting hoarding copies…

Darth_Algar's avatar

I can honestly say I’ve never read or even heard of any of those books.

janbb's avatar

There’s an article on CNN that lists the 6 books and describes what is objective in them. I’m busy right now but if you can’t find it. I can link later. Mainly it’s ethnic stereotypes.

Zaku's avatar

I found this on CNN:

It lists a few examples, but doesn’t really give all the details. According to the White House press secretary, the Department of Education should be willing to tell people the details.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Why can’t we just edit the books instead of discontinuing them altogether?

janbb's avatar

Dr Seuss Enterprises, which must be the entity that owns the copyright to them has decided to withdraw them. That is their right.

If you read the article, it does sound like the stereotypes are pretty offensive. I don’t remember those titles well enough.

The only one of the withdrawn titles that is famous is “And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street.” “The Cat in the Hat” and “One Fish Two fish” are not on the list.

I’m ok with their decision but I did find this sentence at the end of the article a bit absurd.

“The study also argues that since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss’ books are White, his works—inadvertently or not—center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy.”

Are we going to withdraw every piece of literature that has mainly white characters?

Dutchess_III's avatar

No one is questioning their right to stop publication @janbb. But aren’t there any other options than to wipe them off the face of the earth?

I read one article that said a “Chinaman” character in one of the books was portrayed with slits for eyes and walked around with a bowl of rice and chopsticks….

Zaku's avatar

They’re not being wiped off the face of the earth. They’re just not going to continue to publish new copies.

This is “the Chinaman who eats with sticks”:

si3tech's avatar

Good question. Lots of kids are going to miss out on some great books. It seems that “racist” is a hot button word that is thrown around so recklessly it loses meaning.

janbb's avatar

I think this Opinion piece summarizes how unimportant this issue really is in the scheme of things. Not that they shouldn’t stop publishing them but that the right makes such a big issue out of that:

Dutchess_III's avatar

That is pretty bad @Zaku. Like Little Black Sambo.
I just never saw the racism as a child….but I imagine it sunk in anyway.

Zaku's avatar

And according to this article the main complaint about “If I Ran The Zoo” is this picture for:

“I’ll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant
With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant.”

These sort of racial caricatures were extremely common 50+ years ago, and not generally taken (and I think, usually not intended) as racist… by most white Americans, anyway…

janbb's avatar

@Dutchess_III I don’t think many of us did see it back then.

I do wish someone would read the link I posted. It is basically saying that by focusing attention on these culture war issues while people are refusing vaccinations and not passing stimulus bills the Right causes real damage.

Darth_Algar's avatar


Nobody ever sees the racism when they’re children. When and where I grew up it wasn’t unusual to hear people refer to blacks as “niggers” or say things like “oh, don’t deal with that guy – he’ll Jew you out of your money”. This was just accepted by everyone and, of course, being a kid, I thought it was perfectly normal and say nothing wrong with it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Exactly @jannbb. But it sunk in. Do you remember when Crayon boxes had a color called “Skin Color” and it was peach? As a kid I accepted that without question.

JLeslie's avatar

People make it sound like all of Dr. Seuss has been torn down. I do think they could possibly revise some of the books, I’d have to actually read them through to give an opinion.

It’s not like this is historical material that we need to keep the language of the times. If it was a rhyme that used the old language that could be more complicated.

I can’t see criticizing him for having a lot of white characters. The books still deemed ok, new prints certainly could be made more diverse, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It would be nice though.

His books have talking cats and star bellied sneetches. Lol.

Stache's avatar

I’m glad I saved the books I have.

Demosthenes's avatar

The race to be woke and pre-emptively cancel yourself is a race to the bottom…

Darth_Algar's avatar

Was it “self-canceling” years ago when Stephen King decided he no longer wanted his novel Rage to be published?

ragingloli's avatar

Is it self cancelling that none of the “IT” adaptation has that infamous underage gang-bang in it?

hello321's avatar

@Demosthenes: “The race to be woke and pre-emptively cancel yourself is a race to the bottom…”

Can I translate this as…

“The corporate race to be profitable and pre-emptively take steps to be profitable is a race to the bottom…”


Cupcake's avatar

“In “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” a white man is shown using a whip on a man of color. In “If I Ran the Zoo,” a white boy holds a large gun while standing on the heads of three Asian men. “If I Ran the Zoo” also features two men from Africa who are shirtless, shoeless and wearing grass skirts while holding an exotic animal.”


Cupcake's avatar

This report is cited in the article I posted above, and is a VERY interesting read.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Thank you @Cupcake.
It’s a long, slow journey toward becoming better humans.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

I’ve only ever read “The Cat in the Hat”. Saw nothing offensive in it. As for the others, I cant say.

janbb's avatar

It’s all very interesting because Dr Seuss is pretty complex. I do think the images in those books are racial stereotypes and the books should not continue to be published. I suspect Dr Seuss was unconscious of his bias at that time which doesn’t excuse it.

However, prior to and during World War 2, he was virulently against the America First policy of tolerating the rise of Nazism and drew many political cartoons against it. This is one of the most famous:

He also wrote “The Lorax” which is a pro-environmental story. and The Sneetches which satirizes the dangers of bigotry.

It seems likely to me, that like many others, he evolved as he aged and became less prejudiced.

So, abandoning the works that have racist depictions while not condemning the entire oeuvre seems like a reasonable course.

janbb's avatar

And here’s another one of his anti-racist cartoons which would be apt even today (as the one above is):

Something really changed in him!

Headlines and sound bites never tell the whole story.

Jeruba's avatar

@Dutchess_III, it was “Flesh.”

Little Black Sambo, by the way, was about a boy in India, not Africa, if that matters. It was a great story. There’s no way it could simply have been bowdlerized, though, and that kind of surgical defacement is not the answer to racism in any case.

I also believe no author or artist would agree to have his or her work edited to purge it of what somebody else considers objectionable.

janbb's avatar

@Jeruba Especially if the author is dead already and the racist stereotypes are in the illustrations.

Luckily, most of Seuss’s most popular works are fine and will continue to be published.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Jeruba…I remember it being called “skin color.” But it really doesn’t matter.

Jeruba's avatar

The word “color” was not on any Crayola crayon. You can see “flesh” (later called “flesh tint”) on this list.

I remember wondering about the “flesh” label as a child, noting that it was not at all like my skin and that if I used it to color a person’s face, it would look far from natural. And this was before I was consciously aware of differences in skin color. (“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight” apparently didn’t register with me as objective information about the world.)

si3tech's avatar

For what it’s worth, Both eBay and Amazon are seeling Dr. Seuss books. I hadread
that eBay wouldn’t sell them anymore.

jca2's avatar

@Dutchess_III: It was “flesh” and you can google Crayola history of colors and find more info there.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes, “flesh” and pantyhose and bras were “nude” and some probably still are.

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