It’s not about cancel culture, it’s about growth. This is the point that LeVar Burton wanted to ultimately make when he sided with Dr. Seuss Enterprises and their decision to no longer publish six of Theodore Geisel’s books.
LeVar Burton, who fronts the children’s television show Reading Rainbow but is probably more widely known as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek franchise, was recently on Full Circle with Anderson Cooper and opened up to the host with his thoughts concerning the six no longer published books. “Actually, I think that, in the general sense, once you know better, it is incumbent upon you to do better, and that’s exactly what Seuss Enterprises is doing here. They are being a responsible steward of the brand and they looked at these six titles and determined that in the light of today, they really don’t fit with the values that we’ve all come to know Dr. Seuss for,” Burton mused. He then spoke about one of his heroes. “Look, all of our heroes are human; they are all flawed. It’s one of the things I learned from Gene Roddenberry, one of my storytelling mentors. Gene was a guy who had this great vision, but he also wanted all the women in short skirts, so our heroes are flawed.”
LeVar Burton was talking about six specific titles that Seuss Enterprises will no longer publish: 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. These books were singled out in a recent study that was published in the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature and titled, The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books. In it, authors Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens studied 50 books that Geisel wrote as Dr. Seuss, finding that 43 out of 45 characters of color have “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism.” They also concluded that the two African characters have anti-Black characteristics. In two specific examples, the authors note that “In (The Cat’s Quizzer), the Japanese character is referred to as ‘a Japanese,’ has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji.”
Their second example comes from the book If I Ran The Zoo, where they point out instances of White supremacy and Orientalism. “The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in If I Ran the Zoo. The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance. The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as ‘helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’ from ‘countries no one can spell.'”
LeVar Burton wasn’t done theorizing on the perceived racist tone of the Dr. Seuss books or of America in general. He told Cooper, “America specifically, our xenophobia has crept into every aspect of our culture. And we have a tendency in this country to otherize everybody: Asians, Hispanics, Blacks. White normative culture has always been this way when it comes to the ‘other.’ We have tremendously racist underpinnings in this country. And the sooner we make peace with it, come to terms with the fact that this is part of the fabric of America, only then, only then are we prepared to do anything about it; make lasting systemic change.”
LeVar Burton wasn’t the only one who made news concerning Dr. Seuss. Earlier in the week, Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia decided to remove Dr. Seuss from their Read Across America Day. While they said in their statement that they were not officially banning the books, they were discouraging the connection between the event and Dr. Seuss’s birthday, which always falls on the same day (March 2). Part of their statement, via CNN, read, “Research in recent years has revealed strong racial undertones in many books written/illustrated by Dr. Seuss.”
In their decision to no longer publish the six Dr. Seuss books, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in their statement that they came to their conclusion after working with a panel of experts, which included educators, who reviewed their catalog, offering their opinions on each title. Their entire statement can be found here.