New Study Published on Racism and Dr. Seuss

Paper published in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature questions representation in Dr. Seuss's children's books. Researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens cited racist and other problematic depictions in classic Seuss picture books, ranging from The Sneetches to Horton Hears a Who!.

Research on Diversity in Youth Literature (RDYL) has published a new study on racism in Dr. Seuss books. In “The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books,” published in the February issue of RDYL, researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens looked at 50 books and more than 2,200 characters written by Theodor Geisel over 70 years "to evaluate the claims that his children’s books are anti-racist," according to the paper.

Dr. Seuss’s storiessuch as The Sneetches and Horton Hears a Who!are often considered to be tales of tolerance and acceptance. Even those who admit to racist depictions in some early political cartoons often excuse Theodor Geisel as a man whose behavior was a "product of his time." They speak of him as someone who rejected those racist or anti-Semitic beliefs later in life. Ishizuka [who is a cousin of SLJ executive editor Kathy Ishizuka] and Stephens put the legend to the test by thoroughly examining the texts and character depictions.

The researchers looked at how and to what extent non-white characters are depicted in Dr. Seuss’ children’s books.

"We designed our study to provide important insights into the manner and extent to which White characters and characters of color are portrayed, and assess their implications to the development and reinforcement of racial bias in young children,” the paper said.

What the authors found did not support Dr. Seuss’s most ardent supporters:

When humans weren’t involved, the findings weren’t any more positive.

“In addition, some of Dr. Seuss' most iconic books feature animal or non-human characters that transmit Orientalist, anti-Black, and White supremacist messaging through allegories and symbolism. These books include ​The Cat in the Hat​; ​The Cat in the Hat Comes Back​; ​The Sneetches​; and ​Horton Hears a Who!”

In posting the paper on social media, the researchers wrote, “Almost every book and biography on Seuss's work to-date has been done by white researchers. As scholars of color, this article is unique in that it is written by members of groups Seuss explicitly degraded and dehumanized across his hundreds of racist works. We also write from our positionality as scholar-parents of children of color, and discuss how that informs our work and advocacynot only a personal level, but a national policy level.”

This research builds on previous work by the paper's authors. They are not the only scholars to look at the issue of Dr. Seuss and racism. In 2017, Kansas State University English professor Phillip Nel published a book Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism in Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, which examines The Cat in the Hat ’s roots in blackface minstrelsy.

As more have broached the topic, objections have surfaced and some changes have been made in reading programs. Last year, the National Education Association's national Read Across America program moved away from its decades-old familiar Dr. Seuss theme to focus on diversity.

The entire RDYL paper is available to download for free. RDYL is a peer-reviewed, online, open-access journal hosted by St. Catherine University’s Master of Library and Information Science Program and University Library. It is published twice a year.

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It seems to me that people just want to find race in everything. These are fictional characters, sure there are som humans in his stories, but wow! It’s a sad state we live.

Posted : Mar 04, 2020 05:25

Sue Smith

I was just curious if you looked into books by african-American authors to see how many characters are not African-American? Proportionally authors write about what they know and who they know . Think about it.

Posted : Mar 02, 2020 04:51

Carole Santaquilani

This study is a good example of how we live in a period when there is a hyper-focus on racism. In this case, in a children's classic. As if declaring it, in the manner of a SJW, in every corner of society, justifies dismissing any good there is, in the work, itself.

Posted : Nov 02, 2019 09:28

Patti Strom

I am amazed! When completing a study such as this, one should always have a diverse panel. By the admission of the article, the panel ( regardless of what they say they set out to do) was not diverse enough to do it. I suppose that next people will be burning books like Old Yeller because they will say that depicts “country folk” in a bad light or “Gone with the Wind” because people of color in that book were depicted in a racist manner. I get the point you wanted to make.... but it holds no water because your study group was not diverse. To me that seems a little racist that only people of color participated and that someone actually published such a biased article at which point extremists have started riding the coattails. Just a few more questions. Were the authors of this study trained in Psychology? Did they ask a psychologist who is trained in being raised racist? Did they ask Dr. Seuss himself about the whys? Or did they wait until he couldn’t speak for himself, bring a non diverse group together who apparently have no idea about being raised during his childhood, not bother to ask a psychologist about the profound effect it has on one’s psyche even when you think it doesn’t and go on to publish an article that will send radical behaviors right over the edge? Please understand that I take neither side but am more likely to side with Dr. Seuss simply because sometimes a non example is the best example. Teaching children what not to do is so easy when an example and reason has been provided. This article however should be teaching adults what not to do!!!

Posted : Mar 04, 2020 02:49



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