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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Cynthia Kline

It's quite simple if any of these books offend you don't read them but it should be my choice to read them if I wish to

Posted : Mar 03, 2021 01:35

nikki salmas

please stop being
so bad

let dr seuss keep all
that is in his hat

your decisions are in direct contrast to the intent of Dr Seuss to see humanity in an authentic manner... hoping you will reverse your decision and not be so pathetically pushed by those who serk to destroy that which dr seuss wisely communicates in every one of his stories...

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 11:28

Dan Weingarten

I taught preschool special education and head start for over 35 years, with a heavy emphasis on language development. So Dr. Suess was one of my go-to authors. I could probably still recite the entire text of “Fox in Socks” from memory, fast. Apart from a few cartoon characters dressed in oriental costumes, I don’t recall any of the characters as being representative of any ethnic group. And I was an adult who was very sensitive to inaccurate depictions. Needless to say, the children were not picking up on veiled racist undertones. After all, the illustrated characters are mostly BRIGHT yellow, red, green, blue, or crazy combinations of those colors!! How is a child supposed to deduce that any one of these characters is representative of any ethnic group?!? Dr. Suess designed these characters to convey good messages and values, to entertain, and, above all, to stimulate language development. It’s time for the self-appointed PC cancel-culture police to quit looking everywhere for something that might offend someone that they don’t even know but claim to be defending. Or, more succinctly, get a life.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 10:32

Daniel Moldovan

So it seems we've come to putting children's books under a microscope. Is it safe to say that when any study of almost any literature that's been around awhile there will be issues? Or is it safe to say that if a group is focused on finding something offensive that almost always something can be found. This in my opinion is a prime example of cancel culture. The books are innocent. As I read them I never even noticed race in the pictures. In closing would it be safe to say that we should remove titles like "The Color Purple" for how they protest people that are white? Or would that make me racist? SMH

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 09:23

Jason D

Glad to see that people are recognizing this finally. Good thing they're banning this racist junk.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 07:45

Darla Cottingham

I LOVE Dr. Seuss Books! His books are about made up creatures and rhyming words, most of which are made up too. They have nothing to do with COLOR or RACE of any kind. Do people not have nothing better to do than to start ARGUMENTS between people. Anyone who believes this MESS IS A, I better not say it cause it might OFFEND SOMEONE in some way! So I will keep my Dr. Seuss books and continue to read them on Mulberry Street corner so all can enjoy the imagination of Dr. Seuss!

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 07:06

Scott Huber

It is disturbing to me that anyone feels it is appropriate to generate cancel buzz about books. Maybe the good Dr. did use some racial or non-diverse language or drawings in his book but this should not be cause for an over-all indictment of the author who made every effort to present a diverse world and as Debra put it put forward both good messages on "diversity and equality". This country is not a giant Safe Space nor is the World, what happens when you leave the sheltered space of academia and go out into the real world. Who ever does not want their Dr. Seuss Books let me know, send them to me just don't be a negative activist and burn them. At the risk of being censored, we haven't had any real fascist here in a long while and we don't want any now. One should also remember it is easy not to buy something that is offensive, if you do not like the message please do not waist your money on it.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 06:44

Catherine Navarro

Dont you think this racist etiology has gone to far. Not everything hasto be of racism. Sounds to me like the party's involved need a head check.
These books were read to me as a child and I never felt left out. It actually gave me encouragement to read.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 06:03

Edward Sherron

Unbelievable and how far will this continue to go...when will other books be banned...what happen to freedom of expression. The left knows no bounds....

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 03:39

Lucy Smith

Absurdly, dramatically oversensitive; determining the desired outcome rather than letting research dictate the outcome. Social science fluff at its best, not worthy of an iota of time or space in any public forum. The authors deserve ridicule rather than praise. Truly a piece of research that spotlights the psychological perversions of OUR time.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 03:37

David Ritchie

You have to look at the writers ethnicity. A black writer would have black characters, Asian would have Asian, etc. We are what we are and percentage numbers don't work. Are people going to be required to make sure that ethnicity requirements are met before writing a book? Fools figure and figures fool. Leave people alone and let them write and we the people will decide what is proper.
Leave Dr. Seuss alone.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 03:23

Salesia Roberts

As a person of color, I’ve never been offended by Dr Suess books. I grew up with them and don’t see the problem. But I do see a problem with the over sensitivity of people and cancellation of culture. It seems people are looking for problems where there are none. People don’t have to buy these books! Don’t ruin it for those who enjoy them and aren’t so ‘precious’.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 02:44

Robert Odom

This comment section is a great example of white fragility. Accept that the biases of authors informa their works and that underlying messages even if not overt still have an impact. The fact that you don't recognize it as a white person only further illustrates blind spots that white people have. Instead of getting defensive, ask yourself why you are so defensive.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 02:01

Darlene Cox

Buying them up for future generations. Dr Seuss is for welcome in my house.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 01:35

Christopher LaHaise

They're not getting rid of all the books, just the more racist ones. And if you don't think he was racist:

He was quite racist.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 05:29

Kristine Field

I think this is censorship. There is no proof of any of this. As a teacher, mom, and American I am totally disgusted and incredibly sad. If you don’t like the books don’t read them. SHAME ON THE PUBLISHER!!!!!!!!!!

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 01:12

Brenna Myers

I am a certified Elementary K-6 teacher, with the ability to teach English K-12, History K-12, I was taught in my classes to respect children’s literature.

I believe all of the pieces (books, stories written by Dr. Seamus are wonderful examples of how the English language! My son used to love Green Eggs & Ham, and the animation of the books put all of us into happier places.

I cannot see how the pieces written are close to what is being ‘charged’. Makes me think no matter what the better books will all end up having similar issues alleged.

If you think about it even the Bible gas it’s issues!! But I cannot see t author of that book not able to getting a blanket pass. I know most have heard the stories of struggle, fighting, and strife through the work.

However since it’s “special “ for religious purposes it’s accepted.

I think if we let any of the Dr’s work fall under this charge we are all doomed to loose mire than we can realjj lok y afford!!

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 01:07

Bob Lingen

This is ridiculous. People have to grow up and stop looking for reasons to be offended and looking for reasons to bring us together. Ridiculous!!

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 01:01

Matt Killough

It is totally ridiculous. Why are you looking for reasons to be offended by this article? The authors are just trying to bring us together by refocusing us on children's literature that makes all children feel included.

Posted : Mar 03, 2021 02:12


I propose the authors of the above study launch subsequent studies of books written by authors who are native american, african american, hispanic and asian using the same standards. All such books, if researched primarily by those as the same race as the book's author, and if negatively depicting characters of any other race (including caucasian), should be banned. After all, aren't we all looking for fairness and equality?

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 12:53

Patricia Randall

The world is made of of DIVERSITY!!!
How boring if we were all just the same!
That’s the wonderful thing about us!!!!!!!

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 12:39

Dr. DW

I cannot for life of me, understand why this younger crowd wants to cancel everything. It seems they are afraid of anything that is not of their creation.

News Flash: Humans have been around for millennias and we have a history. Some of it bad and some of is good, but we need all of it to understand where we were and where we need to go.

Cancelling of history, changing the code and any other form of squelching of the public, is wrong. What makes one group believe they are more intelligent than one that had different views? This current path leads to disaster well before any good result will come from. There will never be a good result.

Posted : Mar 01, 2021 04:34

debra wachsmuth

The star belly Sneetches points out the absurdity of thinking one kind of sneetch is better than the other just because it looks different from another. I love the message in this book. It was one of the books I remember as having a good message about differences and equality. I only remember the stars on their bellies and the missing stars on the other group and how ridiculous the behaviors of those who had the stars on their bellies. I guess I never noticed the illustration that was racist, but I am hispanic/white so maybe I didn't key into that illustration. I always looked at Dr. Seuss' book characters as unreal. The cat in the hat never looked much like a real cat to me. I need to look at this book and others again closely to find illustrations that appear that way. Remember authors write from their viewpoints and their experiences. I don't think that requires that there be a % of a certain depiction of a specific number of diverse characters in a book's illustrations. I think we just vary our libraries with diverse books which depict all kinds of races. I would not expect a book about a black family to throw in a white person, a Chinese person, a Vietnamese person, and a Native American just to hit a certain % of diverse people. I don't want books with illustrations that look contrived just to meet a certain % of each kind of person. Artists and writers should write about and illustrate what they want and from their experiences. I think we need to find books that portray children positively from all races, countries, and colors. We can balance our libraries with books of all kinds. Our libraries should include traditional stories from different countries. We are seeing more black authors who are writing children's books than 30 years ago. So we are seeing more diversity in those books.
Other authors from different cultures need to be published also. Our country is made up of many different cultures and people. If someone writes a book with illustrations that are racist then I think I would pull that book, from my library. However, if children are old enough, bringing those books in and talking about bias and racism in literature, it can be educational and start deep discussions and help children watch for biases in anything they are reading.

Posted : Feb 27, 2021 06:10

Alex Lastnamehere

I knew as a pre-teen that the Star Belly book was overtly racist... and was likely a nod to the holocaust. It always made me feel uncomfortable and frankly I'm glad that they're no longer going to be published.

There are plenty circulating online for those willing to pay and ignore important teaching opportunities.

Posted : Mar 03, 2021 02:33

null null

I am surprised that those commenting on an SLJ post are still feeling their white fragility today. As a white person, I am not the least bit concerned that researchers of color are looking carefully at Dr. Seuss books to report on what it feels like to read those books when you ARE a person of color, particularly of Asian descent. I, too, feel that the cat in the hat is just a cat, but cringe at the Chinese men wearing clothing from hundreds of years ago and pulling a rickshaw. I am now going to read "The Sneetches" again, with a 2021 lens.

Posted : Feb 26, 2021 05:51


In addition, the authors' conveniently failed to include the book Dr. Seuss's book that celebrates cultures around the world, "Come Over to My House."

Posted : May 31, 2020 09:32

Kathleen McHale

Because there is no claim that all his work was racist; just that some was. Why not look at the specific instances stated? If that makes you uncomfortable it might be that you are having difficulty appreciating the magnitude of the nuance between these facts.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 03:59


This study is incredibly biased, analytically questionable, and statistically flawed. For example, they claim there are 44 white characters in "The Cat in the Hat Come Back" when, in fact, there are only two, the brother and sister. The authors have counted (not even correctly, I might add) the number of times a white face appears on the page as a separate "character". This allows them create a false statistic of the scale of inequality.
When "analyzing" each classic book, the authors continually refer back to Dr. Seuss's past, racist work, that had nothing to do with his children's books. This is the only way they can make his classic books appear racist, not from any actual content in the books.
There is a lot of terrible racism in America, it's a shame these authors wasted their efforts in manufacturing their own instead of tackling the real problems that people of color face.

Posted : May 31, 2020 08:28


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

aoak skejej

Search “Dr. Seuss racist” and it displays pictures from his books with the n word in it & a picture of selling “slaves”. This situation does have to do with race. Whether you want to believe it or not.

Posted : Mar 26, 2020 03:11

Lisa Naumann

Yes, race needs to be found in everything because white people are centered in everything.
So it is okay to depict racist images because they are fictional? These fictional characters represent races/people. Children should be reading and seeing images that are affirming to themselves and to races other than their own.

Posted : Feb 19, 2021 10:27

Wendy Horton

I have seen numerous posts regarding Dr. Suess and his books. Some librarians are even refusing to read and weeding his books from their libraries. This is censorship. In the past censorship was something librarians made an effort to prevent. Is this the "new norm" for libraries? If so, it is a shame that we have come to this.

Posted : Feb 26, 2021 03:18

Emily Sisson

The librarian not including Dr. Suess in Storytime is not censorship. Obviously, there’s not enough time to read the whole collection out loud. The librarian has to pick and choose. Same goes for weeding the books. In a small library, there’s only so much space on the shelves.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 11:16

S SMith

It’s not censorship when private individuals act collectively to remove offensive material.

Posted : Mar 03, 2021 03:59

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

Karen Zacca

Having grown up reading almost all of his books and reading them again to my children I can honestly say that there isn't one time I can think that I said to myself, 'why aren't there more girls in his books'? Equally, I never questioned, "is he making a commentary on some race or another?" Children do not innately have the sophisticated reasoning needed to see racism and microaggressions, and I don't believe they take away more than the obvious moral/ethical lessons taught in the books. Their little brains can only assimilate so much knowledge on their own. They may see them now because adults have told them to read into the books something more than the author intended. In our culture today we are teaching them to look back and see the previous cultures in the worst possible light instead of looking back and seeing them with grace. This, in my opinion, is not helpful to them as individuals who will grow up looking for the worst in the world and their fellow men and women rather than the best. Ironically, that is what Dr. Seuss was trying to teach the children of his generation - see the best in others, treat them as if they are the best versions of themselves. Why are we now seeking to judge him and his work based on a culture that didn't exist when he was producing his work.
If our children truly embraced all of the morals he attempted to get across in his books I firmly believe there would be a clear and very positive effect on how people treated each other today.

Posted : Dec 18, 2019 06:31

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

Shiori Sheldon

I agree with you. In this article, it references "The Sneetches" as being White Surpremisis and giving Anti-Black messages. Upon rereading this book as an educated adult it is plain to see that this book has the same looking characters and does not give off these characteristics the article is speaking of. The point of the book is that they are all the same and thus giving an anti-racism message.

Posted : Feb 27, 2020 06:20

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

Ronald Robinson

I hear what you're saying, however, being born 10 years ago or 100 years ago, racism is wrong no matter how you want to excuse it. It was wrong then, and its still wrong now. In history books I've read in high school did not full describe the major contributions African-Americans or any other minority has to make "America Great". We as a race of people have contributed so much but have only been given back so little, we're still marginalizes in society. To have to have laws that says we could vote when it's already in our constitution, but now there's a move to quietly roll that back or erode some of the protections for all people of color. The movie "Hidden Figures", is a sad indictment of America. Can you just imagine the thousands and thousands of young black girls and boys seeing proof that black people can preform and and do the jobs white men that could do. Why was this kept a secret? I know the answer, do you?

Posted : May 05, 2020 05:57

Michael Williams

Wow I am amazed. By your ignorance. If you truly did read the article, then you would have understood that they used a panel composed of POC because the current research conducted on Dr. Seuss’s work was done by white people who either were uneducated on racism or too ignorant to point it out. Why does being raised in a racist era make it okay for him to continue to portray racist stereotypes about POC? If his work suggested that he was a racist, why do we need psychologist or anyone else to tell us that? Also, you don’t seem to know the definition of racism, which a quick google search would have helped you with. Portraying POC in stereotypical ways is racist because it has affected the way we’ve been treated in society. If Dr. Seuss’s reputation is being harmed by this article, he shouldn’t have used racial undertones in his work. Simple as that.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 12:47

Scott Huber

Michael; interesting points but still limiting the panel to POC only still does not offer support for the conclusion as it provides no diversity. As sensitive as people seem to be these days it would be logical to provide a diverse viewpoint but no that did not happen. Additionally if the title of racial undertones is correct which I do not think it is then we should use these as learning experiences for our youth, if that is how they are seen. In fact if you read the books you might come to a different conclusion which would be that Dr. Suess espoused the virtues of Diversity and Equality.

Posted : Mar 02, 2021 07:06



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