New Study Published on Racism and Dr. Seuss

Paper published in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature questions representation in Dr. Seuss books.

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.
 

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.