Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Dr. Seuss: liberal Democrat—and (an ex-)racist!

Oh, what a tangled web we weave!  The "cancellation" of Dr. Seuss is in full swing because the man drew racist cartoons and, arguably, included some rather un-PC notions in his books for children.  But is the matter as simple as that, or might the situation be more nuanced and complex than our current crop of moral fundamentalists might allow?

Let's start off by noting that Dr. Seuss's cartoons, drawn way back in the day, are incontrovertibly racist by today's standards, and even by the standards of yesteryear (more on that in a moment).  As raunchy and un-PC as my own sense of humor is, I recoil in horror at the thought of ever drawing anything comparable to what Theodor Seuss Geisel drew during the first half of the twentieth century.  If you're unsure of what I'm talking about, take a look at this small sample from a very large racist compendium:

Here are a couple of facts that make the whole issue of canceling Dr. Seuss rather complicated:  first, Seuss later regretted drawing those pictures.  According to Grace Lin of New England Public Media:

All children's book creators worth their salt know the history of Dr. Seuss. We know that his early career was filled with racist propaganda.

He drew horrible stereotypes against Jews, African-Americans -- you name it.

One of his more egregious cartoons depicts Japanese Americans lining up to receive bombs. He drew that in 1942, when anti-Asian paranoia was at full tilt.

He was a product of his time.

Time passed, however, and Seuss began to regret his images.

It’s widely accepted that his book, "Horton Hears a Who!" was an apology for his earlier racist art.

He went on to write many books with themes of inclusion and tolerance.

Dr. Seuss realized the harm his work could do, and he did better. That is what made him a good man and great artist.

Second, during his "racist period" and beyond, Seuss was a liberal Democrat.  We may be looking at yet another example of the left eating its own.

So with this very superficial dip of the toe into history and biography, we can already see that the issues surrounding Dr. Seuss and his racism are quite complex from the outset.  Righties often like to note that the lib-Dem side of the aisle has long been on the side of racist bigotry:  the Democrats were pro-slavery in Lincoln's time and before; the abolitionists were all Republicans.  (The great Harriet Tubman was herself—at least arguably—a gun-toting Republican.*)  So if you're a conservative who hates the idea of canceling Dr. Seuss, but you recognize that Seuss was a liberal Democrat with a well-documented racist past, how do you feel about defending him?  And if you're a liberal Democrat, do you feel any solidarity with Seuss in spite of his racist past, or do you reject him outright despite Grace Lin's contention that Seuss had repented of his racist ways later in life?

At the very least, we can see that the current Dr. Seuss kerfuffle should be approached with caution.  Issues are tangled with other issues; the whole thing is quite convoluted.  Could it be that the people who want to cancel Seuss now are unaware that Seuss had experienced a sort of metanoia after World War II?


*Snopes flatly labels this claim as false, but Snopes has done so much to undermine its own credibility, through its politically biased advocacy, that I will risk the genetic fallacy and dismiss Snopes outright.  Don't believe a "woke" website whose "fact-checking" almost always skews in one political direction.  At the very least, we can deduce that Harriet Tubman was on the side of the Republican abolitionists for as long as she knew they existed, and those same abolitionists contributed in large and small ways to aiding Tubman and her family as she kept bringing slaves out of the South.  Even if Tubman wasn't a card-carrying Republican herself, she was most assuredly aligned with Republicans.


John Mac said...

Wow, pretty shocking for sure. Still, a lot of that was WWII propaganda...in other words, he was being paid by the U.S. government to keep folks fired up against our enemies and to support unconstitutional policies like internment camps. So, if you are going to cancel Geisel you gotta do away with FDR as well.

Times change and people change. I was raised in a pretty racist household (parents both from Memphis) and I remember reading the Sneeches story as a kid and have something of an epiphany. So, there's that in his favor anyway.

You might enjoy some of these cartoons Seuss did for the War Department as training for soldiers.


Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, I flipped through Dr. Seuss Goes to War when it came out years ago.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I will openly defend Mr. Geisel (as I prefer to call him) despite his flirtation with whomever he shouldn't have been flirting with back in the day, back then.



Kevin Kim said...

Jeff, The way I see it, the man accepted the propaganda position of his own free will, but if the above-linked article holds any water, then also of his own free will, Mr. Geisel repented of his deeds (and, presumably, his attitudes), and he deserves credit for that. The left is studiously ignoring this latter biographical fact, I think, in its attempt to crucify Geisel.

It's ironic that the side constantly claiming to envision a better future for humanity finds it impossible to imagine that people can change for the better. The progressivists, when faced with evidence of real progress, simply ignore the progress in favor of attacking their cherished straw man.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Actually, I was vaunting false fortitude, giving my initials rather than my full name, not calling him by his pen name, but by another name that nobody knows, and so on, me being the coward while pretending to bravery.

I agree with you, as usual.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Kevin Kim said...

I know you like slipping subtleties—which to you may not seem so subtle—into much of your written discourse, hence the guarded neutrality of my response: I was aware you were up to something, but I was too dim to know know what it was. When two people with very different approaches to discourse meet—e.g., when one insists on generally straightforward communication while the other almost always adds layers of subtle meaning to his utterances—something is bound to fly over someone's head. The malodorous turd has trouble appreciating the elegantly layered baklava.