No, Dr. Seuss hasn’t been “canceled.”
Granted, you’d never know it from the ruckus that erupted after Theodor Seuss Geisel’s estate decided to stop publishing six lesser-known titles by the celebrated children’s book author because they contained offensive racial stereotypes. We’re talking Asians with “their eyes at a slant,” and ape-like Africans in grass skirts. In a statement, Dr. Seuss Enterprises called such portrayals “hurtful and wrong.”
Meantime, in his proclamation last week recognizing the National Education Association’s annual Read Across America Day, President Biden didn’t mention Seuss by name, as some of his predecessors did. This was actually in line with a 2017 NEA decision to reduce its focus on Seuss in favor of including a larger variety of children’s authors.
That’s it. Those are the facts underlying the uproar. It ought not shock you that those facts — prosaic and even a little bit boring — are starkly at odds with the howl — “Cancel culture run amok!” — now rising from the conservative outrage complex. “Progressives seek to cancel beloved author,” wailed an online headline from Fox “News.”
The cry was echoed by Donald Trump Jr. — he appeared at CPAC shortly after it gave the boot to an anti-Semitic speaker.
And by Michigan congressional candidate Tom Norton — he is pushing for a boycott of Target stores.
And by Sen. Ted Cruz — he swore two years ago to stop buying Nike.
Not that their hypocrisy is surprising. After a while, you come to expect it.
For the record, the books in question, including “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” date back as far as 1937. Unless you’ve spent quality time immersed in it, it’s hard to appreciate how deeply, openly and unapologetically racist the pop and consumer cultures of that era could be.
Will Fox also condemn Disney for censoring from its classic “Fantasia” the little pickaninny polishing the hooves of a blonde centaur?
Will the junior Mr. Trump attack Colgate-Palmolive for renaming Darkie toothpaste?
Will Mr. Norton blast the Rice Council of America for no longer running the ad that asked, “Did you ever see a fat Chinese?” or Royal Crown Cola for the one with the American Indian and the headline, “Honest Injun!”
Will Mr. Cruz host a screening of the Snow White parody, “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” any time soon?
Don’t hold your breath. The truth is, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, like Aunt Jemima and the Washington Redskins, has simply undergone a belated but needed process of self-reflection; they woke up and smelled the 2021. So, this outcry is less about outrage than opportunism, a means of firing up a certain segment of white America. Meaning those who simmer in gnawing grievance at cultural changes they find threatening. Those who live with a bone-deep fear of losing their God-derived prerogatives, their “place” as white women and men.
These feelings are dangerously combustible. If Charlottesville didn’t prove that, the siege of the U.S. Capitol surely did. Yet even knowing this, some of us continue playing with matches. Because it’s easy and politically expedient. Because they haven’t a single constructive idea between them.
And, because, ultimately, they do not love America. Oh, they’ll say they do. They may even think they do. But they don’t. What they love is a sepia-toned myth, a nation that never was.
If the rest of us aren’t careful, they’ll burn this country down trying to get there.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.