Image from jutheanh
In 2015, feminist “critic” Anita Sarkeesian told a panel in Sydney, Australia that everything is racist, everything is sexist, everything is homophobic, and you have to point it all out.
Two years on, and a subset of the Radical Left—which Sarkeesian herself appears to be a part of—seem to have a field day finding and singling anything out that can be called out as proof of systemic oppression. In the current year, anything can be racist, sexist, and homophobic, even things previously never seen as such.
You’d think a kind gesture by the United States First Lady, not dripping in any obvious white supremacy or horrifying misogyny, wouldn’t be misconstrued and perceived as such.
You’d be wrong. When First Lady Melania Trump decided to gift a Massachusetts school a bunch of Dr. Seuss books, including her and son Baron’s favorite Oh, The Places You’ll Go, sanctimonious librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro used the occasion to lecture Mrs. Trump.
Ms. Soeiro rejected the books, of course. Now, she had a few good reasons: mainly that Trump could have chosen a school with a more pressing desire for these books, i.e. one from a lower socioeconomic area.
In her essay Dear Mrs. Trump, at least Soeiro has the good grace to thank Melania Trump for the books, before heading off into a diatribe about how the Dr. Seuss books promote a well-worn cliche as a book ambassador:
So, my school doesn’t have a NEED for these books. And then there’s the matter of the books themselves. You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature. As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips. Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.
While this may be valid, as many use Dr. Seuss again and again as a golden author for books—including previous First Lady Michelle Obama—there is a reason why Dr. Seuss is so popular and readily chosen as an ambassador for children’s literature. His books are easy to read and a great way to introduce children to reading. Parents and teachers have struggled for decades to get children to read more, and making it harder for authors to pass librarians’ (like Ms. Soeiro’s) stringent author requirements makes it just that much harder.
Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes. Open one of his books (If I Ran a Zoo or And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, for example), and you’ll see the racist mockery in his art. Grace Hwang Lynch’s School Library Journal article, “Is the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away from Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books,” reports on Katie Ishizuka’s work analyzing the minstrel characteristics and trope nature of Seuss’s characters. Scholar Philip Nel’s new book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, further explores and shines a spotlight on the systemic racism and oppression in education and literature.
It doesn’t occur to Ms. Soeiro that Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geigel, was born in 1904. To hold an author born over one hundred years ago to the modern intersectional feminist/diversity standards of the modern era is beyond absurd. It’s like holding our 2017 view on kitchen appliances and washing machines to a future where said appliances are sentient and applying for the right to vote and marry. Of course you can criticize his viewpoints, but to ignore his every contribution because of his outdated beliefs is simply ridiculous. Of course, many have pointed out that, while Seuss wrote anti-Japanese propaganda during WWII, he later overcame his fears and became an anti-racist campaigner.
Jerry Coyne has this to say about Dr. Seuss:
[Seuss] also said that he explicitly eschewed having a moral point to his books, as that turned off children.
In a world where everything must be sexist, racist and homophobic, Ms. Soeiro is too busy looking for political meaning in books where there needn’t be. She then recommends books with overly political meaning, as examples of books that will “offer you a window into the lives of the many children affected by the policies of your husband’s administration.” She then signs off by calling herself an advocate for “inclusive libraries”.
There is an importance for diverse books, but by rejecting books just because she doesn’t like the recipient’s husband is not a good enough reason. An advocate for inclusive libraries should not be banning books into her library just because she disagrees with the recipient’s politics.
Some of the radical Right-leaning people on Twitter talk about a phenomenon called Trump Derangement Syndrome, which implies paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies and presidency of Donald Trump. It’s basically people who find even the smallest things about Donald Trump—like his misspelling of “coverage” as “covfefe” and how he likes his steak cooked—and turn them into “proof” of his white supremacy, misogyny, and why he should be impeached immediately.
It’s more than acceptable to criticize Donald Trump for his policies and the ridiculous things he spouts on social media, but to launch into a furious diatribe at his wife—who’s done nothing wrong except try and spread generosity and kindness—makes one question if Trump Derangement Syndrome is real.
Whether or not it is, we should be supporting attempts to get children into reading. Books like Oh, the Places You’ll Go could even be a gateway into more books, especially the sort of diverse books Ms. Soeiro wishes children will read. If Dr. Seuss gets one child to read more, then why shouldn’t that be counted as a success? There’s a reason why he’s a well-worn ambassador for children’s literature, after all.