Updated: Oct 14, 2020
You may have noticed that the author of the famous Dr. Seuss series, wasn’t as celebrated on his birthday this year as he has been in the past. The awareness of his prejudice has become main-stream. Consequently, the joy that he brought to our culture through a lifetime of writing now stands negated. Or, does it?
Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, was both a writer and cartoonist. Beginning in 1937 with And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss published over 60 books throughout his career. ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘Oh, the Places you will go’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’. A positive theme was consistent throughout his work which is why many were shocked to recently discover that he battled racism.
I use the term ‘battled’ because I consider prejudice a disease. Much like cancer it depletes those it effects directly, as well as, those around the afflicted individual. In my recent memoir, “Racism: the Real Reason I Left the South”, I proclaim the need to hold others accountable for their actions, as well as, their mindset. I believe this. But we also have a moral responsibility to understand others, their perspective and why they do what, or believe the way they do. Understanding someone’s perspective allows us to better dissect the situation and work towards a true solution. Once we embrace that we are all the same at the core, the easier it will be to see each other as equal.
Thus, it is important to note that Geisel was born in 1904. This was a time in our country's history when racism was rampant. At age 18, Geisel left home to attend Dartmouth College where he became the editor in chief of its humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern. Geisel contributed to it using the pseudonym "Seuss." In 1922, much of America was still segregated, particularly higher education institutions. Thus, this man’s prejudice was tragicly, a normalcy of the time.
Our perspective, and why we react the way we do is a consequence of our life’s experiences. No one is above that. Exploring why someone is the way they are affords us the necessary understanding to stop the cycle of hate and racism. Whether that be a cycle of prejudice, toxicity, or abuse, it is necessary to understand it to end it. This is how we will become our best selves and consequently, our strongest society.
It may prove helpful to accept the fact that we are all works in progress. No matter how successful, educated, or evolved we may be, we are still flawed. No one is perfect. Consequently, we need to support the good in one another while calling out the bad. Holding one another accountable is how we grow. Ensuring equality for all includes respect and understanding. It’s difficult but imperative in the healing process.
I discuss crossing the invisible line in my recent memoir about racism. The biggest part of healing our divide includes having the uncomfortable conversations about prejudice. This is the most powerful way we can combat racism in our upcoming generations.
So instead of ignoring the Dr Suess legacy, which holds many positive life affirming aspects, we should use it as a conversation starter. By using the author’s common (of the time) prejudicial mindset, we can explain to our youth the conflict that often resides within someone’s heart and mind. Geisel struggled with bettering mankind and uplifting others while holding on to the cultural norm of racism. The best way to stop the continuance of such prejudice is to introduce it to a younger generation and allow them to dissect it. The better they understand it, the more apt they are to overcome it.
If you analyze Geisel’s body of work, you may note that his books convey self-love and personal empowerment. Encouraging children to trust in themselves and their abilities, as well as, be considerate of others, are core beliefs that help create a better society. So,do we negate this author’s entire body of work based solely on a cultural norm of the era?
These are questions we must seriously consider as our country moves forward in eradicating racism. How do we keep the good while discarding the bad? Do we erase all of our history or explore how prejudice was allowed to survive for so long? It's important to acknowledge that racism existed in the "best" of our society. It's the dichotomy of love and hate in a single human being that needs to be understood in order to eradicate this disease. I believe this is the key. Dissecting how someone can make peace with racism in their mind is a part of conquering prejudice. Once we understand it, we can begin to heal it.