is cat in the hat racist

See Also Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of several of the author’s children’s titles because of insensitive and racist imagery. Steven Senne/AP

In the latter part of last month, first lady Melania Trump sent 10 Dr. Seuss books to a school in each state. In a response posted online, a librarian in Cambridge, Mass. Liz Phipps Soeiro declared she would not keep them, disparaging his illustrations in If I Ran the Zoo and other books as “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,” and calling the selection of books a “cliché.” ”.

She also criticized the Trump administration’s endorsement of school choice initiatives. Trump’s spokeswoman shot back that the “divisive” letter was unfortunate.

Following the controversy, hundreds of articles were written about it, with some supporting the librarian’s choice and others denouncing it as petty because the books were rejected. However, from the standpoint of curricula, the episode brings a challenging question to light: What should parents and teachers do about the culturally insensitive language and imagery in some well-loved classics, including the well-worn favorites that remain on their shelves?

The career of Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel, the full name of Dr. Seuss, is a complicated and difficult person to sum up. In addition to criticizing Jim Crow laws, he created racist political cartoons that portrayed Japanese Americans as the enemy. Some of his early books suffer from similar caricatures. Stereotypical depictions of Africans are found in If I Ran the Zoo, which also mentions “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” at one point. (The book was absent from the assortment that Mrs. Trump. ).

Such portrayals can be difficult to reconcile with some of Dr. Seuss’s other stories, which frequently took a liberal stance on social issues. The Butter Battle Book alludes to the nuclear arms race, The Lorax is an overt environmental lament, and The Sneeches fights against prejudice based on physical attributes.

The Cat In the Hat lies somewhere in the middle. According to Philip Nel, an English professor at Kansas State University, the main character was modeled after a black woman who worked as an elevator operator and owes a debt to blackface vaudeville despite being less overtly racist.

Additionally, even though the cat cheers up two kids on a gloomy day, he is obviously not welcome in their white home.

Nel, whose book-length analysis Was The Cat in the Hat Black? was published in August, stated, “It’s actually kind of ordinary and that’s part of the point—racism is ordinary, it’s not aberrant, it’s not strange—and that’s why Seuss is useful to think about.” “He serves as an illustration of how even anti-racist, progressive individuals can behave in racist ways.” Though I don’t think he’s purposefully reusing stereotypes in his 1950s novel, creativity is impacted by the culture in which it is raised and doesn’t always filter out racist elements. ”.

Critics of these analyses question whether they reveal more about the baggage of adults than children’s literature. In agreement with those who have resisted the critical focus on Seuss, Springfield, Massachusetts’ mayor among them, the town where Geisel grew up—isn’t the Cat in the Hat, well, just a cat in a hat?

Even those who agree with some of the unsettling aspects of his book contest the attention that has recently been paid to it.

“So Seuss had issues. However, this was also true of a wide range of other writers, essentially anyone who wrote before, say, 1930, according to a Washington Post columnist.

Nel responds, however, that the s are strong ones and serve as a reminder of how flexible racism can be. “I believe that kids perceive things at a level that they might not be able to explain,” he stated. “Blackface minstrelry’s continued use, even in small ways, has a normalizing effect.” ”.

It’s easy to believe that children’s literature only features milder instances of racism. But according to Michelle H. Martin, the Beverly Cleary professor for children and youth services at the University of Washington in Seattle’s information school, has published versions of Little Black Sambo since 2004. Although they are occasionally sanitized, the 1899 original work is now long in the public domain.

As for children’s literature, though there have been some advancements, white authors and characters with white backgrounds continue to dominate the market, according to annual data gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a research library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s school of education.

Even though more than half of all school-age children in the United States are of color, only 22% of the roughly 3,400 books reviewed by the center in 2016 had non-White characters, and only 13% were written by people of color.

Organizations that have long been connected to Seuss’s work, like the National Education Association, may face some uncomfortable attention as a result of the spotlight on him. Since 1997, the biggest teachers’ union in the country has commemorated Read Across America, an annual program centered on Geisel’s birthday. Additionally, everyone from the president of the NEA to Barack and Michelle Obama has worn the stovepipe hat with the red and white stripes, which is an associated symbol.

The NEA has shifted its emphasis from Dr. Seuss to more diverse children’s books and resources for older readers in recent years. Furthermore, according to Steven Grant, an NEA spokesman and manager of Read Across America, “those changes have been priorities for some time, even though it has received more questions and some criticism about Dr. Seuss as the author’s background has become more widespread.”

“I believe that Dr. Seuss books will always have a place—they are found in every school and library across America, and they can be beneficial for younger readers in certain situations,” he stated. Having said that, it doesn’t mean to disregard the other fantastic books that are available. ”.

Teachers whose classrooms are equipped with the older books have a more difficult question. The inclination is to either completely avoid them or save only those that don’t contain offensive material (Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?). However, academics like Nel and Martin contend that there is an alternative approach: effectively embracing the past.

Martin mentioned that she had discussed Anne Isaac’s Pancakes for Supper, a contemporary retelling of the Sambo tale, with her 5-year-old niece. (The story is rewritten in the book as an American tall tale with a female lead.) ).

“Why are we still rewriting the story? What value is it? The fact that it is still a part of our culture?” she questioned. The delightful story of Anne Isaac would stand alone if you were unaware that it was based on a short story about a black Sambo, but that’s part of the point we’re trying to make here—bring that history out. Ask kids what they think. Even though they might think, “This is an amazing story,” they should read with knowledge. ”.

Martin, a teacher-educator as well, feels that teacher preparation programs should address related issues and assist educators in finding more diverse books, some of which are published by smaller, independent presses. “Teachers enter the classroom disconnected and at a disadvantage if they are not trained in cultural sensitivity and diverse children’s literature.” And they don’t know it,” she said.

Adults in all fields should also be willing to examine closely at their beloved children’s books and accept any discomfort that may result from doing so.

“I don’t think nostalgia is a defense. Affection is not a defense,” Nel said. “You need to take a deep breath, take a step back, and acknowledge that the society in which these books are set and were written is a racist and sexist society. ”.

Does the Cat in the Hat Sustain Racist Stereotypes? is a version of this article that was published in the October 11, 2017 issue of Education Week.

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For 20 years, Read Across America has been synonymous with youngsters wearing red and white striped hats sitting down for story time on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. But this fall, the biggest national literacy awareness program, sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA), will be shifting its focus toward a year-round promotion of diverse children’s books. It’s a change resulting from both a heightened awareness of representation in kid lit, as well as growing scrutiny of racial ry in the work of the beloved children’s book author.

Katie Ishizuka has been analyzing Seuss’ body of work for the past year. Ishizuka [a cousin of Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ’s executive editor] and her husband, Ramon Stephens, founded the Conscious Kid Social Justice Library, a subscription service which sends its subscribers monthly shipments of titles featuring multicultural characters.

Stephens is a Ph.D. student in education at the University of California at San Diego, home to the Theodor Seuss Geisel Library, where he first came across a collection of the cartoonist’s early work—World War II political cartoons, featuring slurs and racist drawings of Japanese Americans, portraying them as a danger to nation. Ishizuka, whose grandparents and other relatives were sent by the U.S. government to internment camps during World War II, was very upset.

“My grandmother was imprisoned after being fired from her position at Seattle schools,” the woman claims. “This had real impact on my personal family. Another blow was realizing how well-liked and acclaimed Seuss is as a writer. ”.

In March 2016, Ishizuka wrote a piece on the website Blavity about Seuss’ anti-Japanese cartoons, along with work that used the N-word and depicted blacks at a slave auction or rendered to resemble monkeys. She also pointed out s portraying Middle Eastern men as camel-riding sultans and women as hyper-sexualized harem dwellers. But what Ishizuka found even more troubling were racist s hidden in plain sight in Seuss’s popular picture books. Ishizuka, who holds a Master’s degree in social work, conducted a critical race analysis of 50 children’s books by Seuss and found that 98 percent of the human characters were white, and only two percent were people of color.

Ishizuka concludes in her study that “people of color are almost always presented as subservient, and peripheral to, the white characters, in addition to how they are portrayed through Orientalist and anti-Black stereotypes and caricatures in his children’s books.”

She draws attention to the fact that Dr. Seuss’s most well-known character, the Cat in the Hat, is based on stereotypes of minstrels.

“The Cat’s role as ‘entertainer’ to the white family—in whose house he doesn’t belong—as well as his physical appearance, including the Cat’s oversized top hat, floppy bow tie, white gloves, and frequently open mouth, mirror actual blackface performers,” claims Ishizuka. She is not the only academic to draw attention to racial stereotypes in Dr. Seuss’ picture books.

Kansas State University English professor Phillip Nel recently 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. However the cat, along with his striped headwear, is also associated with Read Across America, just as Clifford the Big Red Dog is synonymous with the literacy organization Reading is Fundamental.

NEA spokesperson Steven Grant, who has overseen the Read Across America program since 2005, says, “We partnered with Seuss 20 years ago in 1997 to kick-start this program.” “That was the initial plan, so children would see Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat and spark some attention. ”.

The program has successfully reached children nationwide; Grant estimates that 45 million students and teachers take part in Read Across America events each year.

Dr. Seuss cartoon from UC San Diego Library collection. Copyright unknown.

But not all families think the author should be celebrated. In March, two Japanese-American children in South Pasadena, CA, saw their school’s Dr. Seuss Week in conjunction with Read Across America as a chance to educate their classmates about the cartoonist’s role in fanning fears that led to the internment of Japanese Americans.

“Their instructors and administrators closed them down, wouldn’t let them distribute flyers, and told them that school wasn’t the right place for that,” Ishizuka claims. This concerned me and seemed like a major racial justice issue. ”.

Ishizuka also notes that on Read Across America Day, black children might not feel comfortable going to school.

“It’s extremely dehumanizing to expect black children to wear one of those hats.” ”.

In April, Ishizuka sent a copy of her 43-page analysis, along with a compendium of diverse books resources, to the NEA, which organizes Read Across America.

Grant notes that he witnessed “so much bubble up as far as concerned interests” last year for the first time in his 14 years with the NEA. He applauds Ishizuka’s suggestions for suggested authors and partner organizations to increase diversity at the event. The NEA’s Read Across America advisory committee, which is made up of educators, librarians, and education support specialists, had already been debating concerns about Dr. Seuss’s early work before Ishizuka sent the materials. This discussion was based on Richard H. Minears 2001 book Dr. Seuss Goes to War, a critical examination of the cartoonist’s initial political illustrations, particularly the anti-Japanese pieces Grant continues, “For the previous two years, the NEA board has already shifted Read Across America’s mission toward reaching a wider range of readers and promoting diverse literature.”

Ishizuka and Stephens stress that their goal is not to outlaw Dr. Seuss.

According to Stephens, “the goal is to increase awareness about the social and systemic bias that certain books promote, not about reading or not reading certain books.” “Dr. The pervasive silence in literacy about racial issues, particularly among young people and white people, is reflected in Seuss and Whiteness. ”.

According to Grant, increasing the visibility of diverse books is one thing, but giving them to teachers is quite another.

He says, “The teacher often has to use her own funds to purchase the books.”

During the 2017–18 school year, NEA will award $60,000 in grants for diverse books. Over the past two years, the organization gave a total of $250,000 in funds for diverse books, thanks to a contribution from Walden Media and the Weinstein Company. Reading is Fundamental will also offer digital resources to accompany the calendar, and First Book and the publisher Lee & Low Books will provide diverse titles at a discount for Title I schools. Like the story of the black-and-white cartoon cat, the NEA is finding that something that started off as whimsical fun might be challenging to put back into a box.

Although using Dr. Seuss literature has never been required by Read Across America, according to Grant, “after 20 years, it’s easy for some folks to just pull Seuss stuff off the bookshelves from last year.” ”.

It might be challenging to separate the annual Read Across America Day celebration from its mascot, especially since it falls on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. The black-and-white cat perched atop a silhouette of the United States is featured in the Read Across America logo and on all event merchandise available for purchase on the website. The NEA has been under contract with Seuss Enterprises since 1997 to use the s without paying royalties. The current agreement runs through August 2018.

Grant says, “This is really going to be a transitional year for us.” “To see if that works, we’re going to be experimenting and going in various directions.” This might entail working together with different writers or illustrators to rename Read Across America Day in order to appeal to a wider range of students. Since we are powerless to compel an educator to do anything, our aim is to support them. ”.

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