For several years now, there have reportedly been claims and studies that Children’s book author Dr. Seuss incorporated racist images and writings into his books. Days before the annual celebration of elementary school reading in America, named Dr. Seuss Read Across America, the NEA, a powerful teacher’s union was accused of “canceling” and “banning” Dr. Seuss’s books. But did it really happen?
A school district in Loudoun County, Virginia was accused of banning Dr. Seuss books in its district.
In 2019, a widely cited study in educational circles accused Dr. Seuss of being racist, going as far as saying the books are based on white supremacy. The report was entitled, “The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, AntiBlackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss ‘ s Children ‘s Books”. That report claimed that Dr. Seuss did draw comedic cartoons that today are widely considered offensive and racist in several journals.
In the 1920s, Dr. Seuss published anti-Black and anti-Semitic cartoons in Dartmouth’s
humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. He depicted a Jewish couple (captioned “the Cohen’s”)
with oversized noses and Jewish merchants on a football field with “Quarterback Mosenblum”
refusing to relinquish the ball until a bargain price as been established for the goods being sold
(Cohen 208). In the same issue of Jack-O-Lantern, Seuss drew Black male boxers as gorillas.
His cartoons, advertisements, and writings often exhibited explicit anti-Black racism. He
consistently portrayed Africans and African Americans as monkeys and cannibals—often
holding spears, surrounded by flies, and wearing grass skirts. In Judge magazine and College
Humor, he published over a dozen cartoons depicting Black people as monkeys and repeatedly
captioned them as “n*ggers” (Cohen 212-13). For example, a cartoon Seuss made for Judge
magazine in 1929 depicts a group of thick-lipped Black men up for sale to White men. The sign
above them reads: “Take Home A High-Grade N*gger For Your Wood Pile” (Cohen 213). Other
captions he used with his images of Black people included: “Disgusted wife: ‘You hold a job,
Worthless? Say, n*gger, when you hold a job a week, mosquitos will brush their teeth with Flit
and like it!’” (Cohen 213) and “My, my, n*gger, what an impression youse goin’ to make when
you deliver this here wash to my clients” (Cohen 212). In 1928, in the first ever artwork that he
signed as “Dr. Seuss,” he drew a racist cartoon of a Japanese woman and children. The caption
spells the word “children” as “childlen,” which reflects the stereotype that Japanese people can’t
say their “R’s” (Cohen 86). Seuss’ racist depictions of Japanese people has been rationalized by
Seuss scholars as “war hysteria,” but this cartoon precedes his anti-Japanese propaganda during
World War II by over a decade. The same year, he launched the seventeen-year advertising
campaign he created for Flit insecticide that first made him famous (Nel, “Dr. Seuss” 6). Many
of these Flit ads featured racist and xenophobic depictions of Arabs, Muslims, and Black people
as caricatures or monkeys in subservient positions to White men.
On queue from this report, the National Education Association, which founded the Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day / Week annual event to celebrate Seuss’s birthday of March 2nd had been rebranded to simply “NEA Read Across America Day”. The powerful union’s agenda was two-fold. First, it wanted to distance itself from Seuss and introduce a more racially diverse selection of books for kids during their newly rebranded event. Second, the NEA sought to brand the day so as to credit their own organization nationally for the annual event. They have used the new branding to promote membership recruiting drives and to officially take ownership of the event.
The NEA’s agreement with Dr. Seuss expired on December 31, 2019. The organization released a press release on 1/28/2021 ordering its affiliates to rebrand the event.
Effective August 31, 2019, NEA will no longer have a licensing agreement with Dr. Seuss Enterprises. After August 31, NEA Affiliates and members may no longer use the old Read Across America logo with the Cat in the Hat leaning over U.S. map.
A new Read Across America logo has been developed and is now available to members and Association staff.
In late February of 2021, the Loudoun School District was accused of banning Dr. Seuss books, however the district released a statement saying that was false.
“Dr. Seuss books have not been banned in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). LCPS believes this rumor started because March 2 is “Read Across America Day.” Schools in LCPS, and across the country, have historically connected Read Across America Day with Dr. Seuss’ birthday,” the district said.
” Research in recent years has revealed strong racial undertones in many books written/illustrated by Dr. Seuss. Examples include anti-Japanese American political cartoons and cartoons depicting African Americans for sale captioned with offensive language,” the district said. “Given this research, and LCPS’ focus on equity and culturally responsive instruction, LCPS provided this guidance to schools during the past couple of years to not connect Read Across America Day exclusively with Dr. Seuss’ birthday. We continue to encourage our young readers to read all types of books that are inclusive, diverse, and reflective of our student community, not simply celebrate Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss books have not been banned and are available to students in our libraries and classrooms, however, Dr. Seuss and his books are no longer the emphasis of Read Across America Day in Loudoun County Public Schools.”
Was Dr. Seuss Canceled?
The simple answer is there is a movement to distance the NEA and its teachers from Dr. Seuss, however in 2021, that did not stop thousands of districts and teachers from continuing to support the annual “Read Across America Day” with Seuss inspired themes and books. Most districts in the U.S. have in fact indicated they will include diversity, but at the same time, stick to the Dr. Seuss theme.
The NEA however, officially doesn’t have a license to use the Dr. Seuss logo, name or brands any longer in its marketing materials.
The Loudoun school district did not ban Dr. Seuss but made it clear it will offer plenty of diversity-based alternatives to children and will not use the Dr. Seuss theme. The books are still available to students in the district.
Dr. Seuss’s days in the public school system may be numbered, but as of the 2021 event, Dr. Seuss is alive and well in the U.S. public school system.