Monday, October 9, 2017

Good Intentions

I deliberated quite a few hours over whether to write about the Dr. Suess controversy- several authors felt part of a mural was racist. People have a right, and I think, an obligation, to be upset over racism in any form.

Especially when the racism is deliberate.

But was Theodore Geisel's illustration deliberately racist?

At the risk of getting vilified by everyone on Twitter and some in the book world, I don't believe the intent was there.

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, the book at the center of the controversy, has a depiction of an Asian man with chopsticks, pointed hat and slanted eyes. Yes, it's a stereotype. Yes, it should not be among the illustrations featured. But the book was written, according to the very authors whose boycott led to the cancellation of the celebration, over 80 years ago.


Are we to start scrubbing our artistic history?

How much literature and other art, would survive?

Movies- made in China- by Chinese directors, actors, producers, etc. have used this same depiction; I have seen it. Should we ban those movies? Are they to be labeled racist traitors for their uses of the image?

I think it comes down to intent. Dr Suess had many wonderful titles promoting acceptance and diversity, like The Sneetches. His books promoted not only diversity, but conservation and inclusion. The Washington Post quoted the three authors:

"The career of Ted Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, is a story of growth, from accepting the baser racial stereotypes of the times in his early career, to challenging those divisive impulses with work that delighted his readers and changed the times. It was our hope that the administration of the new Seuss-ian institution would be able to take inspiration from Mr. Geisel’s journey and find creative ways to allow children of all backgrounds to feel welcomed (or, at the very least, provide context for this hurtful painting)."

The museum easily could have added a small sign as suggested by the authors and the celebration of a man who wrote wonderful stories for children, and grew- as the authors stated, would not have been cancelled. I think everyone lost out.

That part of the mural will be replaced, but I think of all the children and even adults who lost out on a wonderful day with many planned activities. There are some who want to ban Dr. Suess altogether, and that makes me sad. He was human, and we all are on a journey of growth. Who among us can say we always got it right?