First it was Mr. Potato Head. Now it’s Dr. Seuss. We’re definitely living in some crazy times.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, two of my childhood icons have been in the news lately. OK, maybe Mr. Potato Head doesn’t qualify for iconic status, so we’ll save his predicament for another time. But Dr. Seuss under attack? C’mon Man!

Like many of you, I grew up learning to read with Dr. Seuss. To this day, I can still recite parts of The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by rote. What’s more, I can also picture all the vivid illustrations that accompanied the catchy text jumping at me off the printed page. Just thinking right now about all those warm and fuzzy childhood narratives puts me immediately in my happy place.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard accusations that people were branding Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel) as a racist and banning some of his books due to racist imagery. My immediate reaction was disbelief—almost a “you gotta be kidding me” type of denial akin to being told that the Kentucky Wildcats would be 8 – 15 this year.

I hastily started investigating, and sure enough, I discovered that what I had heard was true. The company that oversees the publishing of his works confirmed that six books—If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra! Scrambled Eggs and Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer—would never again see the light of day because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

Now I was really curious. Inquiring minds want to know, right? What in the world was hurtful and wrong about my beloved Dr. Seuss?

My curiosity was piqued even greater when word leaked out that there were demeaning Asian stereotypes peppered throughout these publications. Now you really had me going. This was personal. You talk about a man on a commando mission. I had to get to the bottom of this.

You see, I’m an Asian American—a full-blooded Chinese dude who has lived in the United States for over half a century. I was born in Taiwan and moved with my family to America at the age of four as my parents went in search of the American dream. Growing up in Kentucky in the 60s and 70s, there simply weren’t many Asian folks around. In fact, I seem to recall being only one of two “Orientals” in my elementary school and, for a time, I was the only “Chinaman” in my junior high school class.

You know how mean kids can be. They subjected me to every racial taunt and limerick known to mankind. My classmates pulled their eyes back and bucked their teeth out ad nauseum. They spewed nonsense in a sing-song manner as if I understood what they were saying. I was called “Chink” and “Gook” as I went to the bathroom and lined up for lunch in the school cafeteria. I even had to lay low on Pearl Harbor Day—even though I wasn’t Japanese. You get the picture.

So what was Dr. Seuss saying about Asian people that was so horrific that his books would be taken off the shelf?

Upon further review, I discovered that it was indeed his character portrayals that came under critical fire. The Mulberry Street book evidently included a drawing of a Chinese man with slits for eyes. It also contained a supposed controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.” If I Ran the Zoo describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell.”

Excuse me? I’ve been subjected to far worse cultural derision in my neighborhood potlucks. Besides, all those descriptive examples are kind of true for me. My sloping eyes do often give me a different slant on things, I love eating rice, and I’m a whiz at using chopsticks. In fact, I’m damn proud of my Asian heritage. I’m not offended at all by diverse appearances or customs, nor do I think that you should be either. I bet you can’t spell G-U-A-N-G-X-I.

Look, I get it. Stereotypes are often insulting and demeaning. At the very least, they can lead to some pretty awkward moments. I can’t tell you how many times well-meaning adult acquaintances have unintentionally said something culturally insensitive or hurtful right before my eyes. Left unchallenged, these inadvertent racial gaffes can grow into something far more insidious. The recent increase in violent acts against Asian Americans (or anybody for that matter) is disturbing to me. As part of God’s master creation, we should never face discrimination based on the color of our skin. Red or yellow, black or white, we are all precious in his sight. Those who think otherwise need to be educated and/or held accountable.

But let’s not all go ballistic over a few descriptive words penned at a time when there was far less scrutiny about such things. Let’s not overreact for the sake of twenty-first century political correctness. Geisel’s writing was a product of a different time. Plus, there’s no compelling proof that the guy was racist at all. Just the opposite by many accounts. For good measure, his family and the company that preserves his work have acknowledged the errors, they’ve apologized, and they’ve agreed to take these books in question out of circulation.

So what’s the big deal? It pains me to see the good doctor under attack. There’s no need to skewer the brilliant man’s legacy. You have to think that those who are doing so are just piling on.

Now I hear that many school districts have also decided to no longer promote Dr. Seuss’s books on Read Across America Day. On Monday, President Joe Biden also refrained from mentioning Dr. Seuss in his Read Across America Day proclamation.

That’s disappointing to hear. Because in this world we live in, nobody’s perfect. You have to take the good with the bad. And with all that Dr. Seuss has done—gifting us all those formative hours spent learning to read, broadening all our imaginations in his colorful make-believe world, and leaving us all with those impressionable flashback memories of Horten Hears a Who, or The Lorax, or How The Grinch Stole Christmas—his good FAR supersedes any hint of bad that troublemakers are trying to stir up.

From my slanty-eyed perspective, Dr. Seuss’s stories will always remain Pulitzer worthy.

And here’s a final piece of world-wide truth for citizens around the globe. Chopsticks work better than forks.

24 thoughts on “A Slanty-Eyed Man Responds to Dr. Seuss Controversy

  1. Well said, John. I’m not sure I’m fully aligned with your assessment but I always enjoy your take on current events.

    One thing you nailed: chop sticks are superior to forks.

    Cheers Ward

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

      1. It also helps to lift the rice bowl closer to my lips. Probably not socially acceptable but it works for me. Thanks John for your wise words. Martha Cassity

        Like

  2. Thanks so much for your insights on this timely topic. As a retired pre-school and elementary teacher who experienced the joys of the children’s reactions to Dr. Seuss books as well as their value in motivating children to read this has weighed heavily on my mind. I have not examined the books in question but I can not imagine a world without Dr. Seuss! Chopsticks might work better than forks if you are proficient in using them! I will have to start practicing!

    Like

  3. Appreciate your words, your perspective, your life experience and your wonderful balanced sense of wisdom so much John injected into yet another hyper-sensitive, over-reactive cultural debate we seem to so often be having these days. I hope ok with you, I sent a link to WVLK whose talk show hosts Jack Pattie and Larry Glover have been commenting on this debate recently!

    Like

    1. Thanks Alan. I was invited on to Larry’s show this afternoon. Had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, but left with my principles intact. Always appreciate your encouragement.

      Like

  4. We have twitter and Facebook to thank for these cancel culture snowflakes. It’s far to easy to organize and go after anything that doesn’t align with their skewed beliefs. Dr. Seuss is about as racist as Harper Lee or Captain Kangaroo.

    Like

  5. Thank you John, once again your remarkable insights. I always enjoy your candid views and I am glad that you broke out of orthodontics to keep us informed.

    Like

    1. Thanks Ray. I’ve enjoyed making people smile with my writing just as much as I enjoyed creating actual smiles in the mouth. Life is short. Gotta try new things, eh?

      Like

  6. Your compelling comments give credence to the fact that we do live in “The United States of the Offended.” Well said!

    Like

  7. I’m Dr Huang’s age so I am copacetic with his Dr Seuss history. I also grew up with this fascinating, colorful, wonderful set of books. The PC Police will never be happy until Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird and Gone With The Wind are edited, rewritten or possibly banned. I’m sick and tired of the Counter Culture/I’m Offended onslaught: nice article by Dr H….you again clarify the obvious: keep your safe space on campus or in your home, but leave our cherished books alone.

    Like

  8. Great read! Thanks for your perspective and, if you don’t mind, I will be tagging your post on my next blog post. As a Puerto Rican (born and raised), I have also been the recipient of misplaced comments that were, more often than not, well-meaning and inadvertent. The times when those ill comments were intentional, I confronted them. But none bruised my ego, nor stopped me from being happy. But I also loved your post because it is almost, verbatim, what my 52 yr old husband (who is 1/2 Korean) always says about growing up in upstate NY as one of only 2 Asians in his neighborhood. He, too, is incensed about this Dr. Seuss nonsense.

    Like

  9. Thanks for your insight. I have a nephew and niece that are graduates of The Giesel Scool of Medicine at Dartmouth, an Ivy League Medical School. I kept my Minnesota birth quiet growing up in small town Arkansas, where my father started a Lutheran Church in 1963 that was integrated – unheard of at the time and still rare, as Sunday is often referred to as the most segregated day in the U.S. I never imagined I would be considered racist for believing public institutions & laws should be “color-blind”.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Holly Crovo Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s