Based on recent headlines, nailing down what is or is not “racist” is an elusive endeavor, and it seems clear many prefer this scenario over a more absolute alternative. The thought process appears to be: “Let’s keep them on their heels by continually changing the definition.” What was harmless and worthy of celebration only a few years ago is wholly unacceptable today, and what would have been viewed as racist then is virtuous now. It’s all very confusing, and not accidental. There is little logic applied to the standards. And that fluidity in criteria is intentional; meant to help drive a certain agenda.
For those intent on dividing us by every category imaginable, and for those who place identity politics at the top of their list of power-seeking strategies, changing yardsticks with which to measure victimization within those categories serves them well in achieving those goals.
Somehow, works by iconic American children’s author Dr. Seuss are now being labeled as racist. What has changed within the content of Dr. Seuss’ books? Nothing, of course. Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel, the man who came to be known as Dr. Seuss, died almost thirty years ago, and left behind a tremendous legacy when he did. Because of his books, millions of children were instilled with an intense curiosity for knowledge and a lifelong affection for learning. Children enjoyed his stories, the way in which the author rhymed their texts, and the cleverly peculiar illustrations that accompanied them. Dr. Seuss’ books were magical.
But somehow, in the twisted and perverse minds of radical and divisive race-baiters, six of Dr. Seuss’ books were deemed to be not-so-magical, but rather blatantly racist. What happens in the minds of such activists, or in the minds of anyone for that matter, should typically be none of our concern. But such ideas become concerning, and indeed highly problematic, when those same activists are able to convince those with the publishing rights of such books to shut down all printing and distribution of the material. When their warped ideology results in the 21st-century’s version of book burning, we find ourselves on a very slippery slope. If Dr. Seuss can be labeled a racist, who’s next?
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To fully appreciate the extent to which the anti-Seuss crowd has gone in distorting the meaning of racism, we must first try to understand their argument. Dr. Seuss Enterprises (the entity that owns the publishing right to all of the late-author’s material), asserted the following regarding the decision, “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Sounds bad, but what exactly does that hurt and wrongfulness look like?
Kansas State University Professor of Children’s Literature Dr. Philip Nel was recently interviewed by Esquire Magazine’s Adrienne Westenfeld, and gave the following example:
“The most egregious [instance] come[s] in ‘If I Ran the Zoo’, from 1950, which includes a page featuring the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant, with helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant… These are caricatures of Asian people who are helping him gather the animals. The same book has the African island of Yerka, where Gerald McGrew will bring up a tizzle-topped-tufted Mazurka, an imaginary Seuss bird. It’s being carried by two caricatures of African men who, in addition to the usual racist caricature, also have tufts on their heads.”
According to Dr. Nel’s analysis, we can therefore conclude that it was the way in which Dr. Seuss drew the eyes of the Asian people, and the manner in which Seuss portrays the Africans wearing their hair. And while Nel doesn’t explain precisely what other characteristics qualify as a “usual racist caricature,” we can only assume those characteristics include some type of facial features and skin color. What Dr. Nel doesn’t explain, is this: what, specifically, makes those features racist?
People are different, we all look different, and undeniable distinctions exist between ethnicities and races. It seems absurd that this idea even needs to be explained, but absurdity appears to be a theme for our modern society. If we were to line up three people from three different races – one Asian, one European, and one African – there’s a very good chance most of us would be able to deduce which individual belongs to which race. Without hearing the person speak or asking them a single question, based on their skin color, facial features and hair, it’s highly likely that we would be able to ascertain which person was Asian, which was European, and which was African. In doing so, are we being racist for simply observing their appearances and making a simple calculation? Are we employing harmful stereotypes to arrive at our conclusions? Or, or are we simply using common sense and basic intelligence?
Furthermore, if one is to attempt to draw pictures of someone belonging to a certain race, they will need to include those differentiators that we all use internally when determining one’s race. If not, how else will the reader know the intended race of the characters the author is trying to tell us about?
For instance, Asians tend to have dark hair, a distinctive skin color, and uniquely-shaped eyes, depending on from which part of Asia that race originates. These aren’t racist or discriminatory ideas, these are facts. Facts we all know and understand based on the hypothetical experiment of the three-person line-up we just considered. Therefore, if Dr. Seuss, or anyone else for that matter, is attempting to depict Asian folks by drawing them, using typical skin colors and eye shapes is the most logical way to make those portrayals, is it not? Should Dr. Seuss have pretended that Asians, and Africans, and Europeans all look alike?
The more pertinent question, of course, is this: exactly what is racist about drawing an Asian person’s eyes differently from a European person’s eyes? Is it somehow belittling or degrading to point out easily-observable distinctions? In the words of Dr. Nel, if Dr. Seuss’ Asian characters “wear their eyes at a slant,” how is that racist? Is it the degree of the slant? Are they too slanted? Not slanted enough? Is it the fact that they’re slanted at all? And how about the eyes of the white people that Seuss depicts, eyes which aren’t worn at a slant? Are those drawings offensive and degrading to white people? If not, why?
To decide whether or not something is racist, including a drawing, we should first understand the definition of the term. The primary definition from Dictionary.com defines racism as, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” Additional definitions include, “an individual action or behavior based upon or fostering such a doctrine; racial discrimination,” and, “racial or ethnic prejudice or intolerance.” Similar definitions can be found in other dictionaries.
In our earlier exercise, we considered words like “harmful” and “offensive,” and it’s reasonable to conclude that Dr. Seuss’ drawings do not qualify. But note that in the actual definitions of racism, there is no mention of harmfulness or offensiveness; they are very specific. Therefore, let’s evaluate based on the definitions provided. Do the drawings from Dr. Seuss, using the descriptions and justifications from Dr. Nel, suggest any type of determinant of “cultural or individual achievement?” Do they somehow imply one race is “superior,” or has the right to “dominate others?” Is there any advocating for “racial discrimination,” “prejudice or intolerance?”
Dictionaries are precise in their definitions, and rightfully so. Words have meaning, as our friends on left like to remind us when it’s convenient for their purposes. And it’s reasonable to allow for some flexibility in the interpretation of definitions. But regardless of which definition we use, or from which dictionary we pull that definition from, it’s beyond comprehension to conclude that the illustrations from Dr. Seuss are even remotely prejudicial, intolerant, discriminatory, or supremacist. They are absolutely not racist. They are drawings from the brilliant mind of a well-meaning man intent on encouraging inclusion, an affection for education, and harmony. There are no hidden messages in the pictures, and there are no ulterior motives if we read between the lines. Dr. Seuss was attempting to show his young readers the wonders of humanity, and nothing more.
When we examine the shifting and often non-existent standards for determining the presence of racism, we should reflect on some examples of genuine racism, and what that racism actually looked like. There are many Americans who are old enough to remember segregation in America, which was alive and well as recently as fifty-seven years ago when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Americans were barred from using the same restrooms or attending the same schools as other Americans based on the color of their skin; that was racism. There are still Americans old enough to remember seeing firsthand the horrors of authentic white supremacism that thrived in Nazi Germany, and not the imaginary variety so many on the left bemoan today; that was racism. And while slavery is the single-most reprehensible aspect of our own history, we abolished the practice 157 years ago. Yet slavery of people based on the color of their skin persists to this very day in places like Libya; that is racism.
While we constantly see the goalposts being moved closer when evaluating racism perpetrated by white people, those same goalposts are being thrust away when it comes to other races. Magazines and websites proudly list their “black-owned business to support.” Corporations like Coca Cola are training their employees on how to be “less white.” And actor Nick Cannon continues with a thriving, high-paying career even after his disgusting comments calling white people “savages.” Reverse the races in any of those stories, and apply the aforementioned definitions of racism, and ask yourself – is that racist? There is only one conclusion we can make: racism from non-white communities not only exists, it’s readily accepted.
Racism is evil (that is true racism, as defined) and we should all be working to rid our society of it. We should be striving to bring all races together as Americans, regardless of our facial features, hair color, or how much melanin we have in our skin. But such an effort is futile if we’re looking under every rock possible when it comes to one group of people – and perusing old children’s books to connect dots that simply don’t exist – while simultaneously ignoring actual racism when it’s staring us in the face. Racism is ugly in whatever form it takes and by whoever is engaging in it. And it shouldn’t be hard for us to establish consistent standards and adhere to them.
P.F. Whalen is a conservative blogger at TheBlueStateConservative.com. His work has appeared in multiple publications, including Human Events, the Western Journal, and American Thinker. Follow him on Parler @PFWhalen.