Photo by Catherine Hammond on Unsplash
Yesterday was the birthday of beloved children’s author ‘Dr. Suess’. It was also the day that the company which owns the rights to his books, Dr. Suess Enterprises, announced that it would no longer publish six of his books because of their outdated racist imagery.
Fox News and other conservative outlets spent the day ranting against “cancel culture” and bemoaning the loss of access to Suess’s work. Many, many Americans agreed, and social media was deluged with complaints about censorship, book banning and overreactions by “woke” leftists.
I am here to try to calm a few folks down. The prolific Dr. Suess did write 60 children’s books, after all, so even if six of them fall out of use, it’s not as if the man himself is being erased from history.
Here’s the thing, friends. Society evolves and grows. It changes over time, and that’s a very very good thing.
When my Dad was a child, back in the 1930s, he used to figure out whose turn it was to play by reciting, “Eeny-meeny-miney-moe, catch a n*^#ger by the toe.” By the time I was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, we said “catch a tiger by the toe.” Because times had changed, and society was showing a bit of progress.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the first Black American actor to achieve success was known as “Stepin Fetchit“. He became a superstar in the 1930s by portraying a lazy, ignorant servant who got the best of his white bosses by refusing to work. Imagine that image on thousands of movie screens.
Now think of Chadwick Bozeman of “Black Panther” Fame. The King of Wakanda. Powerful, brilliant, sexy and strong.
Is it “cancel culture” that we would never again feel comfortable with a character like the former, but we are all in awe of the latter?
And if we want to talk about books, I can think back to the day when one of my favorite books was called “Little Black Sambo”. A little caricature of an African child is being chased by a tiger. He climbs a tree and gets the tiger to run in circles around it until the animal turns into butter (I know, right?) As a small child, I loved the pictures in the book. I loved the idea of tiger butter. I loved the color of the trees in the book. But I never even noticed the grossly enlarged lips or flattened nose of the boy.
I would never even consider showing that book to my grandkids now.
Is that “cancel culture”, or am I just more aware of racial stereotypes 60 years after reading that book? If that makes me “woke”, then I consider it a good thing.
Times change. Societies evolve. What might have looked funny decades ago is less acceptable now. What’s the problem with that?
If anyone feels a particularly deep love for “If I Ran the Zoo”, there are lots of copies in area libraries. Go get one. If somebody grew up just loving “To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” keep reading it to your grandkids. Nobody is coming to steal your books. Nobody is planning to throw them on the bonfire.
We’re just evolving and trying be better as humans and as Americans.
It isn’t “cancel culture”. It’s progress.
7 thoughts on “Relax! No One is Coming For Your “Green Eggs and Ham.””
I think the song WAP is disgusting and degrading towards women. Should it be banned?
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I don’t think we’re talking about “banning” anything. A book company, a private US company, made a decision not to keep publishing a few books. Books that you can get at any library and of which there are millions of copies in circulation. Get a grip. These books were published more than 50 years ago; they’re dated. The publisher decided to let them go. Nobody is “banning” your sexist or racist choices.
I think we’ll agree to disagree on censorship
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I was surprised to learn that they were still publishing those books. I can’t recall ever reading those books. Green eggs and ham, yes, but the six? They were still in print?
I guess so! But not very popular, not very widely used. This is the typical conservative tempest in a teapot.
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Guess it’s part of our “outrage culture.” Find something small and scream about it.
I remember Little Black Sambo, too. I loved that book, as well. I thought he was incredibly smart. I don’t remember that his features were a caricature. Of course, I think when I read it that I didn’t really know about racism. My early years were in a very white community where I didn’t see many people of any color other than white. I wouldn’t read that version of the story now although a newer version could focus on what I saw–the incredible ingenuity in the face of real danger. We don’t have to lose the message behind a lot of books that are now outdated. Good stories get retold to fit the times.
By the way, I have to reread it, but I just started reading a Bill Bryson book on how American English has evolved. In the intro, I think, he mentions that “eenie, meenie, minee, moe” actually comes from a primitive, preliterate form of counting. (I caught Tigers by the toe as well!) He talks about how a lot of nursery rhymes came from times totally divorced from the experience of children reciting them, who had no idea what they meant.