After a month of learning about black history, schools across the country turn right around and spend the first week of March celebrating Dr. Seuss, a person who exhibited many racist-like tendencies, during Read Across America week.
This week falls over Dr. Seuss’s birthday and led to years of celebrating his children’s books. While the National Education Association (NEA) changed this week to “create and celebrate a nation of diverse readers” without mention of Dr. Seuss, many schools continue to use the old model focusing on his children’s book.
Dr. Seuss has many published works depicting black people as apes or animals and offensive stereotypes of both black people and Asians. While many of his children’s books may not be seen as problematic, they are certainly not inclusive or diverse. In the few children’s books that do include black people, like If I Ran the Zoo, black people are “depicted as shirtless, shoeless monkeys, in subservient positions to white males.” (@theconsciouskid)
I’m not going to pretend like my own family doesn’t own a couple Dr. Seuss books. Just do a quick Google search of bestselling children’s books, and it brings up at least seven of his most well-known books. I’m not asking you to throw away all of his books that you own.
What I am suggesting is much harder.
During this week of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, I suggest:
1. Teachers, parents, and caregivers use this week to evaluate the books they are providing to their students or children. Make three different piles of all your books that primarily include (1) white people, (2) animals/mythical creatures/vehicles/etc., and (3) people of color. See where your collection is lacking and work to provide mirrors for every child to see themselves reflected in books and windows to other cultures, races, and traditions.
2. Listen to people of color. Listen to their voices and lived experiences. Listen to their thoughts on Dr. Seuss. Listen to what books and media told them about themselves as children.
3. Look inside your own biases and stereotypes. They are there. We all have them. Start educating yourself on the history of race and racism in our country and how our culture has and continues to teach and uphold racism, even to the youngest audiences. Be the Bridge is a wonderful resource if you do not know where to begin.
4. Start conversations with children on race, cultures, traditions, skin colors, or anyone different than them. Children are never too young to learn how to love, support, and advocate for anyone and everyone. Hint: books are great conversation starters. Check out this great list of children’s books.
5. Donate books to schools, daycares, friends, or family.
6. Not sure what to do with your Dr. Seuss books? Check out these bookmarks by Teach for the Change that you can purchase and create to help others critically analyze his books.
All of us taking these small steps will lead to big changes.
And what better week than Dr. Seuss’s birthday to teach our children that words matter, racism is real, and we need to hold each other accountable to stand up and use our voices for what is right.