Why are Dr. Seuss’s depictions racist, but Lego’s not?

Because Dr. Seuss’s estate announced that they will stop publishing a few titles with racist images, I looked up some of the books which contain these offensive images.

(By the way, this is not quite “cancel culture” – they are only stopping to publish a few titles by a prolific dead author. Most authors will hope to be this successful, with only a few of their books going out of print 30 years after their death.)

I could find at least one picture which is definitely racist, from a book that I never heard about. (In my book-loving childhood with my father often relocating, I read through the Seuss works in at least 2 school-and 2 public libraries. So, if I have not heard of a book, I would guess it is one of his less popular titles.) It pictured blacks as primitive, not just traditional.

Others among the titles have a few stereotypical depictions of Chinese and Eskimos, but not, as far as the average person has ever heard, negative. Many people in sections of China dressed like the depictions, and even today some Eskimos can still be photographed in something close to their traditional fur outfits.

Some pictures produced even now feature the same stereotypes. Here is one example:

On the left: The most (allegedly) offensive picture from a 1937 book by Dr. Seuss. On the right: Details from “Chen’s Noodle House” in the Ninjago City Gardens Lego set from this year.

Both feature a stereotypical Chinese character with a conical hat and a noodle bowl. Dr. Seuss’ To think I saw it on Mulberry Street uses the words “A Chinese man who eats with sticks.” The 2021 Lego set shows Mr. Chen twice – once as a picture on a sign and once as a minifig. Youtube videos of the Lego Ninjago story even make the Mr. Chen character from the Noodle House a villain. Why is one okay, and the other not? If you argue that Dr. Seuss is problematic because the character is referred to as Chinese: the Chinese-inspired characters in If I ran the zoo was not called Chinese, but it is one of the books which went out of print now.

Personally, I think they just stopped publishing his most boring books. I checked out the stories of three of the canceled books, and they are all just kids imagining one weird thing after another, with no continuity or movement to the story. Which is very much unlike the meaningful stories in his better books, like The Lorax.

About Retha Faurie

Attempting to question everything, reject the bad and hold fast to the good.
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