American threat assessment time, liberal style. Sound off! The biggest, most minatory dangers to American life are as follows: racism, racism, racism, Donald Trump, racism, racism, racism, Marjorie Taylor Greene, racism, racism, racism, white supremacy, racism, racism, racism, mean tweets, racism, racism, racism, Fox News, racism, racism, sexism, Seuss, and Sneetches.
That should cover it, at least from the point of view of our grizzling, knee-knocking friends on the left. The requisite mourning time for Rush Limbaugh is over, so my broad-cast trawl should have netted anything and everything that raises the sensitive hackles of every progressive.
Of course, fretting about skin pigmentation is liberal old hat. And our orangish ex-president is an eternal bugbear (and fundraiser extraordinaire) for the professional left. But for reasons unfathomable but two weeks ago, Theodor Geisel, better known by his nome de neogolist Dr. Seuss, is now Aryan Brotherhood adjacent, another unfortunate in woke’s eager crosshairs. How did the leftie cartoonist, who not-so-subtly stuffed his children’s stories with banal liberal ethics, find himself on the canceled firing line?
By being a banal liberal for one. And for having the audacity of living and dying within the benighted twentieth century, instead of our more enlightened, morally heightened age.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company with the rights to the late Geisel’s expansive menagerie of anthropomorphic creatures, is discontinuing the production of a half-dozen books deemed unsuitable for contemporary tastes. These Day-Glo-brushed, trisyllabic-heavy works, which were already fairly obscure, contain problematic illustrations of the Piss Christ, the Virgin Mary encircled in ordure, and child slayer Marcus Harvey.
Oh wait! Seuss never sketched any of these repellent figures. Had his talent been used in the service of such profanity, the sketcher non-doc would’ve joined the pantheon of respected, empty-souled iconoclasts. Instead, Seuss drew a few crude racial stereotypes that would be a dumb-funny gag in any early ‘90s Adam Sandler flick.
But the woke-cancel squad isn’t satisfied being unsatisfied with harmless drawings of Arabs on camels. It’s not enough to memory-hole a few base but ultimately harmless caricatures. The message of Seuss’s books must also be abrogated, for it does not conform to the sententious standards of the new left.
I say “new” left because Seuss himself was a well-known man of the left. But this was the leftism of mid-century liberalism: the open-minded, tolerant, color-blind liberalism famously preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. But that kind of liberalism qua liberalism is tres-passé to what Andrew Sullivan calls the neo-racists of today, who have swapped equality for hyper racialized “equity.” Being woke actually means having your eyes taped back so as to force you to notice every single degree of skin pigmentation.
In Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches, the bipedal, pot-bellied, emu-esque characters run afoul of the equity enforcers by transcending their superficial differences. Segregated between Plain-Belly Sneetches and Star-Bellied Sneetches, the appearance-obsessed avians end up getting snookered by a humbugish Harold Hill, who removes and affixes stars to their tummies in exchange for a tidy sum of Sneetchy sovereigns. Soon enough the Sneetches can’t keep track of who had congenital star status. Then the illusory caste rationalization collapses; when any Sneetch can acquire a star, the star itself doesn’t matter. They’re all Sneetches in the end.
That moral was the kitschy high-water mark of the civil rights movement. But now it’s suspect, even harmful and unproductive, among anti-racist identitarians. In a 2019 post at Learning for Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s school curriculum hub, activist Gabriel Smith explains the danger of inculcating children with the Sneetches’ learned equality: “This message of ‘acceptance’ does not acknowledge structural power imbalances…instead of encouraging young readers to recognize and take action against injustice, the story promotes a race-neutral approach.”
A race-neutral approach? My stars of David! It’s no better than mein Führer in the flesh!
Apologies to Godwin, but it’s true, if even facile: MLK’s post-race imperative is being jettisoned by the icon’s social-justice activist heirs. The axiom of the Kendis and DiAngelos is that race is the all-determinative factor in everything. Ignoring skin color is racism. Just like war is peace and freedom is slavery. The doublethink is the point.
And none of it is about the late Geisel. As Tucker Carlson recently monologued: “When the people in charge cancel Dr. Seuss, what they’re really trying to eliminate is a very specific kind of midcentury American culture, a culture that championed meritocracy and color-blindness and the superiority of individual achievement over tribal identity.”
Invoking “midcentury American culture,” may rub some readers the wrong way. The Mayberry era is seen as staid, monochrome, conformist, and constricting in the modern American imagination. But the a-wokened alternative seems backwards, even barbaric, in comparison. Reducing not just our fellow citizens, but our entire social organization, to something as pat as melanin is a jarring reversal in the more-perfect-union creed that’s been an American narrative staple for decades.
Dr. Seuss is a sad casualty in the far left’s long march on the idea of racial equality. Sneetches will soon be in the stocks, getting pelted with rotten vegetables for race-eliding wrongthink. The Cat in the Hat will soon be pari passu in pillory. I was fortunate enough recently to find a copy of The Sneetches and Other Stories for my kids in a neighbor’s curbside give-away box. Soon, that’ll be the only way of obtaining the cultural touchstones of the country’s founding ideal—in a rubbish heap.