Was Dr. Seuss Racist? Old Ads, Cartoons Support A Librarian's Claims Made While Denying Trump's Book Donation

A fresh controversy was brewing on Friday involving Melania Trump, a school librarian, Dr. Seuss and accusations of racism.

The librarian for Cambridgeport Elementary School in Massachusetts, Liz Phipps Soeiro, rejected a shipment of 10 Dr. Seuss books from Trump, writing in a post on The Horn Book's Family Reading blog that the school didn't need the books and called the author a "bit of a cliche, a tired and worn ambassador for children's literature."

But folks especially objected to Phipps Soeiro pointing out that Seuss—born Theodor Geisel—created racist works. "Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes," the librarian wrote in the blog post. 

This isn't a new allegation, and you'd be hard-pressed to argue some of the images in Seuss's works aren't racist. A 2012 article on Business Insider titled, "Before Dr. Seuss Was Famous He Drew These Sad, Racist Ads," details works by the artist showing "black people...presented as savages, living in the tropics, dressed in grass skirts," and "Arabs...portrayed as camel-riding nomads or sultans."

And Philip Nel, a scholar and professor of children's literature, wrote in the book Was the Cat in the Hat Black? that some of Seuss's work was steeped in racist undertones. Nel argued that the character in the Cat in the Hat "was based on racial stereotypes and inspired by traditions of blackface minstrel entertainment," wrote the Atlantic

Seuss also drew offensive caricatures of Japanese people around the time Japanese-Americans were being put in internment camps

Many conservatives have pushed back against the librarian who denied the books. "They're not just trying to indoctrinate our children in colleges. They're doing it at the elementary level," said Fox news contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy.

Seuss/Geisel does have a complicated history. He later expressed regret about some of his racist cartoons, especially those depicting Japanese people during World War II.

"The only evidence I have comes from his biographers, who told me that years later—although still recognizing its necessity due to the war—he was regretful about some of his cartoons for PM and some of the propaganda work he did for the Army Signal Corps," said filmmaker Ron Lamothe, who made the film The Political Dr. Seuss.

This summer, The New York Times wrote about the Seuss museum in Springfield, Massachussetts, and how it ignored, especially, Geisel's work during the war. Nel, the scholar who has studied Seuss extensively, told the Times it was irresponsible to leave out this work. 

“I think to understand Seuss fully, you need to understand the complexity of his career," Nel told the Times. "You need to understand that he’s involved in both anti-racism and racism, and I don’t think you get that if you omit the political work."

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