By Diana Diamond
What I Saw on Mulberry Street – and other cultural revisionsUploaded: Mar 9, 2021
Writing about racism in our society today is always a delicate – and sometimes a dicey -- matter. Some people, it seems, are rushing to declare a book as “racist” or “anti-racist” after reading a few opening paragraphs.
I am anti-racism -- I’ve been so for years and years. I am also a Democrat. And white. And the ban of six Dr. Seuss books has, unfortunately, become politicized.
I support Dr. Seuss. After re-reading a couple of his now unacceptable and never-to-be-published-again books, I think the censoring of those six books is written in the 1950s too drastic an action. The decision was made by the Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The business said it “came after working with a panel of experts, including educators, and reviewing its catalog of titles.” Except this group of “experts” remain unnamed. some of Seuss’s books are now being taken off library shelves by librarians saying the books are “racist.”
I first discovered Dr. Seuss when my four children were toddlers. M weekly trip to the library for books to read always included Seuss books. They all loved them. Favorites were “The Cat and the Hat “and “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel), was creative, a wonderful rhymer, whimsical, repetitive (for those learning to read), and simply giggly fun. He drew fantastic cartoon characters.
So, the other day I reread some of the banned books, starting with “And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street.” In brief, the story line is about a young boy, Marco, whose father tells him to look at what he saw when walking down to his school o Mulberry Street, and report back to him. The first day he saw nothing, and his father told him to try harder. The second day he saw an old man sit ting on a cart being pulled by a horse. His father liked it and told Marco to find something new. Alas, on the third day all he saw was the same horse and old man.
Soon the boy realized he couldn’t tell his father about the same old man each day, so he began making up a creative tale. “I’ll have a zebra pulling the cart,” he declared, which soon became a blue elephant. The cart got bigger and when a reindeer was pulling, the card became a sled. Soon became a float with a bandstand and 18 musicians. Still not satisfied, he had two giraffes helping the blue elephant. And then there was a parade, led by four policemen on motorcycles – all on Mulberry Street.
Toward the end of the book on a double-page spread, he created people watching the parade, including the mayor and city council, some young kids, a grandstand and Sgt. Mulvaney leading the parade on his police motorcycle. Among the hundreds gathered, in the left-hand corner on a double-page spread. Seuss included Chinese man eating a bowl of rice with his chopsticks. The man had a long braid, a pointed hat and two lines for his eyes. That one little man on the corner of the page has caused all the fuss and the declarations the book was “racist.”
Now some say Seuss is using the drawing as a symbolic figure for all Chinese, and that is the book should not be published. I feel like this group of “experts” was using a magnifying glass to go through each page to find something offensive. So, I took a magnifying glass and thought maybe the policemen were symbols of Irishmen in a racist way, and the band, well it had no female members – so is that sexist? How far can we take this – looking for something culturally inappropriate to ban a book? Mulberry Street is a stylized cartoon book full of creative fun characters. Period.
The same is true in Seuss’s “If I Ran a Zoo” book. It starts with a boy walking through a zoo, looking at tigers and lions and rhinoceroses in cages, and declared that if he ran this zoo, he would have creatures from everywhere. And so, he describes Australian, Asian and American animals he would create, and then takes some from the African island of Yerka. And therein lies the problem. Two monkey-looking animals are dressed in grass skirts and are barefoot and Seuss now gets accused of depicting black Africans as monkeys.
So why does this manner? Because it is one more incident in claiming something is offensive. Yet all of Seuss’s characters are weird and have strange names.
And where do we draw the line?
Maybe we should start banning all the John Wayne cowboy-and Indian movies, because white Wayne always wins? Should these movies be banned because they are anti-American Indians? And what about Charlie Chan movies? Time to ban them?
And not too long ago, a San Francisco school district had a committee that recommended 26 names of schools should be removed because these individuals did something inappropriate in their lives. George Washington owned slaves, so his name must go, as well as Abraham Lincoln, Dianne Feinstein, Francis Scott Key, etc.
We’ve gone too far. We are applying some of today’s values on people who were our heroes. It’s called Culture Cancel. It feels like we want to erase what offends us from past. The problem is what’s offensive to some may not be to others. Abraham Lincoln? He freed the slaves, yet his name must go, the committee declared.
We learn from the past, and change our views. We don’t get rid of the past.