I Just Realized All The Authors I Loved As A Kid Wrote Racist Shit (Yeah, Even That Guy)
Let’s talk about the guy all the Fox News personalities are mad about this week. Is it Madison Cawthorn, the U.S. Representative accused of sexual misconduct? Is it Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor accused of sexual misconduct? Is it Joe Biden, the U.S. President accused of sexual misconduct? Not this time. It’s Dr Seuss, obviously. According to them, he’s been canceled, and that’s wrong.
And it is wrong! I mean, there’s no way the guy could have been that bad. Let’s see what this is about—hold on, I’m googling—
Okay, so, this week the estate of Theodor “Dr Seuss” Geisel decided to pull six of the deceased author’s children’s books due to racist portrayals of people of color. It looks like Geisel did a couple political cartoons with some racist imagery, too. This looks pretty bad, but don’t worry too much cause I’m hearing he totally apologized. Let’s see what he said:
“When I look at them now they’re hurriedly and embarrassingly badly drawn, and they’re full of many snap judgements that every political cartoonist has to make.”
Well…okay, but what about the racism? You gotta be more specific, man. Art skills weren’t the problem there.
So, fine. We can chalk Dr. Seuss up to a bit of a “yikes.” It’s probably smart to use a little bit of discernment looking at his work. But seriously, it’s time to stop taking down all my childhood heroes. It happens all the time, and I’m positive it’s because of cancel culture and has nothing to do with the fact that it’s historically been easier for white people to get away with bad behavior. And yeah, occasionally work that bad behavior into published books, I guess.
Roald Dahl, for instance, is another guy who gets flack. Admittedly, it’s not great that, in the original draft of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas were depicted as an obvious mockery of African people. Looks like the guy also made some antisemitic comments that he’s too dead to apologize for, even though his estate did in December of 2020. But on the other hand… okay, well, never mind, he’s a bad example, there’s not much of an excuse there.
But I refuse to see how J.K. Rowling could have turned out to be such a repugnant transphobe! The magical world of Harry Potter was squeaky clean. Well… I mean, sure, some have pointed out that her choice to portray the greedy goblin race as hook-nosed bankers might reveal, at the very best, some unconscious bias. I guess it’s kinda cringe that she only wrote one Asian character into the entire series and named her “Cho Chang”. But I, for one, saw no problem with house elves, the race of slaves who loved being slaves.
About the only thing I loved more than Harry Potter was Percy Jackson. Man, those books were good! Thank goodness for Rick Riordan, that unproblematic king. Did you know that he included a Black character, a Native American character, an Asian character, a Puerto Rican character, and a Latino character in the main cast of those Heroes of Olympus books? That’s all the kinds of people. The guy covered his bases.
Except—oh no. What’s that? I’m getting word that, among other issues, the Native American character’s Cherokee heritage is portrayed inaccurately and disrespectfully. Something about how she wears feathers and cuts her hair. Sounds like it’s way more meaningful to their nation than he made it seem, and it definitely would have come up if he’d done any research. Hmmm. It also looks like he based all the Cherokee mythology in the series on a book written by a white guy. Yeah, I guess sixth grade was a while ago, cause I didn’t remember all this was in here. Sheesh.
But at least he also included some representation for young Muslim girls in that Norse mythology series! Oh—stand by. I’m hearing from Muslim fans that the fact that Samirah is a teenager who is happily looking forward to an arranged marriage is actually not bucking a harmful stereotype, as Rick Riordan claims, but actually leaning directly into it. And—oh dear. There’s a passage where the main character says that hearing her say “Allahu akbar” made him think about terrorists, which, even in context, is not good.
Not to worry, it seems Rick Riordan addressed the issue on his blog in summer 2020! I’m sure he totally understood that his good intentions don’t negate the harm he’s done. I bet he took responsibility for it and promised to do better without being dismissive or condescending to teenage fans who actually belong to these marginalized groups in real life. Let’s take a look:
“Earlier, I decided to block some folks on Twitter (about half a dozen?) who were being rude and pushy trying to get me to respond to things/apologize for things I have addressed many times already over the years.”
“On Twitter, I referred to this behavior as bullying…A couple of them admitted they enjoyed bullying me to see if they could force me to write my books the way they preferred.”
“if Samirah seems like a hurtful stereotype, all I can say is I strongly disagree.”
“If you are of a marginalized group I have written about, and you have read the books in question, and you feel hurt by the depictions, I absolutely apologize. My only request would be that you judge what I have written by actually reading what I wrote, in context, and not by what you’ve heard secondhand on social media.”
Well, okay—I have to admit, this is kinda crushing. It almost makes me think maybe we should read more stories about people of color from authors of color. Is that crazy? That’s probably crazy. Never mind.