More than that, The Sneetches taps into one of the fears that segregationists held, and which was represented as an ever-present danger in the Northern as well as the Southern states: the fear of “passing.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-09-02 01:24Z by Steven

More than that, The Sneetches taps into one of the fears that segregationists held, and which was represented as an ever-present danger in the Northern as well as the Southern states: the fear of “passing.” In a country where “one drop of African blood” made a person black and not white, worries about being able to place people in the racial hierarchy if they could “pass” for white emerged through various forms of cultural production. Mark Twain, Charles Chestnutt, and Nella Larsen all wrote novels about African-Americans passing for white. The 1930s musical “Showboat,” twice made into a film (in the 1930s and the 1950s), has a tragic plot involving passing. Another film, based on a Fannie Hurst novel, was made twice by Hollywood (again in the 1930s and the 1950s). “Imitation of Life,” in its second incarnation became the fourth-most successful movie of 1959—just two years before The Sneetches was published.

Karen Sands-O’Connor, “Dr. Seuss and Racial Passing,” theracetoread: Children’s Literature and Issues of Race, February 11, 2015.

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Dr. Seuss and Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-09-01 02:15Z by Steven

Dr. Seuss and Racial Passing

theracetoread: Children’s Literature and Issues of Race

Karen Sands-O’Connor, Professor
English Department
Buffalo State, The State University of New York, Buffalo, New York

A Star-Belly Sneetch’s worst fear: that we might not be able to tell “them” from “us”.

Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children’s authors in America. He also has a rather mixed record on issues of race and diversity. As a young man, Dr. Seuss wrote and drew for various magazines and college publications. In these, Seuss portrayed Africans and Asians in stereotypical fashion. During World War II, Seuss drew some political cartoons which sympathized with African-Americans and Jewish people and others that accused Japanese-Americans of perpetrating acts of sabotage.

After the war, Seuss’s attitudes changed. These changes in attitude came about, in part, because of his writing commissions. He visited Japan on assignment for Life magazine, and saw the devastation caused by the atomic bombs his country dropped. His writing for children also began to take off. Both of these things resulted in a measurable difference in his public attitudes toward racism…

Read the entire article here.

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Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: Exploring Dr. Seuss’s Racial Imagination

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-06-04 18:53Z by Steven

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: Exploring Dr. Seuss’s Racial Imagination

Children’s Literature
Volume 42, 2014
pages 71-98
DOI: 10.1353/chl.2014.0019

Philip Nel, Distinguished Professor of English
Kansas State University

In 1955, Dr. Seuss and William Spaulding—director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division—stepped into the publisher’s elevator at 2 Park Street in Boston. As Seuss’s biographers tell us, the elevator operator was an elegant, petite woman who wore white gloves and a secret smile (Morgan and Morgan 154). They don’t mention that she was Annie Williams, nor do they say that she was African American (Silvey). Seuss was on that elevator because Spaulding thought he could solve the Why Johnny Can’t Read crisis by writing a better reading primer. When Seuss sketched this book’s feline protagonist, he gave him Mrs. Williams’s white gloves, her sly smile, and her color. However, she is but one African American influence on Seuss’s most famous character. One source for that red bow tie is Krazy Kat, the black, ambiguously gendered creation of biracial cartoonist George Herriman (Cohen 325). Seuss, who admired what he called “the beautifully insane sanities” of Krazy Kat (qtd. in Nel, Dr. Seuss 70), also draws upon the traditions of minstrelsy—an influence that emerges first in a minstrel show he wrote for his high school. The Cat in the Hat is racially complicated, inspired by blackface performance, racist images in popular culture, and actual African Americans. The Cat’s influences help us to track the evolution of the African American cultural imaginary in Seuss’s work, but also, more importantly, to exemplify how children’s literature conceals its own racialized origins. Considering the Cat’s racial complexity both serves as an act of desegregation, acknowledging the “mixed bloodlines” (to borrow Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s phrase) of canonical children’s literature, and highlights how during the 1950s—a turning point for African Americans in children’s literature—picture books were a site where race, representation, and power were actively being contested.

Decades before the birth of his Cat in the Hat, racial caricature was an accepted part of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s childhood. D. W. Griffith’s acclaimed Birth of a Nation (1915), released the month Geisel turned eleven, offered a popular and racist depiction of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Jazz Singer (1927), the first feature-length “talking picture,” starred Al Jolson in blackface. One of Geisel’s favorite childhood books, Peter Newell’s The Hole Book (1908), follows a bullet’s comically disruptive journey through its pages, including one where a black mammy points to the hole in the watermelon, and addresses, in dialect, a group of wide-eyed black children: “‘Who plugged dat melon?’ mammy cried, / As through the door she came. / ‘I’d spank de chile dat done dat trick / Ef I could learn his name’” (fig. 1). Seuss remembered this book so well that sixty years after reading it, he could still quote its opening verse by heart (Nel, Dr. Seuss 18). If, as Tony Watkins has argued, “books tells stories that contribute to children’s unconscious sense of the ‘homeland’” (193), then these stories may have embedded racist caricature in Geisel’s unconscious, as an ordinary part of his visual imagination…

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