Carlson stated that the discontinuation and criticism of some of Dr. Seuss’s books is a “calculated” and “intentional” attack by the left to destroy a mid-century meritocracy that championed “color-blindness.” He claimed that “they’re banning Dr. Seuss not because he was a racist, but precisely because he wasn’t.” The implication is that it is the liberals who are the real racists. Tucker hammered home his point by highlighting Seuss’s anti-prejudice book The Sneetches, but he totally ignored the offending pictures from the six books that were discontinued.
Similarly, conservative political commentator Michael Knowles called the decision to discontinue a few Dr. Seuss books another example of cancel culture. He laughingly said that the six books were banned “because they have insensitive and politically incorrect depictions of cats or something . . . I don’t know, I haven’t read them.” But his ignorance of the actual drawings didn’t prevent him from abusing and blaming liberals.
Meanwhile, talk show host Stephen Colbert argued that the discontinuation of some of Seuss’s books was not an example of cancel culture (discussion of Dr. Seuss starts at 8:30):
Colbert called the decision “a responsible move.” He said, “There hadn’t been an earth-shattering outcry, but they [Dr. Seuss Enterprises] recognized the impact that these images might have on readers, especially kids, and they’re trying to fix it, because Dr. Seuss books should be fun for all people . . . Dr. Seuss has also so many books that are lovely and teach vital lessons that resonate to this day . . . The Dr. Seuss folks listened to criticism, thought it was reasonable, and made what’s called . . . a change.” He finished his segment by poking fun at Fox News and suggesting a handful of modern books by people of color.
Meanwhile, British comedian and political commentator John Oliver criticized conservatives1for their complaints, arguing that “The books weren’t banned . . . a company deciding which of its own books it will or won’t print is an example of free-enterprise, not facism.” Oliver grudgingly showed some of the offending images from the books and then asked, “Are these really things that we want to fight for kids to see?” He went on to criticize Tucker Carlson’s segment on Suess, calling him out in this fashion—“Shut. . .up, Tucker, you fear-mongering lacrosse injury.”
After reviewing all of this, I was left feeling convicted and troubled. My initial complaint against cancel culture was invalid and I had readily jumped to conclusions without knowing the facts. If I’m honest, deep inside of me there had been anger toward those who would dare criticize the beloved Dr. Seuss. And here is the interesting thing—this anger, this uninformed disdain for those who might hold a different opinion than I do—something that all commentators we discussed in this article agree that Dr. Seuss would have been against—is exactly the kind of thing that was stoked by Carlson, Knowles, Oliver, and (to a lesser degree) Colbert.
Carlson and Knowles were uninformed about the issues, or they simply ignored the facts so that they could demonize “liberals.” And while in this particular case, both Colbert and Oliver were more honest and reflective, they also ripped “conservatives,” portraying them as fear-mongering idiots (Oliver’s comment about Carlson being a “fear-mongering lacrosse injury” is particularly troubling). Each commentator was operating under the assumption that it’s “us” vs. “them,” “liberals” vs. “conservatives,” and that the other was to blame. And there was I in the middle, rashly following a reactionary course until more sober conversation, honest reflection, and factual investigation caused me to repent and rethink my position.
Each commentator involved was fighting over the meaning of the word “racist,” which makes sense, because how we define words matters. The problem is that they each did so in a way that was uninformed and abusive to others. Throughout these commentaries, Seuss’s drawings, Seuss himself, those who wish to remove the images, and “liberals” are all called or implied to be “racist.” If we can slap the label “racist” on something or someone, it allows us to lump that person or thing together with whatever constitutes racism in our minds. It allows us to dismiss that person or thing without further comment. Using words like “liberals” and “conservatives” has the danger of doing the same thing.
To be clear, our purpose here is not to define who and who isn’t racist. To say that this was not an example of cancel culture and to speak out against some of Seuss’s drawings is not to say that Seuss was necessarily a racist, nor is it to accept the way in which the word “racist” is tossed around today. It is to affirm a deeply Christian truth—that all people deserve dignity and respect because of their status as God’s image-bearers. To abuse, degrade, or insult another human being is thus to take such action against God himself.
I tell this story to highlight the way in which the cultural dialogue around the Dr. Seuss fiasco was almost entirely unproductive and harmful, and also to show the way in which we are all in danger of adding more noise and stoking the fires of anger against others we happen to differ with, politically or otherwise. As I reflect on these things, I think there are three valuable lessons to be learned.
First, when we enter cultural dialogue, it is essential that we are informed. We need to take an honest look at the facts and resist the temptation to jump to conclusions. The discontinuation of six Dr. Seuss books was not an act of cancel culture. It was a thoughtful decision on the part of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which has every right to decide what they will and will not publish. Second, we must consider those who might have been hurt by the thing in question. In this case, some of Seuss’s drawings were truly unkind, hurtful, and degrading towards other people groups. We would all do well to ask, “How would I feel if I was the person depicted in an inhumane or mocking way in this book?” And finally, we must—I repeat, we must—show Christian love to those with whom we disagree. The dignity of my fellow human beings ought to be foremost in my mind as I am debating with them. If the tone of my argument or criticism encourages hatred towards anyone, I have failed in my Christian duty. May God help us to love one another, just as he loved us (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Sign up here to receive weekly Reflect emails in your inbox!