Cat in the Hat is a racist caricature of a Black man

Cat in the Hat is a racist caricature of a Black man

As a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss. “Cat in the Hat” is one of the first books I read.

In a study examining 50 of Dr. Seuss’ children books and 2,200 characters created by Dr. Seuss, only 2% of the characters in his books are people of color, 98% have anti-black or anti-Asian racist tropes.

“Seuss’ ‘Cat’ serves as one example of how racism hides openly – indeed, thrives – in popular culture for young people.” 

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books“— Philip Nel

“The Cat’s minstrel ancestry reveals Seuss’ racial unconscious, indicating how his imagination resuscitated and revised early twentieth-century stereotypes.”

And as an adult, for me it is clear Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat was supposed to be a caricature of a Black person. It was Seuss appropriating Black culture in the grossest yet most common ways.

Cat was African American slang for man in the 1920s. Seuss, known during his 1920s college days at Dartmouth as Theodor Geisel, liked Jazz and regularly fetishized Black culture. 

He wore blackface in a performance in high school. He capitalized on the N-word and on racial stereotypes of Black and Asian people in the satire magazine Judge.

Spencer Allen, The Darthmouth

Of course people change, but clearly the only thing Seuss changed was his name. Seuss made an entire children’t book series based on the stereotype of Black man jazz musician.

Seuss —inspired by minstrel shows where people blackened their face to prepare to don racist Black face and do a performance mocking African Americans. Dr. Seuss created this “hip” series with William Spaulding—director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division. 

“Cat in the Hat” was created to challenge the stiff and old-fashioned “Dick and Jane,” because in 1955 Johnny Can’t Read and such research dictates we need to disrupt —some things. We all know the bizarre racist and ableist teaching techniques that eugenics flavored standardized creates, “Cat in the Hat” was the beginning of that.

It was supposed to be a fun way for children to learn reading.  

Hip Black caricature is often how white people make things fun, but racism isn’t fun.

Dr. Seuss is the digital black face of children’s books, and we can no longer afford to have Dr. Seuss near children anymore. 

On the graduate college level, we can and should engage with racist children’s text. Those who build the curriculum and write critically about literature must understand what racism looks like in children’ s literature. But for young children whose purviews have not yet been shaped, teachers, curriculum specialists, and ECE directors must keep racist books out of their early childhood centers and classrooms. Racism should not be taught. White supremacy should not be taught. 

According to Derman-Sparks (2010), by the time a child is 3-year-olds, they make judgments on people based on race. The Baron and Banaji (2006) study states that by the time a white child is 7-years-old, those biases are pro-white and anti-black, but the child knows to hide it.

We can no longer afford to have Dr. Seuss in our classroom. 


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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