A stereotypical portrayal of a Chinese character found in a Dr. Seuss Museum mural in Springfield, Massachusetts drew a backlash that eventually prompted its organizers to announce its immediate removal.
Children’s authors Mike Curato, Mo Willems, and Lisa Yee had earlier announced that they will boycott an upcoming children’s book festival at the “The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum” due to the offensive mural.
In the mural, which was taken from Seuss’ first book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”, a Chinese man can be seen running apparently with a bowl of rice and chopsticks, the Boston Globe reports.
The authors, two of whom are Asian-American, condemned the image via a letter posted Thursday on Twitter, saying it reinforced a “jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man, who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat, and slanted slit eyes.”
— Mo Willems’ Pigeon (@The_Pigeon) October 5, 2017
“We find this caricature of ‘the Chinaman’ deeply hurtful, and have concerns about children’s exposure to it.”
Museum representative Karen Fisk addressed the issue on Thursday saying the museum “listened to the concerns voiced by the authors and fans” and plans to replace the image “with a new image that reflects the wonderful characters and messages from Dr. Seuss’ later works.”
“This is what Dr. Seuss would have wanted us to do,” Fisk added.
She also noted that Dr. Seuss’ earlier works did contain “hurtful stereotypes.”
“His later books, like ‘The Sneetches’ and ‘Horton Hears a Who’, showed a great respect for fairness and diversity,” Fisk was quoted as saying.
Curato, Willems, and Yee were reportedly concerned that the image could damage “not only Asian-American children but also non-Asian kids who absorb this caricature and could associate it with all Asians or their Asian neighbors and classmates.”
“While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017 (the year the mural was painted),” their statement said.
In a letter to the authors, Springfield Museum president Kay Simpson referred to Dr. Seuss as a “product of his era” whose attitudes “evolved over time.”
“We take the concerns you shared with us very seriously as it is our mutual goal to educate and delight children,” she wrote.
The authors have acknowledged that Dr. Seuss’ career was indeed a “story of growth,” and noted that the popular writer, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, went from accepting the “baser racial stereotypes of the times in his early career to challenging those divisive impulses.”
However, they urged the museum to provide more context to the mural, stating it is “hard to fathom this institution’s contention that it has no obligation to the myriad of children . . . who might be led to think that this form of racism is acceptable by featuring it in the main hall of their museum without comment.”
The protesting authors were the only children’s authors scheduled to appear at the inaugural Children’s Literature Festival which was initially scheduled for Oct. 14 in the museum but was canceled this week. It was not confirmed whether the announced boycott prompted the event’s cancellation.