Seeing in Color

From Mr. Potato Head to Dr. Seuss, to Pepe Le Pew controversy has, yet again, swirled around how pop culture influences society. I have been disappointed in many Christians as I have watched them react to these stories. Many have expressed outrage at the fact that beloved childhood symbols are seemingly being attacked. Frankly, if you are upset by a toy company rebranding a plastic potato I feel bad because there are far bigger issues in the world with which we can be upset. That said, I am concerned with how many Christians are handling other issues, particularly touch-points like Dr. Seuss. The Butter Battle Book is the first Dr. Seuss book I can remember reading and it is still my favorite. I did not recognize at the time, but that book would influence how I viewed life and my views on war and conflict. Even as a child, I recognized the escalation of the war over how bread is buttered was wrong, and that we need to be more mature in handling our problems. So I, like many others, have a debt of gratitude to Dr. Seuss.

The fact that that book had an influence on me also makes me cognizant that children’s books can influence a person’s worldview. So I do applaud the publisher for pulling the titles it has pulled, not because I have read them and agree (I have not) but because of their commitment to upholding values for children. The publisher seems to recognize that there are many good books for children and there is no need to continue publishing questionable material. What bothers me is Christians who are upset over this decision. Their claims usually run that, like myself, they were impacted by Dr. Seuss and do not want to see his legacy tarnished. Further, they are not racist and are teaching their children to be colorblind, therefore this questionable material will not negatively impact their children. I would like to answer these objections.

First, having the publisher remove six books from its catalogue will only help Dr. Seuss’s reputation. These books were not any of his most loved (not on any list I’ve seen). Meaning these are not the ones kids are most likely to encounter. How difficult it is for parents to explain to their kids that a beloved character, book, movie is inappropriate. I have done this; one of my children loved Peter Pan and so I attempted to read that book for story time. I say attempted because the overt racism in the book made it impossible and I had to explain to a bewildered child that I could not read the book because Peter was mean to people. But that’s only a story, yes but that story is at odds with the narrative that I am trying to teach my children and as I showed above children’s stories can and do impact how we think. So, when I can help it, I like to use stories to reinforce the lessons I teach, or at least not tear them down. I think this is part of giving my children a better life, they do not have as many lessons to unlearn. Now, if my children encounter Dr. Seuss I do not have to worry about them discovering some of the more objectionable material, rather he can be the positive role model he desired to be.

Second, I have seen arguments that suggest Christians are raising colorblind children. As someone who is physically colorblind let me tell you it is bad. I am unable to see color and that negatively impacts how I experience the world. I do not see the lovely combinations of colors around me, nor to I see the times when colors look wrong or present warnings. One of the realities I have come to recognize is that for much of my life this has also been my default position for race. There are some benefits to this but there is one determent which outweighs them all, I could not see the hurts of others. I did not recognize that the friends I have had from other races had a very different picture of the world than my own. I assumed, being colorblind, they saw the same gray I saw. I never heard the stories of hurt, or difficulty they experienced through childhood. Until recently, it would not have occurred to me to ask how my Asian American friends would have seen the depictions of Asians in Dr. Seuss. My assumption would have been they saw the same funny characters I saw. And I would have been wrong. There is a temptation to be color blind in society because it eases the burden of truly seeing others. However when we give into that temptation we also fail to see all of the brilliant colors that other cultures offer us. My goal was not to raise color blind children rather I want children who can recognize the differences in culture and experience so they can empathize with others and enjoy the riches of those cultures.

Christians are supposed to be people defined by our ability to speak love and truth. If I live in a colorblind world I will be blind to the hurts of others. If I am unable to relate to the hurts of others I will not be able to speak the words of love or truth to them. Will some people take removing the works of Dr. Seuss and others too far, yes. But that does not give me the right to fight for the status quo. I have to create a nuanced mindset which comes from listening to others and reflecting on their experiences. Some of what Dr. Seuss drew was wrong, I admit that, I understand that such depictions hurt people I care about, so I must listen to those griefs to help change society for the better. My recommendation to Christians then is in the ever shifting sands of cultural change before we react to issues in the news, we should consult our friends from other cultures and backgrounds asking the question how does this impact you. Otherwise we simply live in the assumption that everyone sees the world in our shades of gray.

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