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Literature

Racism row: Dr Seuss museum pulls mural after ‘Chinaman’ art offends three authors

A Massachusetts museum dedicated to Dr Seuss says it will replace a mural featuring a Chinese character from one of his books

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 10:47am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 8:53pm

A real estate developer and his partner have offered to buy a mural featuring a Chinese character from a Dr Seuss book after it was deemed offensive.

The mural inside the Amazing World of Dr Seuss Museum in Massachusetts features illustrations from the author’s first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

The museum, which is in the author Theodor Seuss Geisel’s hometown of Springfield, said Thursday the mural would be replaced after three children’s authors said it contains a “jarring racial stereotype”.

The Republican reported that Chinese-American developer Andy Yee and businessman Peter Picknelly announced Saturday they were willing to buy the mural if it was removed.

Picknelly called the criticism “political correctness gone insane”.

The authors – including Mo Willems, the Caldecott-winning writer and illustrator behind the popular Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books – issued a joint letter Thursday saying they were skipping the upcoming Children’s Literature Festival in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Watch: US businessmen want to buy ‘offensive’ Dr. Seuss mural

Willems, Lisa Yee (Super Hero Girls) and Mike Curato (Little Elliott) said the mural included a “jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat and slanted slit eyes”.

We find this caricature of ‘the Chinaman’ deeply hurtful, and have concerns about children’s exposure to it,” the authors wrote in their joint letter.

“While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017,” they wrote.

“For some children who visit the museum, their only interaction with Asian representation might be that painting. For others, seeing themselves represented in such a stereotypical way may feed into internalised, even subconscious shame and humiliation. It is incumbent on our public institutions to present all races in a fair manner.

“Displaying imagery this offensive damages not only Asian American children, but also non-Asian kids who absorb this caricature and could associate it with all Asians or their Asian neighbours and classmates.”

Democratic Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he wanted the mural to remain in the museum.

The dust-up came amid a broader debate about how Dr Seuss books – some of which depict old stereotypes – fit into an evolving culture.

That debate roared back into the spotlight last month after US first lady Melania Trump sent 10 Dr Seuss books to a school in each state – and a librarian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sent them back.

“Dr Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,” librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote in a letter.

The librarian argued that rather than sending books to an junior school in Cambridge, the first lady should have devoted resources to schools in “underfunded and underprivileged communities” that are “marginalised and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos”.

Critics view DeVos, a billionaire who worked for decades to promote school choice, as one of the most anti-public-education secretaries in the department’s history.

In response, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said giving the books was part of the first lady’s effort to use her platform “to help as many children as she can”.

Associated Press, The Washington Post