Friday, March 23, 2012

Dr. Seuss & Racism - Pt.II

March 23, 2012

Dr. Seuss & Racism, Pt. II

Today marks the day in 1942 when the United States rounded up and interned 120,000 Japanese American citizens in twenty-seven prison camps because they were deemed a threat to national security by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. war department during WWII. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attack that was allowed to happen on Pearl Harbor led directly to the U.S. declaring war on Japan the next day.
In line with the long history and tradition of racism used by those of European extraction who occupy America and many parts of the world to achieve dominance and control over others, Americans blamed the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Japanese espionage. In the midst of a massive concerted war effort fueled by racial hatred and hysteria Roosevelt immediately drafted and signed into law Executive Order #9006 which established and declared the west coast to be a war zone and for all “enemy aliens” to be removed. Hence, California was the location of the beginning of the almost instantaneous removal, round-up, and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Japanese American citizens.
New Mexico was not exempt. From 1942-1946 the United States military operated two internment camps - one in Santa Fe, NM which held 4,555 men of Japanese descent and the other in Lordsburg, NM where Japanese, Italian, and German immigrants were held. Out of the two, the Lordsburg camp was the more notorious of the prisons known for intolerance, prisoner abuses, and death at the hands of guards. New Mexicans, every single one of us, should know this history and more importantly, that racism was the prime motivating factor which caused people all over the country to be conditioned to turn a blind eye, tolerate, mimic, and even demand that their government and military behave in a fascistic manner by attacking and imprisoning innocent Japanese Americans. Proof of this is when in 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation said that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” In turn, the U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.
A cursory glance of that time period, one of many dark moments in the history of the U.S, will bring us to the understanding that countless people in positions of influence and power played a major role in fanning the flames of racial hatred by using their work to further promote the false idea of world-wide white supremacy. One of those individuals who today is widely recognized and celebrated as a children’s hero and who in all of Grant County, New Mexico has recently been deified, is Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel better known today as “Dr. Seuss”.
Geisel, as I like to call him, was from an upper class German family and had his early start as a Rockefeller employee. He was an advertiser for that great oppressive robber baron and multi-national corporation Standard Oil. More importantly, during WWII he worked as a propagandist for the U.S. war machine in the animation department of the U.S. Army and this is when he began to create some of the most hateful and racist cartoons against Japanese people that called for nothing short of their persecution, incarceration, and murder. In all, Geisel created more than 400 cartoons promoting war, racism, invasion, death, and xenophobia. (Google: “Dr. Seuss’s Racist Cartoons” for more like the example above)
Of course, this was not his only legacy and many Geisel celebrants, as a way of dismissing his racism, would point to the magnificent creations later in life he produced that helped millions of children enjoy learning to read. Moreover, they would say that in post WWII America he seemed to use the power of the pen to create literary and artistic works of art that denounced the Holocaust, discrimination, and other forms of violence. But, the damage had already been done and he regrettably had to go to his grave knowing that his promotion and participation in violence and racism during WWII without a doubt contributed to teaching and cultivating a general feeling in the hearts and minds of the U.S. population that war as a means of solving problems is not only justified but that firebombing Japanese communities and killing women and babies was needed, that unnecessarily dropping two atomic bombs on the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was a must, and that killing over 2 million Japanese and 56 million on all sides of the war was unavoidable.
Why do Grant County and other parts of the country go out of their way every March to elevate Dr. Seuss to God status while during Black History Month in February fail to do anything of major significance that would honor and recognize Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy or any African American contributions to the history of the U.S. and world for that matter? My previous essay answered this question. However, the response to that critical analysis from countless Anglos afterward asking me “what I was prepared to do to help change the situation” was a reaffirmation to me that their racism is a definite matter of deep seated conditioning that makes them totally oblivious to their hate.
The question is not whether or not we are prepared to deal with racism. The question is whether or not whites are prepared to step forward in mass and end it. We have tried. But, When in almost every instance we petition, ask to include “main street” in the organizing of events, try to access funding, access education, access the use of facilities, or have teach-ins, classes, books, leaders, and cultural contributions sanctioned by mainstream society we are told no, strung along, or forever made to feel that our history is part of some focus group effort that is too subversive or not patriotic enough or inclusive enough to be worthy of an all out city effort. On top of that, you have in every community across the country an iron grip on finances, land, institutions, churches, federal funding, non-profits, the press, businesses, banks, food, and major resources all controlled and overseen in almost all cases by an interlocking network of whites on governing boards, councils, advisory groups, executive bodies, auxiliaries, and all other decision making positions where the outcome is always favorable to those who are privileged, owners, wealthy, connected, friends of bosses, non-confrontational people and who do not challenge, question, or try to change the established order of things. In this way, Anglos are just as oppressed as people of color and they just can’t see it.
I’ve come to understand that they have been conditioned by the Dr. Seuss’s of the world to believe that because of their skin color they are somehow better and superior to others and must always use direct aggression, passive aggression, and/or outright violence to prove it. That they are conditioned to believe that the English speaking people of the world have an absolute right to the power and control over all land and resources of other nations; conditioned to believe that they have a right to do anything to secure and maintain the privileges that are inherited across generations as a result of that power and control; conditioned to believe that their God is greater; conditioned to believe that their vision for humanity is the most pure and righteous; conditioned to believe that when Indigenous intellects like myself question their superiority complex and point to their history of colonialism and imperialism that I am foolishly blaming all white people for that or using reverse racism. Finally and most importantly, I have come to understand that they are ultimately conditioned to believe that because we question their behavior that we are the ones who have a problem, we are the ones who must come up with solutions to the neglect and social problems white supremacy creates, and we are the ones who must be responsible for our own anger at failing to break through so many solid militarized borders at every level of society, the world, and deep within the white soul that creates barriers to our success, our knowledge of one another, our peace, unity, our co-existence, and the progressive evolution of humanity that would create an existence never before seen on Mother Earth - an existence where Dr. Seuss, Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez (whose birthday & national holiday is on March 31) and any other great contributors to the human experience are all shared and celebrated equally.
-Hueteotl Lopez

Friday, March 2, 2012

When Dr. Seuss's B-Day is More Important than MLK's, Something is Wrong

March 2, 2012
Today Silver City and I suppose in surrounding cities too everyone is in a festive mood. A drive through downtown this morning where ribbons and light pole decorations greet people drove home the point that if you’re not taking a moment out of your day to recognize and honor a wily cat who wears a funny hat and who can trick or treat you or trap and trip you with his verbal stew then you’re probably just not in the spirit of things. Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday.
Reading is important no doubt and the truth is that Dr. Seuss does deserve recognition for his contribution to children’s literature – even if you don’t like green eggs and ham. But, this is not what is in question. What I’d like Grant Countians to think about today is why did not a mere month ago the entire county, every school, and all of those folks over in that ever more cliquish downtown area go out of their way to promote Black History Month? More importantly, on January 16, 2012 it was another Dr.’s birthday – Martin Luther King’s. During that time, the community did not experience the same amount of excited effort by all that is being put into celebrating the life of Dr. Seuss’s.
The month of February is Black History Month in our nation. In this month we reflect or are supposed to be encouraged to reflect upon great contributions that African descendants have made to our lives in the country and world. In February alone the poet and activist Langston Hughes was born as well as the great educator, writer, and orators Fredrick Douglass and WEB Dubois. February 21, 1965 is also the day that marks the assassination of Malcolm X.
There was no mention of any of this history in my child’s classes before or after MLK’s birthday and national holiday. During this time these important dates and more is what we set aside family time to study and teach to our seven and five year olds who attend schools in Silver City. The schools haven’t creatively and consistently integrated this history into the classrooms so we as parents have had to deliver. When Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday arrived in January we spent seven hours together on the computer learning about segregation, boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, voting rights, equality, standing up and speaking out, lynching’s, hangings, and murder. This was just a prelude in January that helped prepare my children for Black History Month in February.
We took it upon ourselves to teach our children this because no one in positions of power, no institutions charged with educating our children, and no Main St. decoration brigades took it upon themselves to do so for King or Black History Month. Today, they’ve posted happy birthday signs to Seuss in clear view on school poster boards and marquees, every teacher in every class will choose to read passages from Seuss’s books, video’s will be shown, popcorn will be eaten, and kids who forgot or who were not allowed to wear their dreamy-sleepy pajama wear to school at the behest of the entire school staff and administration’s blessing will cry and probably feel left out. Similarly, arts & crafts, poetry and costume contests will take place and children and adults who will spend countless hours dressing up and competing for cash prizes will be awarded for whipping themselves up and jumping head first into the “love the Cat in the Hat” madness. In the midst of this frantic frenzy we must remember that all of this would be even more special if Martin Luther King and Black History were given the same amount, if not more attention than Dr. Seuss and his cartoon characters.
When my 2nd grade son asked his teacher yesterday why this wasn’t so she replied, “because people can celebrate whatever they want to celebrate.” I think that this points to the heart of the matter. Anglos, especially those in positions of power, aren’t that ready and willing to put their heart and soul into teaching and honoring diversity and the history of contributions through struggle, sacrifice, and overcoming great odds that real life human beings have had to live through. But, they can in a massive way and city-wide effort comfortably celebrate a white author named Seuss and his Cat adventures because it is safe for them to do so. No matter how complex the verbal gymnastics of the Cat are, severe tongue twisting is less painful than having to pick scabs off of old wounds by recalling, remembering, and teaching about what whites in positions of power have and are still doing to persecute people in the world who are different than them. (Think nation- wide anti-Mexican legislation, exploitation, & the Arizona Mexican-American Studies & book ban)
Organizing a day or month of festivities that celebrates non-white greatness and the ability to overcome oppression does nothing to liberate Anglos from the shame and guilt they feel or would feel every time they have to think about their privilege, inherited money, wealth, and social status because of that privilege and sense of superiority passed on from one generation to the next. Maybe this is why European celebrations reign supreme every month of the school year.
By choosing to emphasize and elevate Dr. Seuss over MLK and even heroes such as Cesar Chavez, Anglos show their extreme inability to put an end to racism once and for all. Choosing to do the opposite would do just that and our little one’s impressionable minds and our earth would be the healthier for it. Instead, a sanitized version of history through the life of an imaginary cat in a twisted hat is intimately presented and joyfully celebrated while our history remains in the shadows. On Dr. Seuss’s birthday and sadly year round our great contributions to the human family and our existence on earth does not and will not rule the day.
-Hueteotl Lopez