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.