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Racist Propaganda, Protest, and a Post-Fact World

Not one by three Kind Readers sent in a story about a school librarian declining a gift of Dr. Seuss books from the First Lady, along with a nice little condescending public note as to why.

Apparently she didn’t have the authority to decline the gift on behalf of the library or school system. She also apparently isn’t supposed to use her professional position for political advocacy, but who cares about stuff like that any more.

We could question whether she violated the school district “policy against public resources being used for political purposes,” since she could have written that letter on her own time.

On the other hand, the books were technically public resources once they were given to the library, so who knows.

It’s almost as if she’s trying to educate the First Lady about schools that need the gifts more than her very well funded school. She does make some good points, and school libraries, as I’ve often discussed here, are in dire straits in many cities.

But the librarian didn’t really want to educate the First Lady, unless condescension, barely veiled contempt, and snide comments are part of her pedagogical strategy. If they are, the librarian should probably know they don’t work. I ought to know!

It was an attempt at a political protest, which is fine. If librarians want to protest, let them. Nobody really cares what librarians say anyway, but the choir eats that stuff up.

The problem is that the protest is weird. For example, there’s the hypocrisy of criticizing Dr. Seuss when it’s from a Trump than when it’s endorsed by an Obama.

When President Obama talked about his like for Dr. Seuss, or when Michelle Obama read it to children, I didn’t see any librarians publicly criticizing them for spreading “racist propaganda.”

That’s because librarians can be partisan hypocrites just like everyone else!

And yes, that was one of her criticisms, that Dr. Seuss books are “racist propaganda.”

Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.

That’s statement isn’t true, since that’s not actually a fact at all, but an interpretation put forward by, it seems, two scholars, and now propagated by this librarian.

Even if it’s a good interpretation of some of Dr. Seuss’ work, there’s no evidence it’s true of the books in question.

It would be easy to be unaware of that interpretation if one was one of the millions who have read Dr. Seuss with enjoyment instead of one of the dozens who have read those scholars.

But that’s okay, because everyone knows we live in a “post-truth” and “post-fact” society now, and promoting interpretations as facts and partisan politics as truth is all a part of the great joy of modern living.

It should also help us remember that despite all the propaganda after the Presidential election, librarians aren’t going to save us from our post-truth, post-fact world.

A big question for the librarian, and all the other school and children’s librarians out there, is, if Dr. Seuss books are racist propaganda, why do you keep them on your shelves?

It’s one thing to reject the books as a gift, but I bet the books are still on the shelves at the school library in question, and probably every children’s section of every public and school library in the country.

Is it part of the “struggle to close the achievement gap, retain teachers of color, and dismantle the systemic white supremacy in [y]our institution” to stock your shelves with racist propaganda?

I know this is an unpopular comment to make in polite librarian society, but I’ll go out onto a limb and say that racist propaganda isn’t appropriate for school libraries, and is definitely a bad way to make libraries into places where everyone feels comfortable.

If you’re stocking your shelves with racist propaganda, maybe you should consider weeding it. Just some advice from a fellow annoyed librarian.

If there are any Dr. Seuss books in her library that she hasn’t weeded, then she’s implying that she believes racist propaganda in her library is fine as long as it isn’t a gift from President Trump’s wife. That’s kind of a silly thing to believe.

Besides the implicit admission that racist propaganda in her library is fine as long as there are no Trumps involved in it, the other weird part was her attempt to drag the Librarian of Congress into the discussion.

As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips. Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.

Unlike you probably, I was unfamiliar with every part of Dr. Hayden’s career. However, it’s true that she was once upon a time a children’s librarian at the beginning of her long career. According to her Wikipedia article, “From 1973 to 1979, Hayden worked as an Associate/Children’s Librarian… at the Chicago Public Library.”

I would find it odd that after almost 40 years of NOT being a children’s librarian, after completing a PhD in library science, after a long tenure directing the Enoch Pratt Library, and now being the Librarian of Congress and all, that Dr. Carla Hayden would be an appropriate resource to recommend some children’s reading.

Nothing against children’s librarians, but it seems a little insulting to Dr. Hayden to identify her as one. It’s like that desperate librarian bid to pull every person famous for something else who has ever been even briefly a librarian into the librarian ranks.

It’s like saying that the U.S. had a community organizer in the White House for 8 years, which is the sort of thing people propagating racist propaganda might have said about President Obama.

It’s not that community organizer or children’s librarian aren’t fine jobs, but they’re significantly lesser professional achievements than President of the United States or Librarian of Congress, and to identify them that way is belittling those achievements.

Also, it’s another step towards a post-fact world, in this case just to make an obscure political point.

After all, there are children’s librarians at the DC Public Library, and they’ve even put together a list of suggestions of books for kids. Do actual children’s librarians in DC not matter? Or is it that they recommend a Dr. Seuss book?

So in the end we have a rude letter that couldn’t possible educate the recipient about the actual plight of school libraries in the country because of its condescension and contempt, and probably just made school librarians look bad to the general public.

And, assuming there is any Dr. Seuss on her shelves, we have a librarian who apparently doesn’t mind having racist propaganda in her library as long as it doesn’t come from the President, and who implicitly criticizes all the other children’s and school librarians who have such racist propaganda in their library. And they probably love her for it!

On the other hand, this librarian has briefly become the most famous school librarian in America.

Maybe she can translate that fame into help for struggling school libraries around the country instead of just making herself feel better with a condescending and weird protest of a Donald Trump surrogate.

But probably not.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. anonymous coward says:

    That librarian is a fool and a hack. It’s an award and recognition for the good work the school is doing. To deny that because you’re a foolish partisan and a hack (partisan hack?) is a terrible thing.

    Not everything is political. Not everything done by politicians is political. Not everyone is a hero fighting the good fight against a vile oppressor.

  2. I saw this as well. Who didn’t? Really made me uncomfortable to see someone in that position using it as a platform to make a political statement right or wrong. For sure you can’t put lipstick on a pig and you can’t make a trophy wife into a First Lady who stands for anything other than what her publicist thinks is a good idea that week. When you think of the people who proceeded her, almost makes you feel sorry for what she married into. I think we all feel the frustration but maybe a moment of fame might not be worth you’re job unless Betsy Amway turning your school over charter school contracting company.

  3. Libertarian Librarian says:

    She broke #1 of the Library Bill of Rights. She allowed her personal, political views to decide what books should be in the library. Someone else summed it up well. “She probably lives in such an echo chamber that she never expected anyone to disagree.” Obviously Horn Book didn’t. They compounded the rudeness with shallow justification.

  4. politically incorrect librarian says:

    “Propaganda” gets thrown out there alot, and I doubt anyone bothered to acquire a sound definition before using it. I could expect that from most people, but from librarians, c’mon! You have so many reference books available that you could easily get the definition from a political dictionary or encyclopedia so that you could use the term responsibly. This blog entry, it’s subject, and some of the comments show the ridiculousness of librarianship.

    As far as the comment that that librarian should lose her job along with those who hired her. Well, anyone who has had a library job or attempted to obtain one knows that one principle applies 99% of the time: “like hires like.” She’s a kook or at least weird because those are the same characteristics of the hiring committee.

  5. Irrelevant white male says:

    That librarian embarrassed herself. Do not allow her to define or decide how the public views librarians. My first impression (Mass. being my native state) was that the people of that formerly free colonial heritage have entirely lost their minds, and that anyone with access to the minds of children who abuses their optimism and joyfulness with such claptrap ought to be hastily directed to a more suitable line of work, such as accepting welfare applications for the state. Along with protecting children from the likes of her, it may serve to open her eyes a little, and possibly (though I suggest this with a degree of cynicism) her mind, as well.
    It is truly unfortunate that a person with unfettered access to all that a “well-stocked” library has to offer, she hasn’t availed herself of anything in the “etiquette” section, evidently. A pity, truly…

  6. She really should be excommunicated..... says:

    I just looked through some of the Suess standards. One Fish is written in 1960, and is a very inclusive publication celebrating diversity! ALA needs to disown her now, this is a PR disaster. This is one of those stories that will be hanging over us for years. I would also like to point out the perpetrator used a cliché to complain about clichés! Who chooses these “Movers and Shakers?” Our profession weeps.

  7. One of the snarks that caught my eye was “the indelible White House stamp”. I haven’t seen anyone else comment on it. Would Soeiro have considered accepting the books if she could have erased the source of the gift from the bookplates?

    At least I got some personal benefit from reading that snide missive: not having paid much attention to children’s books since I retired from an elementary school library last year, all the book titles she suggested to Mrs. Trump as alternatives to Dr. Seuss were unfamiliar to me. Yesterday I read the reviews , liked the descriptions of Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic and King for a Day, and now plan to buy them for my baby granddaughter!

  8. This has nothing to do with this article, but when I saw ‘Meg’ had commented, I started freaking out because I didn’t remember commenting on this one!

  9. This is a case of political correctness running wild, by the same nutcases that gave us “lookism” and said that dodgeball was dangerous. People with nothing better to do than to comb through all our past history looking for potentially offensive things. We don’t need this! I’m a liberal democrat, but I recognize too much of a thing when I see it. Should we remove Faulkner from our library, many of whose works have the “N” word? Or remove Josef Conrad’s collections of short stories, which may contain his “The Nigger and the Narcissus” about a Caribbean slave revolt? We need Politically Correct fanatics to stop this nonsense and let us live with our past. We can decide what is right or wrong. I don’t want my own public library censoring what I can read! Add, yes, Democrat as I am, I can see without a doubt that this action was a direct INSULT to the First Lady; she did NOT deserve this treatment!

  10. So are we going to ignore the fact that Dr. Seuss once worked as a cartoonist for the Army Signal Corp and a slew of magazines drawing racist caricatures of Black, Arab and Japanese people?

    “Dr. Seuss’s political leanings are well known—he was a liberal Democrat who opposed fascism in the 1940s and President Nixon in the 1970s. The new movie of his book The Lorax is a fairly unsubtle pro-environment allegory.

    Less well celebrated are Theodor Seuss Geisel’s early advertising and political cartoons from the 1920s through the 1940s, which feature a decidely racist streak.

    In the ads (from the collection of the library of the University of California, San Diego), black people are presented as savages, living in the tropics, dressed in grass skirts. Arabs are portrayed as camel-riding nomads or sultans.

    In his political cartoons (from the collection of the Springfield Library and Museums Association), Seuss inveighed against the Japanese during World War II; he drew them buck-toothed and squint-eyed.

    The images are depressing because they reveal that one of America’s most original artist-authors had the same tired views of non-whites that his contemporaries did. During the war, Seuss defended his anti-Japanese view, according to his biographer Richard H. Minear:

    “… right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: “Brothers!” It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not. We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.”

  11. anonymous coward says:

    There is a chasm separating ignoring something and putting it in context.

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