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A Western Massachusetts museum dedicated to Dr. Seuss says it will replace a mural featuring a Chinese character from one of his books after three authors said they would boycott an event due to the "jarring racial stereotype."
The mural the authors point to features illustrations from "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," the first children's book created by Theodor Geisel, who inked his famous stories under the name Dr. Seuss.
The authors — Mike Curato, Mo Willems and Lisa Yee — explained their position on the problematic image in a letter posted to Twitter, saying "the selected art is a jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man, who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat, and slanted slit eyes."
The statement reads:
While the image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017 (the year the mural was painted). For some children who visit the museum, their only interaction with Asian representation might be that painting. For others, seeing themselves presented in such a stereotypical way may feed into internalized, even subconscious shame and humiliation. ... 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 neighbors and classmates.
The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, which is located in Geisel's hometown of Springfield, said Thursday that the mural will be replaced by images from his later works.
The authors said in their letter that they elected to cancel their planned visit to the museum's inaugural Children's Literature Festival after becoming frustrated with the museum's initial response to their concerns over the image.
Their statement added that:
The career of Ted Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, is a story of growth, from accepting the baser racial stereotypes of the times in his early career, to challenging those divisive impulses with work that delighted his readers and changed the times ...
It was in that spirit that we contacted the Seuss Museum and expressed our concerns. Unfortunately, the administration replied that it was the responsibility of visitors to contextualize the oversized painting of the "Chinaman" for their younger wards, not theirs.
In 1978, Geisel agreed to alter the name of the character at issue in "Mulberry Street" from "Chinaman" to the "less stereotypical 'Chinese man,' " according to Philip Nel's book "Dr. Seuss: American Icon."
The festival was set for Oct. 14 before it was canceled. After the museum offered to take down the mural, the three authors said they would attend, but the museum has not said if the festival is back on.
With additional reporting from The Associated Press