What’s Phillip Bump afraid of?
Hold on tight because this white, privileged, affluent Washington Post journalist has opened a “breathtaking” door to sheer terror. He unearthed it in two cartoon characters! Yup, two characters that he described as “obviously” and “immediately” racist. Two cartoon characters buried in the bowels of Dr. Seuss’s book If I Ran the Zoo.
During all the years my kids and I flipped through the pages of Dr. Seuss’s books, I recall three things about them: they were masterpieces of charming, rhyming lines; they were overflowing with a barrage of sketches that brought to life the mysterious and enchanting world locked between the book covers; and they were great fun. There were fantastic animals, strange-looking people, unusual houses, and escapades galore. Monkeys doing naughty things, a green man ruining Christmas and a cat in a hat. All captivated the imaginations of millions.
But Mr. Bump discovered something that goes bump in the night! Amid the mélange of characters created in a world of imagination, of fantasy and of fun, those make-believe sketches that beguile with their misshapen mouths and ears and noses, their spindly legs and arms and their amusing wardrobes, Mr. Bump discovered racism.
Out of Dr. Seuss’s blizzard of cartoon characters, Mr. Bump’s eagle eye discovered two in the book who were racist! To quote Mr. Bump: “In Seuss’ drawing, the bird-thing is perched on a pole being held by two caricatures of African men that are so obviously and immediately racist that it was almost breathtaking.” Yes, indeed, for bump in the night Mr. Bump, the good Dr. Seuss was subtly infecting young minds with racism.
At this point, one might ask Mr. Bump what it is about Dr. Seuss’s cartoon characters that is “obviously” and “immediately” racist. Is it their skin color? In the woke halls of the Washington Post, observing a person’s skin color may be a dead giveaway of racism, but for mere mortals it’s just something that naturally occurs when we see people. I might suggest that something more is involved than just the color of the cartoon characters’ skin, but what is it, Mr. Bump? Is it something that you, too, don’t associate with people who are white or Oriental or Fiji Islanders—something that you actually recognize as common among black people? Maybe the cartoon characters accentuate some feature or other—but isn’t that an integral part of caricature and cartooning? Barack Obama has big ears, so some political cartoonists focused on that aspect of his head. Donald Trump had hair that became a cartoon trademark of the man. That’s how it is—that’s what cartoons do!
But bump in the night Mr. Bump was able to uncover a sinister message in If I Ran a Zoo. And through the mystical magic of his journalistic logic, Dr. Seuss becomes a talisman for White Supremacists. And, horror of horrors, readers who have no clue about the messages hidden in Dr. Seuss’s cartoon characters are somehow connected by Mr. Bump to that incarnation of all that is evil itself—Donald J. Trump. In a system that works explicitly “to the advantage of White men in particular,” Dr. Seuss’s artwork exposes “the racism that usually undergirded those advantages,” according to bump in the night Mr. Bump.
Mr. Bump is delighted that certain Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because of their supposedly racist cartoons. He ferociously denies, however, that the books are being “canceled” because, after all, according to Mr. Bump, “canceling” doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of wild imaginations that are “now so detached from reality that it doesn’t even make any sense.” Yet, straight out of 1984, Mr. Bump proceeds to acknowledge that if “Dr. Seuss’s profile wanes a bit” this isn’t “canceling.” After all, as Mr. Bump’s Ministry of Truth assures us, the Dr. Seuss books in question are merely “being taken out of rotation.”
No, Mr. Bump, they’re not being rotated, they are being torched just as thoroughly as books were in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China and outposts of Islamic fundamentalism.
For all that, Mr. Bump eventually asks, “Where’s the harm?”.
In raising the question, Mr. Bump becomes a caricature of modern journalism.
In passing, let’s recall some of Dr. Seuss’s “racist” wisdom
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
“Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.”
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
“Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!”
“It is better to know how to learn than to know.”
“Be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s a great balancing act.”
“Only you can control your future.”
“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.””
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is youer than you.”
Perhaps Dr. Seuss meant the following message for the Mr. Bumps of the world
“Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”