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Dr. Seuss Books pulled for racist images


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You can't have it both ways. You can't say that words and images are so powerful that they need special protection at all times, because they share ideas and open minds - and then also say that they are harmless.

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censored, banned, burned by governments or mobs...   ...vs discontinued by the author / author's estate   Evidently the Seuss estate *did* want to "make a huge public statement

This story is a perfect illustration of the "outrage culture" fomented by talk radio and social media. So a minor story noting that the company founded by Seuss's family will no longer reprint a few b

I do love Dr Seuss, but when you know better, you do better. Times have changed and it is appropriate to retire offensive stereotypes. 

You can say that the human ability to create art is precious and worth protecting from even the shadow of the censors hand. 

Looking at everything through a power lens is limiting. Imo. It's useful for some forms of analysis and not others. 

 

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24 minutes ago, Melissa Louise said:

I'm going to push back on the idea that  images cause hurt/harm, even while acknowledging potential for images to cause offence. 

The claim that depicting Black people as ape-like characters in grass skirts with rings through their noses does not actually cause harm or hurt is indefensible.

Screen Shot 2021-03-07 at 12.14.03 PM.png

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12 minutes ago, Corraleno said:

The claim that depicting Black people as ape-like characters in grass skirts with rings through their noses does not actually cause harm or hurt is indefensible.

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Particularly so when those same images are used to mercilessly attack people, verbally and otherwise, in and out of public life. These very images and terms are used as weapons against others. How quickly we forget the depictions of the last first couple and their own, documented, reactions to it/feelings about it. No harm, right? BULLSHIT. Anytime you step out of line and get too uppity the first socially acceptable slur people reach for is monkey. It is dehumanizing, intentionally so, and that absolutely does impact how people are treated.

Edited by Sneezyone
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39 minutes ago, Melissa Louise said:

I'm going to push back on the idea that  images cause hurt/harm, even while acknowledging potential for images to cause offence. 

This circles back round to blasphemy law, something the secular West should not be tolerant of.

Tolerating blasphemy law was behind the shameful but commonly expressed idea that although the Charlie He do massacre was tragic and tasteless, they sadly 'brought it on themselves' to an extent, through their 'harmful imagery'. 

We don't need de facto blasphemy law. One way a culture avoids it is to avoid the idea that any particular word or image can itself cause harm.

Hmm. I understand where you're coming from, but I do think images can cause real harm. They can cause people to internalize racism or (in the case of p*rn) disrupt normal sexual functioning or incite hatred.

That doesn't mean certain images or certain types of speech should be actually outlawed, and I don't think anyone in this conversation has advocated for that. 

People have the freedom to create and also the freedom to choose to discontinue creating what they now believe to be wrong. 

I'm not sure it has to be a slippery slope. 

Edited by MercyA
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We acknowledge words and images cause harm every time we prohibit false advertising/misleading claims. Apparently it’s only a problem acknowledging the harm when it relates to race/ethnicity. It’s not enough to deny the rights of a private company now. We’ve moved on to denying the existence/reality of people who say they are harmed. Denial seems to be a theme here.

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39 minutes ago, MercyA said:

Hmm. I understand where you're coming from, but I do think images can cause real harm. They can cause people to internalize racism or (in the case of p*rn) disrupt normal sexual functioning or incite hatred.

That doesn't mean certain images or certain types of speech should be actually outlawed, and I don't think anyone in this conversation has advocated for that. 

People have the freedom to create and also the freedom to choose to discontinue creating what they now believe to be wrong. 

I'm not sure it has to be a slippery slope. 

I thought this way too, until I saw people of my own political persuasion using the 'but they kinda deserved it ', first on Rushdie, then on Hebdo victims and survivors. It's funny, because I grew up thinking the spirit of censoriousness belonged to my ideological opponents - the kind of people who wanted to ban P**  Christ, and stop kids listening to 'evil, harmful' metal. 

Pornography isn't art, btw. It's a commercial abuse industry. 

I absolutely agree with you that nothing much will happen if some minor Seuss books go OOP. I absolutely agree with you that some Seuss images reflect cultural racism. I absolutely agree with you that overtly racist images are unsuitable read-aloud material in kindergarten. 

I'm just sharing why 'with much fanfare, remove images causing harm' is not a framing without its own harmful history and costs. 

 

Edited by Melissa Louise
Errant apostrophe
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30 minutes ago, Corraleno said:

The claim that depicting Black people as ape-like characters in grass skirts with rings through their noses does not actually cause harm or hurt is indefensible.

Screen Shot 2021-03-07 at 12.14.03 PM.png

No, it doesn't cause harm. It's literally ink on the page. From eighty years ago. In the same way a cartoon of Mohammed doesn't cause harm. Or Andrea Chu writing words that define 'woman' as 'the state of being blank, expectant, a hole' doesn't cause harm. 

It is, however, offensive. It's a racist depiction. I've said a zillion times, I wouldn't be buying or reading it to kids. It's not been in any bookshop I've worked in for the past 15 years. I don't think any child should have compelled exposure to racist images, so I support its removal from school libraries.

Still, I'm not going to head down the path of ascribing an action to an image.

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6 minutes ago, Sneezyone said:

By that logic, this isn’t art either. It’s part of a long and storied history of commercial abuse and exploitation of people.

Now that's an article I'd want to read. Publishing is often exploitative, and I'd find this a really interesting (and possibly persuasive) approach. 

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mere words/images causing "harm" vs "offense"

1 hour ago, Melissa Louise said:

I'm going to push back on the idea that  images cause hurt/harm, even while acknowledging potential for images to cause offence

This circles back round to blasphemy law, something the secular West should not be tolerant of.

Tolerating blasphemy law was behind the shameful but commonly expressed idea that although the Charlie Hebdo massacre was tragic and tasteless, they sadly 'brought it on themselves' to an extent, through their 'harmful imagery'. 

We don't need de facto blasphemy law. One way a culture avoids it is to avoid the idea that any particular word or image can itself cause harm.

Our culture entrenches and codifies the idea that the use of particular words/images have potential to cause harm in all sorts of realms.  Child pornography laws. Libel laws. Extortion laws. The protection of copyright materials from pirating or unauthorized use.  Harassment laws. Some of those codified "harms" are commercial in scope; others reputational; others acknowledge the proximity of, say, extorting words to threats of FUTURE "action", or the proximity of, say, child pornography to the possibility of some slippery slope between reading about raping a baby leading to the actual future "action" of physically raping a baby.  But as a culture we limit the use of words and images ALL THE TIME. 

Even though it's literally just ink on a page.

54 minutes ago, Sneezyone said:

We acknowledge words and images cause harm every time we prohibit false advertising/misleading claims. Apparently it’s only a problem acknowledging the harm when it relates to race/ethnicity. It’s not enough to deny the rights of a private company now. We’ve moved on to denying the existence/reality of people who say they are harmed. Denial seems to be a theme here.

 

20 minutes ago, Melissa Louise said:

No, it doesn't cause harm. It's literally ink on the page. From eighty years ago. In the same way a cartoon of Mohammed doesn't cause harm. Or Andrea Chu writing words that define 'woman' as 'the state of being blank, expectant, a hole' doesn't cause harm. 

It is, however, offensive. It's a racist depiction. I've said a zillion times, I wouldn't be buying or reading it to kids. It's not been in any bookshop I've worked in for the past 15 years. I don't think any child should have compelled exposure to racist images, so I support its removal from school libraries.

Still, I'm not going to head down the path of ascribing an action to an image.

I am not following the logic of this part.

Is your argument that only physical "actions" count as "harm"... and mere words/images on a page can merely cause "offense"?  Like, is copyright theft -- merely printed inked words on a page -- just "offence," rather than "harm"? 

 

 

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20 minutes ago, Pam in CT said:

mere words/images causing "harm" vs "offense"

Our culture entrenches and codifies the idea that the use of particular words/images have potential to cause harm in all sorts of realms.  Child pornography laws. Libel laws. Extortion laws. The protection of copyright materials from pirating or unauthorized use.  Harassment laws. Some of those codified "harms" are commercial in scope; others reputational; others acknowledge the proximity of, say, extorting words to threats of FUTURE "action", or the proximity of, say, child pornography to the possibility of some slippery slope between reading about raping a baby leading to the actual future "action" of physically raping a baby.  But as a culture we limit the use of words and images ALL THE TIME. 

Even though it's literally just ink on a page.

 

I am not following the logic of this part.

Is your argument that only physical "actions" count as "harm"... and mere words/images on a page can merely cause "offense"?  Like, is copyright theft -- merely printed inked words on a page -- just "offence," rather than "harm"? 

 

 

My thoughts are  that liberals ought to strongly self-reflect on the merits of adopting a spirit of censoriousness.

And that literature and art more generally should and must fall outside of that censoriousness. Even at some social cost. With the power over literature and art merely that of the individual who can close the book or walk away from the image, and create their own answering art. 

I find Chu, for example, incredibly offensive. I think Chu's infamous description of woman is the most obnoxious misogyny. If enough women claimed the words harmed us, and were violent towards us, perhaps a publisher would refuse to reprint it (ha! as if misogyny is ever taken seriously).

But why would I do that? It's illiberal. A liberal response is to keep social control over art to the absolute minimum. 

My personal opinion, despite finding much of literature both classist and misogynist, is that claims of harm in the realm of books should be restricted to direct incitement to violence and defamation of named individuals. 

As always, you are welcome to disagree. 

 

 

Edited by Melissa Louise
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22 hours ago, Pam in CT said:

Related yet separate: Here's a hypothesis - maybe different "minorities" also have different collective experiences and traditions re style of argument. Maybe the insistence on "humility" is culture-framed. Maybe that construct resonates differently to different religious traditions, or maybe it feels different depending on where one is on the power spectrum. Just a thought.

During the interview process for a new job I went to lunch with some of the executives. One of them remarked that I kept saying "we." I can't remember what she said but she implied that it meant that I was inexperienced. I didn't get the job despite being the top candidate before the lunch interview. I was taken aback by what she said because I'd never noticed that I used "we" more than "I" when discussing my accomplishments. After considering it, I realized that I felt strange saying "I" when discussing successes. It felt presumptuous and like I was tempting fate. I think it's cultural, "Don't brag about yourself," "be humble." 

21 hours ago, Pam in CT said:

re "manners" vs "effective communication" vs "tone policing"

Me too.

To my mind, "tone-policing" is quite different -- barely even related -- to "manners"; and "effective communication" is yet another, sometimes-related-but-not-synonymous, thing.  I am a huge proponent of both manners and effective communication.  Nearly always, even difficult content can be conveyed with reasonable manners, so long as both parties engage in even approximate good faith and sustained commitment to the dialogue.  It is definitely possible to disagree without being disagreeable... so long as both partners in the engagement are actually willing to be disagreed-with without going all defensive or tetchy or flouncing or whatever.

Tone-policing OTOH boils down to some variant of, maybe your message maybe might have some validity, but, due to your tone, you're driving "well intentioned" people such as myself away.  Tone-policing pushes the content of the dialogue AWAY.  Sometimes there's a concern trolling element. Often it also has some variant of that "rushing in to defend someone else's possibly bruised feelings" middle school element.

But the most important aspect of tone-policing is that it functions to sustain the existing order. It is children who are taught to "be seen and not heard." Women who are trained to be "nice" and to "catch flies with honey not vinegar."  Women who are "shrill," POC who are "angry" or "uppity" and etc.  It is the party with lesser power whose tone is policed, the party of greater power that claims the mantle of determining what "tone" is within bounds.

 

Thank you for putting this into words. I've thought this for some time but had not put it into words myself. 

Tone policing is also manipulative. It tells the "policed" that their feelings about the subject are wrong and should change. "What's wrong with you?" "Why are you so angry?" We saw an example upthread. Paraphrasing - "this is SO silly!" 

This became more obvious to me after leaving a spiritually abusive community last year. The culture of the community was to be happy. No discussions of any topics that people might disagree about which meant that the opinions of the majority of the group could be expressed but not the minority. Concerns are labeled as "gossip" and "judgment." The women police the tone and attitudes of other women. The message that I received during my 15 years as an Orthodox Christian was that there was something wrong with me. I was "judgmental" and "argumentative." 

I gained so much confidence when I realized that my "gossipy" and "judgmental" observations turned out to be correct. 

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5 hours ago, MercyA said:

@SlowRiver, I understand your point about the Chinese clothing. Honestly, out of all the problematic elements of the illustrations, the clothing is the most difficult aspect for me to understand. 

That said, I can't see the Seuss company's decision to cease publishing depictions of African people as monkeys and Chinese people with yellow skin as anything but a Very Good Thing. There's nothing sacred about the images. They are hurtful and damaging. It would be wrong, IMO, for the company to continue to profit from them.  

I'm all for free speech. I spent a portion of my life as an activist, and the images we chose to use were sometimes deemed "offensive." However, we found their use to be effective in changing minds, and to us that outweighed any offense they might cause. They had redeeming value. It was my right as an American citizen to use them or not use them, based on my own judgment.

Seuss Enterprises has the same right. If we take them at the word, they apparently fail to see any redeeming value in continuing to use such denigrating images. They are already preserved for posterity to learn from, if necessary. There is no good or noble reason to continue to profit from the images and disseminate them to young children. 

You're conflating issues. 

The argument about profit is one discrete issue.

One notes the irony of the increased profits for the Seuss estate this week. 

The issue of disseminating them to young children is a separate issue. 

Tbh, I'm still agog that books I've not seen on shelves anywhere for decades are still apparently being forced on small children in the US.

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2 hours ago, Ordinary Shoes said:

During the interview process for a new job I went to lunch with some of the executives. One of them remarked that I kept saying "we." I can't remember what she said but she implied that it meant that I was inexperienced. I didn't get the job despite being the top candidate before the lunch interview. I was taken aback by what she said because I'd never noticed that I used "we" more than "I" when discussing my accomplishments. After considering it, I realized that I felt strange saying "I" when discussing successes. It felt presumptuous and like I was tempting fate. I think it's cultural, "Don't brag about yourself," "be humble."

My immigrant friend gave me hell for saying "I" instead of "we" when discussing my contributions to something or other.  ("I" was factually true, and I had no motive other than conveying facts.  I have always been far more likely to put myself down than to lift myself up at others' expense.)  I learned to say "we" whenever credit was to be given for anything, even if no other person touched whatever it was.  On the other hand, my friend was always ready to praise me to others.  So as long as it works both ways in the relevant culture, "we" is a fine way to approach things.

I'm not sure if "we" ever caused me problems in mainstream Western culture.  I do know that there have been people who took credit for my ideas and work, as well as blaming me for things that weren't my fault.  But maybe that would have happened regardless of my choice of pronoun.

In an interview, I guess it depends on what the interviewer values.  I don't think it's wrong to say "I, I, I" in an interview, as long as it's the truth.  But when working as a team, I don't like it; it rubs me the wrong way if I hear it too much.

Edited by SKL
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