The firestorm following the halt in printing some of Dr. Seuss’ books because of racist caricatures is the outcry of people who are bothered by the chipping away of their freedom to be racist without having to pay the price.
On Jan. 1, 2017, the football player Colin Kaepernick played in what turned out to be the last game of his career. He was 28, healthy, an excellent player, and his career ended for no reason connected with football. It happened a few months after he started “taking the knee” during the playing of the national anthem, in protest of police brutality toward Black people. A peaceful protest against unending injustice. What was supposed to be a moment of pride in the American tradition of free speech and protest turned into the end of Kaepernick’s career.
Four years later, although he continues to work out and stay fit, not a single team will even consider him. Kaepernick is canceled, literally, but his cancellation has not become a rallying cry for the boisterous movement against “cancel culture.” It’s not surprising because, as has been proven time and again in recent years, the opponents of cancel culture don’t really have a problem with “cancel” — they only have a problem with certain cancellations. In particular, cancellations of racism.
Last week, the heirs and directors of the estate of the children’s writer Dr. Seuss announced that they will no longer print new copies of six of his many books because they contain racist caricatures which, in 2021, are not acceptable, and certainly not for children. It was not a decision of the president of the United States or Congress. It was not a result of public pressure. The people responsible for the legacy of Dr. Seuss decided that it would be good for his legacy to leave a few stains behind.
Of course a huge firestorm broke out. Oh my goodness! They are canceling Dr. Seuss! It doesn’t matter if no one had canceled Dr. Seuss. It was important to decry once again what really bothers these people with their hair on fire: the erosion of the freedom to be a racist without paying a price for it.
Dr. Seuss, who is responsible for some truly wonderful children’s classics, represents a type of America from the good old days, when every person knew his place: the white man at the top of the pyramid and the Black man at the bottom. For a large sector of Americans — which not coincidentally connected to Donald Trump with a cult-like fervor — every attempt to leave behind Dr. Seuss’s racist caricatures or scenes sympathetic to slavery, like those in “Gone with the Wind,” is decidedly anti-American.
A discussion of the freedom of expression and its limits, if any exist, is important and actually essential these days. Social media has brought with it a disturbing trend of canceling people over past statements and has also silenced all uncomfortable discussions, and this is a real problem to be addressed. But that is not what is happening here. Cancel culture, as characterized by its present detractors, does not really exist. It is essentially a remake of the good old “politically correct” — another passive-aggressive expression that opposes paying a social price for racism or misogyny or homophobia or plain old bullying. Because what exactly is the culture of a person who defines canceling frank racism as cancel culture, but who has no problem with canceling the career of someone who demonstrates against that same racism?
Tzippy Shmilovitz is a journalist for Yediot Achronot.