Dr. Seuss and the Fear of Obsolescence
The way I feel about people being outraged about Dr. Seuss Enterprises choosing to stop publishing books with offensive material is the same way I feel about people who freak out about cursive penmanship not being taught in schools anymore, new words they don't deem worthy enough being added to the OED, and gendered prefixes being removed from Potato Head: why are you so afraid of your own obsolescence? Everything changes. You can be part of the change; I promise you. When something your privilege kept you from understanding as offensive is brought to your attention as needing to change, and you would rather dig your heels in and disregard the pain and offense that thing brings in favor of your own nostalgic comfort, you are telling the world that you are afraid of becoming obsolete, invalid. Don't be so fucking small. Everyone is born with their own degree of privilege which inherently comes with its own bag of invisible practices that may be considered offensive by an often oppressed, silenced, and/or liminal demographic. As oppressed voices grow in strength, as your bag of privileged, invisible practices is unpacked and revealed to you as being hurtful, it is your responsibility as a decent human being to stop that practice. I am a white-passing, cis-gendered, 6ft2in man who was raised in a mid-upper class, Southern California suburb. Listen, I get it. It stings when someone tells you something you've said your whole life, something you've believed your whole life—something you were forced to do in school, or learn, or ideologize, or even something your parents and/or grandparents believed and/or ideologized—contributes to systemic racism, rape culture, ableism, homophobia, antisemitism, etc. Instead of defensively freaking out, how about you be grateful for the opportunity to make amends? How about you acknowledge the labor (and COURAGE) it takes for someone to educate you on your privilege? How about you NOT demand that labor of someone? How about you ensure that you don't become obsolete, that you remain valid, by allowing yourself to change, to be less problematic? Both of my grandmothers believed being gay was a mental sickness. On my Mexican side, it was referred to as "the curse." Like most in my demographic, I was raised to worship the mythological ideals of misogyny, meritocracy, heteronormativity1, white supremacy, transphobia—all of it. Being gay and bi-racial has been the greatest gift of my life in that it has, I hope, (I PRAY) allowed me some empathy. Wailing in the face of progress doesn't keep your offensive past valid. Complaining doesn't keep the past great. Trust me, it's okay that students aren't being taught cursive anymore. Trust me when I, as an educator in English and writing, say it's okay that the grammar and punctuation of the white patriarchy is FINALLY beginning to be dismantled. You're so afraid of your own obsolescence that you don't realize that the way to stay valid, the way to be a part of the future, is to allow yourself to accept that your very existence may have been, and/or is, problematic. Change today with the understanding that no one is obligated to reward, absolve, or even acknowledge this change. I know your privilege has led you to believe that you are owed something. You're not. I'm not. Using someone's correct pronouns, advocating in private space for oppressed peoples, learning how to be an actual ally, accepting that written expression and media is rapidly looking different from what you were past taught—none of this means your submitting to anything. You are not "giving in" by learning to be less of an asshole. In fact, what you're actually doing is growing. You can insist on holding on to your problematic past and become the obsolescence you fear, or you can change and be a part of the future. The access to that very choice is itself part of your privilege. For fucks sake, use it for good. Make the future safe for your own children and their children—and their children—by letting go of what you thought was okay and learning to be a better person.