• Robison Wells

Definitely Offensive and Not Appropriate

I've been kind of sick about this Dr. Seuss thing. And not because I'm worried about cancel culture, and not because I love "On Beyond Zebra" (though it is the first Dr. Seuss book I remember checking out of the library).

It's because I've written and published a book that I'm not proud of. I mean, it's one of my best reviewed. Lots of people say they love it. But, despite my efforts at getting sensitivity readers, the book still got lambasted in some circles for cultural appropriation. This was about a year before cultural appropriation in YA lit became a big deal, so I kind of flew under the radar, but a few outlets hammered me pretty hard.

And despite the fact that I love this book in many ways, and despite the fact that I truly did try to get feedback from the cultures portrayed in the book, I did ignore some pretty hefty red flags. When one of the sensitivity readers said that one early draft was "definitely very offensive and not appropriate" I nodded and tweaked and never addressed the true underlying issue--because I SO wanted the story to work and if I took out a few of those "very offensive and not appropriate" plot elements, I thought the story would fall apart. So I cut a few scenes and made a few token changes, and the book was published.

I wish I could take it back. I take some consolation in the fact that the book sold poorly and is out of print. I know it's still on shelves and on Kindles and the offensive content that I put out into the world--knowingly--can never be blinked out of existence.

The best I can do is not promote it. I've taken it off my website. I don't talk about it. You'll notice I've never used its name in this post. I don't advertise it.

And I don't want people to say "but I loved that book! It's my favorite of your books!" because as much as I love it (and I dare say that I love it more than you do) it's harmful to people. At its best it may have spurred a love of reading in a handful of people, or provided some escapism, but at worst it mischaracterized and abused a marginalized culture, causing real people real harm. The good does not outweigh

the bad.

So to people who are complaining about Dr Seuss, I just ask that you realize that the good feelings you get from reading clever rhymes and seeing whimsical drawings are not more important than the negative and broken feelings that are caused in the hearts of the marginalized victims.

To be harmed by a person everyone views as a "bad guy" is bad enough. To be harmed by a person everyone views as a "good guy" is endlessly worse.

I'm sorry for the book that I wrote. I'm not going to repeat those mistakes.

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