Dr. Seuss Got the Caboose: Cancel Culture & Navigating Your Organization in 2021

Dr. Seuss got the caboose, without truce, for in 2021 racism can’t be let loose.

His clever rhymes cannot disguise the lines of lies used to produce, seduce and induce the many minds and crimes.

The misuse and use of Dr. Seuss are no longer on the loose. - WSK

“Cancel Culture” we call it, coined and developed by millennials, mastered and perfected by Generation Z. What does this “Cancel Culture” mean for your recruiting, managing, and marketing? What will happen when these new minds become the majority in your organization? Well, just know you don’t want to be CANCELED and understand it is very preventable.

This week hot off the conclusion of Black History Month, the newest cancel target was the posthumous Dr. Seuss and his publications. The world’s top-selling children’s book author and the mastermind responsible for creating the Grinch can’t put the cat back in the bag or in his case, the hat. On Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it will no longer be publishing six titles due to their racist, hurtful, stereotypical, and “out-of-date” content.

This is not the first attempt at canceling Dr. Seuss’s work, the last few years complaints have been made and scholarly papers were written. But like many of you reading the headlines this week, I paused and thought, “Wow, how did I miss this growing up?”

Perhaps it’s because so much time has elapsed since elementary school? But it couldn’t be. As a black boy growing up in the Canadian prairies, I would’ve remembered something like that… Right? The truth is, I didn’t remember it because I didn’t notice it. I didn’t because perhaps at that time, it was okay or even considered “funny.” At that time, it wasn’t a big deal. At that time, no one cared. At that time, I didn’t have the tools to understand implicit and explicit racism; ignorance was bliss.

As I reflected on my mindset and understanding then, I realized, I’ve grown, I’ve learned more and I’m not the same little naive black boy. Organizations and individuals need to take the time to ask themselves these same questions. Have you realized your mistakes? Have you grown? Have you learned more? Are you still the same?

You want to identify your flaws and address them before others can expose them, even if your intentions are good. Apologize and be better, especially if you’re in a position of power; society will always urge you to do and be better; myself included.

Fast forward to the world of digital natives, the digital age that brought a wealth of information and, unfortunately, disinformation in large part due to social media. As I pierced deeper into my research cutting through mountains of misinformation from headlines reading, “all affiliated Dr. Seuss products will be discontinued” to “Dr. Seuss is still alive.”

Unlike blackface actors on the Hollywood silver screens, Dr. Seuss’s children’s books were still being mass-produced with racist illustrations and this was not an isolated situation. I became more conflicted because his books helped me learn how to use poetic devices, developed my affinity for the art form, and grew my love for poetry as a whole. Was I part of the problem? This brings us back to our original questions. What does this “Cancel Culture” mean for your recruiting, managing, and marketing? What will happen when these young minds become the majority in your organization?

As the most ethnically diverse generation of all time, Generation Z will always be at the forefront of social issues. If your organization’s reputation is poor and you can’t align your values with theirs; recruiting, managing, and marketing to this generation will be very difficult. Whenever these issues arise, organizations scramble and do ad-hoc internal audits of their Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policies, barring they have EDI policies in place.

This is what we call reactionary practices, and often these decisions can leave long-term damage if not executed properly. Preventative measures are always recommended, as not all issues can be anticipated. In the case of Dr. Seuss Enterprise, they choose to ignore the criticism; their team had many years to address the explicit and implicit racism within their books. Inevitably, leaving them vulnerable to the perfect cancel storm. If organizations are unprepared for this generational influx, diversity of thought, and advocacy for equity they will simply cease to exist in the long run.

If not all Dr. Seuss Enterprise publications are racist, is it okay to like the ones that are not? The answer on a macro level is, it’s too late to defend his work; the damage is done. His publications will forever be associated with their harmful and racist past. Unfortunately for black, brown, ethnically diverse, and white fans alike they may no longer show public affinity or risk being classified as supporting racism.

This will have long-term effects on Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ bottom line and there is no quick fix apology available. An apology carries far less weight when it is forced and/or the last option. Public apologies don’t cut it in 2021, actionable remedies need to accompany apologies, and even then… there are no guarantees for redemption.

Be aware of the ever-evolving social climate, I would not recommend posting, “I don’t care, he is still my favorite author.” That’s simply tone-deaf, inconsiderate, and unnecessary. Most people don’t like cancel culture, even the ones doing the bulk of the canceling. Canceling occurs most times as the last option when nothing is being done when an unjust act is committed.

To conclude, if an art form or publication inspires, motivates, and encourages you to make positive change that is not harming anyone, discriminatory, inciting violence, and/or indirectly supporting hate then yes, you can use it PERSONALLY. I personally don't dwell on my passed naiveness but rather aim to provide tangible solutions. It can be very difficult to alter your memories or feelings towards a thing, object, or person, it’s not always an on/off switch, but commiting to the process of being better is necessary.

Today I no longer marvel at the name Dr. Seuss and his talents but instead appreciate the teachers that took the time and encouraged me to continue to develop my love for poetry. Whenever you find yourself in a personal or business moral conundrum it is important to first ask these questions:

- Can I prevent causing harm?

- If it already occurred, can I still remedy it?

- Who have I harmed?

- Can I find a way to fix this situation?

- How do I acknowledge my mistake?

- How do I prevent this from occurring again?

- How can I advocate for those I’ve harmed?

*Start from the top even when you’re not in crisis*

These questions aren’t isolated to this topic alone. They can and should be asked in business and personal settings. Accept your mistake and guide real change and prevention.

What would I have done as a PR consultant for Dr. Seuss Enterprise? The fact is Dr. Seuss had a long history of racist publications, and he alone has to take the blame for his actions. He never thought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream would start to take form. He was a product of his inexcusable ugly racist environment and made decisions that caused harm and damage. However, with the amount of success and wealth his estate has amassed they can write and illustrate a better future.

1. I wouldn’t have ignored the ugly past; immediate removal of all racist publications and an apology statement would’ve been issued.

2. Conduct a full internal audit of all publications practices and create an EDI team if one doesn’t already exist

3. Add BIPOC people to the executive and board

4. Create paid internships, scholarship funds, and opportunities for BIPOC people to enter the underrepresented publishing industry

5. Create an independent publishing company founded by Dr. Seuss Enterprises owned and operated by BIPOC people

6. Release new and joint publications from BIPOC authors

I’m certain some of my suggestions above will be coming in the next few months. The major issue with reactionary practices is they will always be interpreted as disingenuous. Prevention is always the best practice and when that is not possible give me a call and we will find a solution!

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