The Eck’s Factor: The United States’ obsession with cancel culture ignores imperialism
Never had I once heard of the Dr. Seuss books that his estate pulled due to racist imagery. I have worked at a local bookstore for the past three years, and not once has anyone ever asked about these books. Then, last weekend, every other customer bombarded me with questions about their availability. I received an order for two copies of each underrated book. Suddenly, it seems that everyone wants to buy the racist Dr. Seuss books.
Less than a week afterward, Oprah Winfrey conducted an intimate interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and husband Harry, in which they discussed their departure from the British royal family. The CBS broadcast dropped bombshell after bombshell: Markle, a biracial Black woman, claimed the royal family refused to offer help when she had suicidal thoughts and Harry confessed to a conversation with a family member who expressed concern over the darkness of their son’s skin color. In response to public backlash, Prince William rebutted, positing that they are “very much not a racist family.”
Both of these topics revolve around the much-disputed concept of cancel culture. Following the release of Winfrey’s interview, #AbolishTheMonarchy immediately trended on Twitter. In response to Dr. Seuss’ books, Kevin McCarthy read “Green Eggs and Ham” — a Dr. Seuss book not even among those pulled for racist imagery — aloud as a testament against cancel culture.
Although the sole purpose of cancel culture is accountability, we seem to digress from the systemically racist pasts of these issues. Who would have thought that the British monarchy — a relic of British imperialism — would exhibit racist tendencies? How does institutionalized racism condone this infatuation with the racist portrayals found in Dr. Seuss’ books? Ultimately, cancel culture sheds light on Western ethnocentrism and how it undermines the functionality of oppressive systems, particularly imperialism.
In the 16th century, the British Empire began to establish overseas colonies in the Americas and the West Indies. This colonization resulted in genocide of Indigenous peoples and the usurp of resources from occupied territories. Today, the aftermath of colonialism manifests in the form of what we refer to as the “Third World,” or underdeveloped countries, which are merely underdeveloped because they were colonized and oppressed by imperialist pursuits. These are the same countries who do not have adequate access to a coronavirus vaccine, and are monopolized by imperialist countries for wealth.
Interestingly enough, it merely required a racist act, such as colorist concern over the skin of a baby, for everyone to suddenly step on the woke bus and vow to abolish the British monarchy. It’s even more ironic that Americans repost memes on social media about the Boston Tea Party along the lines of, “Meghan spilled the tea so America didn’t have to this time!” This should go without saying, but the United Kingdom is not the only imperialist country with a racist history.
The British Empire laid the foundation for colonialism, with other economic powers, such as the United States following suit — colonizing territories in the Pacific, such as Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam. This determination to remain a world power and exert political and economic influence to other nations ingrained capitalism and greed into our framework.
Yet, here we are, creating controversies over Dr. Seuss’ racist imagery. Of course, this media should not be disseminated anymore because it depicts dangerous racial biases. In the same vein, renaming “Robert E. Lee” schools and removing confederate statues are not products of “cancel culture” but instead addressing this despicable component of U.S. history rather than glorifying it.
On the contrary, we can look at how Germany addressed their horrifying past — the Third Reich used institutional racism in the U.S. as a template for their own caste system that segregated Jews from Aryans. Now, the U.S. argues over cancel culture and reads “Green Eggs and Ham” when racist pasts emerge to the forefront; Germany illegalized the Nazi flag, banned all Nazi propaganda and considers Holocaust denial a crime.
Not to mention the fact that in the middle of arguing over Dr. Seuss books that exhibit racism against Asian people, Asian Americans are experiencing increases in sinophobia and spikes in hate crimes by nearly 150% in major U.S. cities. We simply cannot look at the components of these racist attacks and just avow to hold perpetrators accountable — that will not resolve this vicious paradigm.
Instead, accountability lies with the U.S. for perpetuating anti-Asian sentiment in the past century. The U.S.’ involvement in Vietnam, McCarthyism and the overall vilification of Asian people all ties back to the country’s imperialist motives to suppress threats to its political and economic prowess.
We can also navigate the consequences of the U.S.’ imperialist motives through other racial inequities today. For example, we rarely talk about the Reagan Administration funding the Contra terrorist group to support their resistance against the Sandinista socialist government in Nicaragua. The Contra drug cartel is responsible for funneling crack cocaine into impoverished neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles, which prompted Reagan’s War on Drugs.
In other words, the president who enacted the War on Drugs is also responsible for financially supporting the group who disseminated these drugs, and it was all in the name of imperialism. As a result, Black people face a justice system that over-polices low-income neighborhoods and disproportionately prosecutes them for minor drug crimes. Western motives to maintain control merely exacerbated our own racial hierarchies.
It is far from surprising that Dr. Seuss will occupy so much of our energy that it distracts us from the monumental issues that perpetuate this absurd behavior. It is beyond expected that we would jump at the opportunity to cancel the British monarchy based on Markle’s experiences. At this point, cancel culture becomes minute. If we really wanted to “cancel” racism, we would have to completely restructure the national perception of imperialism, which is rooted in Western supremacy. Ignorance may be bliss, but for whom?
Matthew Eck is a junior writing about hot-button social issues. His column, “The Eck’s Factor,” runs every other Wednesday.