April 17, 2013

Dr. Seuss, Human Rights, and Self-Knowledge

Peter Nicolas, University of Washington School of Law, is publishing The Sneetches as an Allegory for the Gay Rights Struggle: Three Prisms in the New York Law School Law Review, volume 58 (2014). Here is the abstract.

Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s story The Sneetches, with its two classes of persons — the Star-Belly Sneetches and the Plain-Belly Sneetches — has been invoked by different minority groups over the years as an allegory for discriminatory treatment by the majority against that group, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism and discrimination against African-Americans. In this essay, I seek to invoke the themes found in the story as an allegory for the modern struggle for gay rights in the United States viewed through three different prisms.
The first, and most obvious, is the battle between the heterosexual majority and the gay minority represented by the Star-Belly and Plain-Belly Sneetches, respectively. The former seek to distinguish themselves from the latter through laws regarding marriage, parenting, and service in the military, as well as access to certain other markers of social acceptance, including the ability to donate blood and membership in private organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
However, The Sneetches serves as an excellent allegory for two mis-en-abîmes in the struggle for gay rights in the United States. One of these stories-within-the- story is a struggle between two different minority groups — gays and African-Americans — with some in the latter group rejecting efforts by the former to draw analogies to their own civil rights struggle. The second is a struggle between two different sub-groups of gays and lesbians — assimilationists and non-conformists — with the latter critical of what it views as insecurity on the part of the former in seeking mere formal equality by erasing valuable differences that set gays and lesbians apart from heterosexuals. Indeed, in this second struggle, some non-conformists have come out against the rights of gays and lesbians to marry or serve in the military.
In this essay, I demonstrate that in these struggles, each of these groups — African-Americans, assimilationist gays, and non-conformist gays — simultaneously internalize the discriminatory impulses of the Star-Belly Sneetches and the insecurities of the Plain-Belly Sneetches. Relying on the insights of Social Dominance Theory, I conclude that The Sneetches is not merely a story about a struggle between two different classes of people within society, but also about a struggle within each of us as individuals.
Download the full text of the article from SSRN at the link. 

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