The Racism of H.P. Lovecraft


I enjoyed this article by David Nickel on Lovecraft’s racism.

This quote indicates that my opinion, stated in my column, that most the community is under no illusions about HPLs racism, was probably inaccurate.

A few months later, I found myself on another Lovecraftian panel in San Antonio at Worldcon–this one about Lovecraft’s international appeal. There, in the midst of an excellent and exhaustive power point presentation about Lovecraft’s portability to Japan, I tried again to talk a bit about race. One of my co-panelists straight-facedly claimed she had seen no hints of racism in the Lovecraft that she’d read and wasn’t sure what I was talking about. I cited a few obvious examples–the proto-Tea-Party anti-immigration text (one can hardly call it subtext) of “The Horror at Red Hook,” the horrific take on miscegenation at the heart of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and a particular poem with a title that cannot be spoken, typed or spray-painted on a garage door in polite company–but didn’t push it much further.* Instead I spent most of the rest of that panel sitting back and taking in all those lovely slides of Lovecraftian manga panels and illustrations for translated stories.

Because really, it fast became clear that last year at least, not very many people at Lovecraftian panels wanted to talk about race as it pertained to Lovecraftian fiction.

The thing I wanted to add was that many of us have memories of having read HPL in a different time; the ‘man of his time’ thing is probably as much about the time the person read HPL as it is about HPLs time.

I’m 50 or so, I grew up in an era of great, casual racism, in the 60s and 70s. The Frito Bandito? A restaurant chain called Sambos? The Little Rascals, still on the air, with Buckwheat leading a parade in a white tuxedo in front of a truck of watermelons? Johnny Quest’s brutish bodyguard dude referring to the African natives casually as savages?

Racism! Still soaking in it!

For those of us most insulated, in white suburbs, in mostly white schools, I honestly think we didn’t have any clue what we were reading; we got the cosmic, existential horror of HPL; we didn’t get the racism. We enjoyed the scare. The racism permeated so much Golden Age stuff. The Lensmen? Jesus, is everyone white in Dune, do you suppose? Master races, breeding programs.. Eloi and Morlock…

Maybe HPL can no longer be read for pleasure by anyone sane. I can’t step into the same river twice.

I wanted someone to argue with me, that he shouldn’t be read anymore. I’m curious how that argument goes.

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galaxy_science_fiction_magazineScience Fiction and Fantasy is a strange land.

Politically, genre fiction covers, and often overflows, the boundaries of the political speech in mainstream media. We have our communitarian utopians and our free market libertarians, our atheists and our true believers, (and our atheist true believers) all crammed together under one tent.

The recent explosion of controversy over racist and sexist  tweets and postings within SFWA is nothing new; different groups of writers famously took out a full page ad in Galaxy, attacking and defending the US war in Viet Nam, as pictured above.

Reading the names, for many people, came as a shock. This wasn’t about pleasing readers or winning fans. These were people feeling they had to make a stand.

So, the obvious thing to do is to not allow comments, avoid controversy, and just tell stories. But genre people aren’t like that.

Our comments will be moderated. I’m going to work up a ‘rules for comments’ document which no one will read, but, it’s one of those things that must be done. In short, be humane, constructive, polite; posts which denigrate others on the basis of race, creed, sexual preference or identity, or anything else I can think that shouldn’t be denigrated will be bounced by the mods.