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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  1. I feel the same about Jack London.
    His newspaper articles regarding the first black world heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, are a disgrace.
    London routinely referred to the champion by dropping his name and using the ‘N’ word.
    I won’t read Jack London now.

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