This coming Saturday’s video show: Lovecraft and racism

H.P. Lovecraft

Lately, more and more people seem to be bringing up Lovecraft’s racism.  Well, these things are cyclical, I suppose.

Was H.P. Lovecraft a racist?  It seems obvious that he was, and I’m not about to argue that point.

But so were a lot of other authors.  For example, did you know that Dr. Seuss was a racist?  Yep.  So was Jack London.  So was Rudyard Kipling.  And, it seems, even J.R.R. Tolkien.  And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that the author of the Declaration of Independence was not only racist, he owned slaves.

And on and on and on.

We need to reach the point where we acknowledge that yes, Lovecraft was a racist and that it’s horrible… and move on.

Racism is a terrible, terrible thing, and I can’t understand why anyone would hold racist views.

At the same time, though, once we’ve acknowledged that Lovecraft was a racist, is it really necessary to bring up his racism every time his work is mentioned?  Some people seem to think so.

Some even seem to think that because of his racism, no one should read his stories.  But I highly doubt those same people are throwing away the Declaration of Independence, The Lord of the Rings, or The Call of the Wild.  Or Dr. Seuss books.

So Saturday’s show is about yes, as far as The Lovecraft eZine is concerned, let’s get this out in the open, let’s discuss it… and then let’s move on.

If you’d like to be on the show to talk about this, email me at lovecraftezine@gmail.com .  Or, you can simply watch the show LIVE, this coming Saturday night at midnight Eastern time (11pm Central, 9pm Pacific), at this link.

See you then!

*****

An addendum: I almost did not post about the HPL racism thing. But I feel that as someone running a major HPL website/magazine/video show, I have a responsibility to NOT duck the racism issue. So as much as I don’t like drama, this is the right thing to do.

However.

I knew that some people would be upset at me, no matter what. Some are upset that I’m bringing up race “again” (not that I have been talking about it, but it’s been brought up a lot lately elsewhere). Others are upset because they think I’m minimizing it by saying “it doesn’t have to be part of *every* conversation about HPL and his work”.

No matter what, some people will be pissed. But this needs to be discussed. And here’s the thing: The key is BALANCE.

Balance. On one end of the spectrum, some would like HPL’s racism never brought up again, or at least, rarely. On the other end, some seem to feel that it needs to be mentioned almost every time HPL or his work is discussed.

The answer is, like most things in life, somewhere in the middle. And THAT, more than anything else, is what I am saying.

My hope, my wish, is that people could discuss things like this without emotions getting out of hand.

Last of all, if you know me, you know that I am a person who advocates treating others with kindness above ALL else. I think more highly of someone who is kind, than I do of someone who has enormous talent yet treats people like shit. If you don’t know that, then you don’t know me.

21 responses to “This coming Saturday’s video show: Lovecraft and racism

  1. In my twenties I used to attend a fantasy book discussion group. In theory it was a Tolkien group, but in practice it was pretty far-ranging. Even Lovecraft came up for one of our monthly dissections. One the attendees at that meeting was Nick, a black man. In the course of it he began to read aloud a passage from “The Rats in the Walls,” a passage which included a mention of the narrator’s unfortunately-named cat. Nick came straight up to this waiting pothole–and jumped neatly over it. Anyone who had not read the story would not have known that he had left anything out. Those of us who had read the story recognized what he had done and why he had done it, and approved of his action and his reasons. I cannot speak for everyone, but I personally felt a little twinge of shame that such a moment had ever come up. But that was all there was to it. And forty years later this still seems to me the best way to deal with it.

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  2. I read Lovecraft. i admire his style and creativity. And yeah the racism smacks me in the face quite often (Rats in the Walls, anyone?). I think it’s a part of the discussion: “I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I could have because of this element” but should not be the entirety of the discussion.

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  3. That Lovecraft was racist is quite evident. The question here is what do we, the modern readers, make of works from before the civil rights era. From 1962-1985(roughly)the United States underwent a cultural revolution that changed completely our notions of what was socially acceptable. This left many so-called ‘classic’ writers in sketchy social and academic territory because of there their views. Lovecraft derived his definition of horror partly from themes of corruption, impurity and miscegenation, both in human racial terms and in how he often described his monsters as a mishmash of biological traits(the Dunwich horror is a prime example). This seems to reflect deep seated anxieties and/or convictions of his own.In that sense, Lovecraft’s personal views are inseparable from his style.While this makes for interesting academic debate, the question is are Lovecraft’s stories when taken at face value, racist? I say no. Unlike actual racist literature, like say the Turner Diaries, Lovecraft’s primary motive is not to incite the reader to racial disgust or hatred, but to instill a horror of the unclean, make them squirm from the threat of corruption or contamination. His works say much more about America at the time than about Lovecraft himself. There was a time when readers in America found interracial breeding the stuff of horror stories. Lovecraft is not inciting us to racism, he’s holding up a mirror to the prejudices of his environment and times, and what we find there is more unsettling than and denizen of Yuggoth. You can learn a lot about a culture by what scares them, and no one had a finger on the pulse of what scared pre-civil rights America than H.P. Lovecraft. The concern about racism in his works is really a concern about”does reading it make me a racist? No more so than playing ‘Here Comes the Bride at your wedding makes you antisemitic. To paraphrase Christ, it is not what goes into a person that corrupts them, but what comes out of them. And what came out of Lovecraft was fine literature.

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  4. Obviously, your failure to exclude the heart-cutter-outers shows your bias against ritual vivisection. The point is not to judge someone solely on their least ‘appreciated’ qualities, but rather on the whole of the person. Judging someone for one act or trait means that we exclude people whom we would otherwise appreciate very much. Sometimes those who do often end up as the kind of people they denounce. Personally, I’m in the ‘lighten up’ side of this discussion.

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  5. Maybe I’m simplistic, but I see 2 things. (1) HPL was a product of his culture and time, and also (2) nobody’s perfect. (1)I’ve read some biographical stuff on him (not an expert) but it sounds like his prejudices were more ‘philosophical’ than personal. He would ascribe things to groups that he did not connect to the individuals he met. From what I understand, he was a decent person to the people he knew. He grew up in an era and a culture that was predominantly racist He reflects that culture. (2) Nobody’s perfect. Everybody has done/said stuff they wish they could take back. Do we want to be judged on the worst aspects of our natures, or the best? If we are honest, we all will admit that we all have our flaws. I would rather be judged on my good points while I work to fix my bad ones. This is a more enlightened time. I think if HPL were alive now, he might have different viewpoints on many issues, race being one of them. If we logic of using an artist’s worst characteristics to judge their artwork, we would have to reject Strauss and Wagner (antisemitic), Van Gogh (schizophrenic) HG Wells (Fabian Socialist), WIlde (accused Pederast) Twain (use of N-Word), Woody Allen (accused Pedophile), most prehistoric Central American Artwork (heart-cutter-outers), and we could go on and on. HPL and his Mythos have given me (and many many others) countless hours of fun and a respite from the pressures of our daily lives, and I am grateful to him for that.

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