Racism Wasn’t Lovecraft’s Problem

 

A white supremacist towered over me shouting about how he ought to kill me when I was in the fourth grade. He was a Vietnam vet and a gun owner and was only restrained from attacking me by, well, people restraining him. I had committed the grave error of fighting back against his little brother-in-law who was my age.

This is the family that had discharged their firearms at people playing basketball at night from their balcony. They also kept a German Shepherd on their balcony, four floors up, with a giant bloody bone hanging from a chain on the wall to keep it company— a German Shepherd trained to attack on the command of “nigger.” The dog was set on me once using that command, biting my thigh when I complained about it getting sick near me; I was only able to escape due to that very sickness preventing the dog’s pursuit.

These memories came to me in the wake of the decision to retire the bust of H.P. Lovecraft used as the World Fantasy Award, during which time whites with guns patrolled a university campus looking for black people to shoot. There was debate online about the past being in the past, and fiction being about fun and not politics, and why do people with dark skin have to make everything about race. After all Lovecraft was alive a long time ago so what’s to be offended about? There were arguments about how racist Lovecraft really was and how damaging could that really be.

We’re talking about a time when Birth of a Nation was a huge film release lauded by the press and even receiving a standing ovation from the president of the United States, when segregation was enforced by the populace itself, when lynchings occurred throughout the North and South, when the cartoons in literature of the day did their best to portray almost every ethnic group in a horrible light, when the eugenics movement of the United States was so prevalent that it provided inspiration — and even direct support — for Hitler’s political career. The truth is that in comparison to his contemporaries Lovecraft’s bigotry was merely common. To view him, and his body of work, in that light is to acknowledge that much of what we consider classic literature all the way up through notable contemporary works was made by racists.

How we receive Lovecraft and his body of work is distorted by the fact that much of his era’s cartoons, film, music, and literature are out of print or lost to the sands of time. English is not an uplifting and inclusive language for many of us, nor have its stewards been uplifting or inclusive. English language writing has been the mortar of the wall separating us from opportunity for many years, shaping the thought processes which led to our condition.

As the title above suggests I posit the problem of Lovecraft’s legacy is not his bigotry. After all, there is a long stretch of history during which people were tortured for being left-handed. This is common knowledge, and there are still left-handed people among us, yet the cruel fate of so many left-hand people no longer figures significantly in our perceptions. Why? Because society adapted to include the left-handed fairly in all levels, and there are very few — if any — of us remaining who perceive the left-handed as a threat and something to stamp out.

Which is quite telling when it comes to racial bigotry: those of us who are of ethnicity not supported by Lovecraft’s bigotry react strongly because we are, in the course of our daily lives, still the target of such bigotry… And more importantly many of us still feel misgivings about those with dark skin pigmentation and whether they are to be trusted.

Even more crucial, though, is that which society fails to train us to look for. After all, institutionalized bigotry is now recognized as a “bad thing” but there are so many other issues which our society fails to address so readily. For example the lack of female existence in Lovecraft’s work or, when recognized, its malicious nature. As we are in a patriarchal system misogyny seeps into our world view when we are children, to such a degree that as adults it’s very difficult to even recognize what is in front of our faces. It is clear from the writings of Lovecraft that women are really better off not existing. When I read his work I am often reminded of the autobiography of Malcolm X in which he at one point proclaims Mecca so wonderful, and at another point comments that you would never know there were any women living in the city, but never directly connects the two thoughts, which add up to wonderful cities being places where there are no women. Lovecraft’s work is similarly wonderful, and while exploring it you would have almost have little indication that women existed in it. Save for the stray witch or two.

More startling still is Lovecraft’s depiction of the working class commoner which is far less kind than that of the farm animals which run afoul of the mutilating creatures populating his world. You see, the only worthwhile being in existence – for even gods are portrayed poorly by Lovecraft — was the one staring back in the mirror, which he perceived as being a highly educated man of reason hailing from English descent. Other pale skinned men from the westernmost reaches of Eurasia receive hideous treatment by Lovecraft, which I believe if perpetrated by myself or another dark skinned author would be received with anger or at the very least trepidation. Compounding the issue is Lovecraft’s seeming self-satisfaction at being an anthropologist working to preserve the various dialects of the North in the wake of post-Civil War efforts at language hegemony. I say compounded because he uses that very same dialect in character interactions to denote precisely whom is a worthless lump of meat to be ground underfoot by both cosmic horror and contemporary progress.

It goes without saying that the aforementioned racism applies not just to people of African descent, extending to those who are Arabic and from Eastern Eurasia or the Pacific Islands. If you’re from the Middle East or the Pacific rim it’s pretty much assured you are a devil-worshiping blight on the world – although it is likely you are at the very least more knowledgeable than those subhumans from Africa.

I originally intended to post this blog on the day of the Paris attacks, but when I saw the news I held back. My speaking out on issues of race and domestic terrorism in the past, when terrorism occurred overseas in foreign lands on the same day, resulted in my message not being well received. The intervening week and a half, though, have provided much in the way of insight.

The interval has seen “white student groups” on college campuses organizing to fight the “terrorism” of Black Lives Matter protesters, political candidates and voters alike proclaiming their radicalization, the mass shooting of protesters against police violence, the announcement of an award featuring a distinctly white bust of H.P. Lovecraft (as opposed to the bronze WFA bust) by those who wish to promote “white greatness” in literature, and so much more. *

I’ve also witnessed during this time quite a few people avowing their willingness to go overseas and protect citizens of other countries while remaining silent on the campaign against mosques and black churches, and reactionless in the face of violence against citizens of color and their continued inability to get justice.

Only after much struggle and effort have we managed to do something about a racist who was around 100 years ago, but it seems the racists who are around now are only growing stronger. The problem is not Lovecraft or his racism, the problem is us. Are you the person who took action and held back the white supremacist coming after my 10-year-old self, or are you the person who stood back and made excuses for him?

* Ironically this group tarnishes the memory of those they seek to deify by promoting their noteworthy “whiteness” as opposed to enshrining their works of exceeding skill, casting aside white greatness in favor of great whiteness. Whoops-a-daisy!

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11 thoughts on “Racism Wasn’t Lovecraft’s Problem”

  1. Well put John as always.
    I seem to remember that the Oklahoma Bomber was white. Were all the white communities in the U.S. viewed with suspicion after that? That would make as much sense as it currently does to view all arabs with suspicion, and then to include any black communities that are Muslim. Soon no doubt we’ll find a reason for the money controlling Jews having caused World hunger problems.
    The biggest problem is that we seem to fear anyone who is slightly different than us rather than celebrating that difference.
    Now we talk about the radicalisation of arabs, classing them all as Muslims forgetting there are Christian arabs. Forgetting also that Christians have committed huge acts of barbarity in the past like the Crusades against someone else’s country ( not much has changed there then) and in turn both the slaughter of the Templars and the Cathars both of whom were Christian anyway.
    All these years and we still can’t or won’t live in peace with each other and solve the root cause which brings on the radicalisation of any group. I personally cling to the unpopular belief that half the problems we have are created by weapons manufacturers to ensure their ongoing profits.
    ISIS must go, but that’s a problem for the Countries that such groups hide in. We create more recruits for them each time we go in and start killing people with friendly fire. The West becomes hated and the Arab countries fund them yet don’t want them either.
    We have to learn that for the sake of our children and their children, we are leaving them a terrible legacy of a scarred World full of scared people. People who would rather fight and kill than live in peace together.At peace this world could be so much more and we need to start promoting our brotherhood in schools.
    Sorry for the length of this rant John.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the well measured addition to this discussion, David! I feel you are quite correct on all points.

      The fact is that many, many acts of terrorism are committed domestically in the USA by those with pale skin and Christian background, but these acts tend to fall out of view quickly, if they are noted at all.

      I do worry about what we are leaving our children. It’s not theoretical; the children are alive, and the damage is happening now from the choices we are making–or not making. The day after the Paris attacks I picked up a course on Arabic so that my son and I can learn it together. I’m convinced that somebody needs to bridge the gap between cultures, and education is the first step. Also, I want my child to be able to directly understand what is being said in Arabic so that he cannot be mislead by false translations.

      I could go on, but you’ve summed it all up far better than I could. I hope you are having a great week, David, and thanks for sharing this post on Twitter!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s not Arabs that are the problem, however, the rule of thumb that they are probably Islamists, is very helpful to individual and communal survival. Your mentality is the idiocy of the Coexist bumper sticker, that posits that all the world’s belief systems are equally prone towards violence, for all teach it! LOL. You wish. Go and learn what the Koran teaches. Go and learn that to this day, a vast majority of Muslims support terrorism. When you do, you will see where the problem is – in understanding what certain belief systems teach and what happens when people believe certain things. To ignore that is to call those that believe them liars.

      Like

  2. Living in South Africa, being born and raised as an African I must say we are a mix of all religions and colours, most times we all get along in harmony.

    It is the handful that make it difficult for the majority, have one person of either race hurt someone and the great divide happens instantly.

    Humans are amazing at how fickle we are, we never learn from history! Leading by example by heads of countries (politicians) has not helped the cause either, it is down to grass roots do your best every day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The opening of your post is a frightening reminder of the terrorism that we have here in our own backyard. I’m more afraid of that terrorism than I am of ISIS in part because that terrorism is too often shrugged off, excused away as an aberration, an act of one individual. But anyone who has studied white supremacism knows that is not true and that it is an insidious form of terrorism since so many of these terrorists are white and purportedly Christian (really, I can’t think of them as Christian even if they want to say they are).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is very difficult to grapple with, emotionally and intellectually, even for the populations who are on the receiving end of the hatred. For my part I am also far more afraid of extremists here domestically than I am of those abroad. The good news is that each of us who believes in and works toward a moderate society keeps the extremists from taking hold, and, indeed, reduces their influence.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, but sadly I feel that too many people are willing and wanting to go back to a more isolationist (and therefore, xenophobic) society because of ISIS/ISIL. Somehow they don’t understand (or want to understand) that that is exactly what they want us to do.

        Liked by 1 person

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