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!

If you enjoyed this article please consider showing support by purchasing Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters or Luna Maris by Steven Archer. My own books can be accessed free through Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Lending Library.

Related articles I’ve written are:

And now, “Dig Dug Has a Posse” by Rabbit Junk:

Teapot Weather Forecast: Category 5

John is horrified by queer books
I…have to read this book from Pink Narcissus Press?

It’s raining word police.

This rain follows an interesting confluence of events shaping the atmosphere of our hyper-mediatized mass media world. In order to explain I’ll have to move in reverse chronology of the happenings this week.

You see, K. Tempest Bradford has offended a lot of people by issuing a challenge to read authors other than white, cis, straight males for a full year. This came after her being called out for only noting books by non-white, non-cis, non-straight male authors in her online opinion column for a full year. Based on the mass media developments preceding these articles the backblash against Bradford is not altogether unexpected. People feel that Bradford is out to restrict their ability to read what they want, and to remove white, cis, straight males from the bookshelves, that she is out to oppress them.

I’m interested in the notion of agency here, since groups who are perceived as oppressed are said to suffer from a lack of agency. Let’s look at the definition put forth by the omniscient and infallible Wikipedia:

“In sociology and philosophy, agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world. The capacity to act does not at first imply a specific moral dimension to the ability to make the choice to act, and moral agency is therefore a distinct concept. In sociology, an agent is an individual engaging with the social structure.”

Right. So, whose agency is being impinged upon when it comes to book selection?

There is commentary other than mine available, for instance author and editor Nick Mamatas also weighed in on Bradford’s challenge. Nick’s self portrait alone is pure money, so to speak, so I urge you to go read what he has to say.

Or, if you have not been resoundingly cuffed on the ears today I recommend you go read this blog by Kriscinda Lee Everitt. It is her response to Tempest’s challenge or, more to the point, the response it has elicited. Let’s examine one of Kriscinda’s observations:

“In terms of our personal comfort, it’s a trial by fire. Not the reading itself. I imagine the reading itself is rather fantastic. It’s the getting past the recognition that, no, you’re not perfect–you do carry a lot of societal baggage and it affects you in ways you don’t even know, until someone points it out and you go into idiot mental block mode. That is the trial. The point of deliberately going out of your way to find authors that aren’t immediately on your radar (and yes, white, straight male writers are more likely to be on yours and everyone else’s radar because that’s what society puts in front of us…)”

How true is that last claim? What follows is a look at this week’s developments in film and print, both of which are accepted pillars of our mass media.

The Academy Awards were held over the weekend. The LA Times claimed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscar, is 94% white, 86% over 50 years old, and 77% male. More on that in a minute.

By comparison, the Stoker Award nominees announced Monday break down down as follows: 16 books by women out of 56 total, or 28.6% female, and while I’m unsure of the exact racial makeup it seems only 5 books might be from those whose ethnic background diverges from the norm. As noted in my earlier blog post the publishing company I am involved with released 3 of those 16 titles by women, meaning our company alone is responsible for a fifth of works by women receiving award recognition in this branch of the publishing industry. Often I wonder what would happen if we stopped publishing, but looking at those numbers I’m guessing nothing good would come of us closing shop.

Another comparison: even the most casual glance at the Nebula ballot, also just announced, reveals quite a different percentage breakdown along lines of gender and race. Take a second to skim through that list, and then lets get back to the movies.

Patricia Arquette, as you might have heard, won an Academy Award the other night. I didn’t spend much time online the following day, but when I did check in early on I saw some hubbub about her acceptance speech. That lead me to search engines in order to discern what was going on; the top article opened with briefly stating that she won, concluding the sentence with noting that she began with a carefully scripted acceptance speech but ended with an emotional outburst. So, I watched the video. She starts off a bit tremulous with emotion while reading from her script, but ends with strength and conviction when calling for people to be treated as though they are fully people. Strength and conviction from a woman = emotional outburst, apparently, although to be fair the coverage later in the day had shifted substantially toward positive language.

This is all during a time when the Academy Awards are embroiled in diversity-related controversy which has resulted in a large viewership drop. There’s a saying about being tone deaf. I have always found it far too “kid gloves” to say that, though. Because there’s a difference between being tone deaf and aggressively trying not to hear.

It will be interesting to see how people react to the acceptance speeches of any women who win the Stoker Award, should they happen to do so, given the recent gender brouhaha in the horror scene. Likewise, it will be interesting to see how the words of people of color are received should they win; at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention I overheard multiple men of the pale-skinned persuasion deriding the controversy surrounding the World Fantasy Award being a bust of a fervent racist, three years after the fact. Still griping. Very bitterly, I might add, since after all that controversy was begun by a woman (notice a trend here, anybody?).

I think that’s because in a consumer society your identity is largely invested in your belongings. What we’ve been sold is what older heterosexual men hailing from the westernmost reaches of Eurasia have wanted to sell us. But guess what? Buying books from outside that range won’t mess up your identity. What it might do is help you to see the identity of others, and open your life to opportunities for experience you wouldn’t have had otherwise–as Kriscinda points out in far better detail at her blog.

Is this the point where I, as an ethnic-other author, hit you up to read my work? No. Go through the various award nomination lists such as the Nebula or Stoker, among others, and pick from those books as they have obviously swayed a great many minds already. Below I’ll also include a list of books I’ve been involved with as editor which meet the criteria of this challenge. Or swing by my author page on Facebook where every day this week I have been highlighting an African American author I know.

Just as important–perhaps more so–I’d suggest you read translations and get a grip on what’s actually happening in the world. We here in the USA are just a small part of a very big thing, after all. And if you switch up your reading does that mean you have to forever abandon white men who are straight? As Kriscinda said, “Of course not. That’s stupid. But my reading list is definitely getting an overhaul and, poor me, I’ll just have to deal with the extra work of that.”

Sure, but does any of this represent the realities of our reading public? Are we being unfair? As Bill Campbell, the driving force behind Rosarium Publishing, pointed out in his Publishers Weekly interview earlier this week: “If you take all the people of color in the U.S. alone, that’s a market of 100 million people, yet a lot of artists and writers are told there’s no market for what you do.” If that’s true, and of the remaining 200 million roughly 50% are women, that puts white males at a third of the population, and when you account for the number of those white males who are not cis heterosexuals the percentages drop even lower.

Back to the impinged upon agency of our contemporary reading public. Um, you saw those statistics I laid out up there, right? You’d think the howling rage on the internet was the result of a judge, library system, or school district restricting the reading rights of our citizens. Or, perhaps, a corporate entity refusing to deal with people of a certain socioeconomic background. Instead we just have an individual suggesting that other individuals take a break–and not a permanent one–from reading material by the one limited voice which produces most of the books and magazines put before the rest of us (the very fact of which reduces our agency as readers). But when you mention the fact that the populace is not being represented, or a significant portion is being withheld from view, the word police come out in force.

For people who are so interested in being word police, I’ll say this: they don’t have a very keen grasp on words, as demonstrated in the howling rage I linked to above. Nor do they have a grip on the fact that straight white guys will still be, overall, pushed harder than all others in the schools and libraries and stores and Hollywood adaptations despite some of us taking a break from them for a year.

In closing: much is made about our social order being derived from the biological necessities of the hunter/gatherer system we evolved from, wherein men are perceived as having been the big shots due to hunting ability. Judging from the reaction online cis white men dislike hunting for information, though, but there is hope. Here’s a chance to get information about the bulk of the USA population without having to hunt far and wide, as people have already compiled it all into book form. The only effort required is that you read it. Maybe then you’ll “get the deal” with women, Tahitians, pansexuals, the West Indies, and so forth, finding yourself duped less often by politicians, corporations, or anybody else who profits from your being kept in the dark. And rest of us will maybe see ourselves more frequently in the stories we read.

And now for those books I helped publish, followed by Rabbit Junk rapping about having agency…or a lack thereof (and the lyrics, included below the video, are worth reading in their own right).

Cog-Final-LowResBetter Haunted Homes and Gardens by Jennifer Barnes and Kristen Margiotta
The Blood Poetry
by Leland Pitts-Gonzalez
Cog by K. Ceres Wright
D.D. Murphry, Secret Policeman by Elizabeth Massie and Alan Clark
Daughters of Lilith by Donna Lynch and Steven Archer
KickcoverDriving Through the Desert by Donna Lynch
Greenshift by Heidi Ruby Miller
Hysteria by Stephanie M. Wytovich
The Irreal Reader edited by Alice Whittenburg and G.S. Evans
Isabel Burning by Donna Lynch
BOOKS-mourningjewelryKicking Against the Pricks by Stephen M. Wilson
Ladies and Other Vicious Creatures by Donna Lynch
Luna Maris by Steven Archer
Marked by Light: Ambasadora Book 1 by Heidi Ruby Miller
Steel Victory cover revealMourning Jewelry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Mr. Wicker by Maria Alexander
Red Horses by Donna Lynch
Red King, Black Rook by Steven Archer
Soft Apocalypses by Lucy A. Snyder
Spider Pie by Alyssa Sturgill
Steel Victory by J.L. Gribble

(Works we’ve published where I was unsure of the author’s sexual preference have been omitted, as it is not my business to go barging around demanding to know everyone’s sexual identity. If you work with me and feel you’ve been unfairly excluded holla at me and I’ll remedy that right quick.)

“Pop That Pretty Thirty”

Patrols on the boundaries
in prison cells and factories
on your phone and old TV
in between the lines we read
no suits no conspiracy, just a lack of agency
who’s the perp, run the APB
just look in the mirror and look for me

The haves and the have-nots
the bottom and the top
black market and mall shops
YOU ARE ALL THE COPS
99 and 1 percenters
dissenters and defenders
slum lords and renters
a comedy of pretenders

WE ARE ALL THE COPS

Greed, glory and fear
the eyes, the ears
no panopticon, just dads and moms
keep calm and carry on
vignettes of silhouettes
popping up as the sun sets
settlers heading ever west
looking for souls to digest

Men in Horror Month

abandoned prison
In capitalist America women don’t find horror, horror finds women.

Permit me to ask where you stand on things, historically. How did you or your family comport themselves when people were being beaten, tortured, bought and sold, hung from trees with impunity? Was derision of the Africans and Chinese and Jews and Italians and Latinos tolerated in you or your family’s presence? Was one whit of attention paid to all the laws being passed in the attempt to strip those groups of an ability to participate in society, to provide for themselves, to be full human beings?

Permit me to ask where you stand on contemporary events. How do you and your family comport themselves as women are beaten, tortured, bought and sold, killed with impunity? Is derision of women for the mere fact of being women tolerated in your presence? Do you pay one whit of attention to the constant attempts to pass laws governing how women can dress or behave, or how in judging by pay scale women are only three quarters the value of men?

As some of you who have been following me on social media can attest I post about human rights on a regular basis. Some followers have difficulty grasping why I have such an interest in people being treated as though they are, in fact, full people free to go anywhere at any time, achieve their full potential, and so forth. There are those who tell me we already had the 1960s, or that it isn’t that bad, or this, or that.

Yet I still find myself somehow wandering into the nigger conversation. You know that one. I’m standing with a bunch of guys and the conversation veers toward the subject of women, and bit by bit, we meander to the point where if you replace the word “women” with the word “niggers” you realize you’re having the same conversation being held at the regional KKK headquarters. No need to look back to wonder at how free folk conducted themselves during slavery or reconstruction or the Jim Crow era when we can simply observe the men in our lives.

It is easy to see, then, how dismissive belligerence–even from an author who is of little consequence to the overall publishing industry–can trigger strong reactions in literary circles, as we have witnessed this week. Women don’t exist just in the horror scene, so the condemnation has to be considered within the larger context of society. A single metal post is not threatening, so focusing on it seems silly until you realize many more encircle you forming a cage.

If you take part in the horror community you are likely aware that February is Women in Horror Month. Maybe to some folks this month feels strange. They look around and see so much attention being lavished on genre authors who are biological females. Take a moment to realize that’s how it is for women in horror: every month, all year, every year, is Men in Horror Month.

Want to do something about the horror genre? Support our Women in Horror event this Saturday at Ukazoo Books in Towson, Maryland by attending, sharing online, or getting your Baltimore-area friends to go. Also visit WomenInHorrorMonth.com.

Want to do something about society? Check out ACallToMen.org. I have observed them and they seem to be doing good work proselytizing for…well, I want to refer to it as common sense, but it’s not common so we’ll call it remedial sense…in the community.

Oh yeah, listen to “Thug Baby” by Rabbit Junk:

Men in Horror Month

abandoned prison
In capitalist America women don’t find horror, horror finds women.

Permit me to ask where you stand on things, historically. How did you or your family comport themselves when people were being beaten, tortured, bought and sold, hung from trees with impunity? Was derision of the Africans and Chinese and Jews and Italians and Latinos tolerated in you or your family’s presence? Was one whit of attention paid to all the laws being passed in the attempt to strip those groups of an ability to participate in society, to provide for themselves, to be full human beings?

Permit me to ask where you stand on contemporary events. How do you and your family comport themselves as women are beaten, tortured, bought and sold, killed with impunity? Is derision of women for the mere fact of being women tolerated in your presence? Do you pay one whit of attention to the constant attempts to pass laws governing how women can dress or behave, or how in judging by pay scale women are only three quarters the value of men?

As some of you who have been following me on social media can attest I post about human rights on a regular basis. Some followers have difficulty grasping why I have such an interest in people being treated as though they are, in fact, full people free to go anywhere at any time, achieve their full potential, and so forth. There are those who tell me we already had the 1960s, or that it isn’t that bad, or this, or that.

Yet I still find myself somehow wandering into the nigger conversation. You know that one. I’m standing with a bunch of guys and the conversation veers toward the subject of women, and bit by bit, we meander to the point where if you replace the word “women” with the word “niggers” you realize you’re having the same conversation being held at the regional KKK headquarters. No need to look back to wonder at how free folk conducted themselves during slavery or reconstruction or the Jim Crow era when we can simply observe the men in our lives.

It is easy to see, then, how dismissive belligerence–even from an author who is of little consequence to the overall publishing industry–can trigger strong reactions in literary circles, as we have witnessed this week. Women don’t exist just in the horror scene, so the condemnation has to be considered within the larger context of society. A single metal post is not threatening, so focusing on it seems silly until you realize many more encircle you forming a cage.

If you take part in the horror community you are likely aware that February is Women in Horror Month. Maybe to some folks this month feels strange. They look around and see so much attention being lavished on genre authors who are biological females. Take a moment to realize that’s how it is for women in horror: every month, all year, every year, is Men in Horror Month.

Want to do something about the horror genre? Support our Women in Horror event this Saturday at Ukazoo Books in Towson, Maryland by attending, sharing online, or getting your Baltimore-area friends to go. Also visit WomenInHorrorMonth.com.

Want to do something about society? Check out ACallToMen.org. I have observed them and they seem to be doing good work proselytizing for…well, I want to refer to it as common sense, but it’s not common so we’ll call it remedial sense…in the community.

Oh yeah, listen to “Thug Baby” by Rabbit Junk: