History

The ‘N’ word through the ages: The madness of HP Lovecraft

By Phenderson Djeli Clark

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Tåh’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

–H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of Niggers (1912)

H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft

I had come to believe that by now the racism of H.P. Lovecraft, the celebrated author of horror and fantasy, was a settled matter–like declaring Wrath of Khan the best film in the Star Trek franchise. Arguing against such a thing should be absurd. I certainly thought so after the matter was thrust into the spotlight in December 2011, when author Nnedi Okorafor won the esteemed World Fantasy Award–whose statuette is none other than H.P. Lovecraft’s disembodied head. Okorafor had been unaware of the depths of Lovecraft’s “issues,” until a friend sent her his 1912 poem, On the Creation of Niggers, where blacks are fashioned by the gods as “a beast . . . in semi-human figure.”

This was no one-off, some “misspeak” by the author. Lovecraft’s racial biases ran deep and strong, as evidenced by his stories–from exotic locales with tropic natives lacerating themselves before mad gods in acts of “negro fetishism” (Call of Cthulhu), to descriptions of a black man as “gorilla-like” and one of the world’s “many ugly things” (Herbert West-Reanimator). This was no abstract part of Lovecraft’s creative process, where he was trying to imbue his work with some hint of realism. Rather, these were expressions of his foremost thoughts, a key part of his personal beliefs, most notably his virulent xenophobia towards an increasingly diverse American society emerging outside of his Anglo-Saxon New England.

The Rats in the Walls

The Rats in the Walls

Yet many of Lovecraft’s modern-day fans seem unable, or perhaps unwilling, to deal with this ugly side of his life. A few years back I was on a forum where someone was discussing Lovecraft’s story The Rats in the Walls, where one of the characters is a cat called “Nigger Man.” It so happens that Lovecraft owned a “beloved” feline by the same name. Feeling the need to explain after dropping the N-bomb, the post made it clear that quite likely Lovecraft was just using some politically incorrect colloquialism “of his times,” and probably did not mean to demean anyone’s race. While acknowledging that Lovecraft had some “disturbing notions on race,” the post went on to state this was likely an unfortunate result of the author’s isolated upbringing.

Seriously? That’s the argument we’re going with now? H.P. Lovecraft was just channeling his inner Mark Twain? He was isolated? His “notions” of race were “disturbing?” He really wasn’t trying to demean anyone? I guess this is what we mean by accidental racist.

It’s always perplexing to watch the gymnastics of mental obfuscation that occur as fans of Lovecraft attempt to rationalize his racism. Yes. His racism. Not his “disturbing notions.” Not his “peculiar thoughts.” Not his “racialisms.” His unabashed, full frontal, in-your-face racism. Lovecraft was a racist. Period. No qualifiers necessary. Sure he was other things as well–among them a great writer with an amazing imagination. But he was a racist too. And he was very good at it.

In his 1919 short The Street, the United States is represented as being colonized by “good, valiant men of our [Anglo-Saxon] blood who had come from the Blessed Isles across the sea” until ominous newcomers arrive, “swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes and odd features, whose owners spoke unfamiliar words….” They brought with them alien thoughts, and had come to “tear down the laws and virtues that our fathers had exalted; to stamp out the soul of the old America – the soul that was bequeathed through a thousand and a half years of Anglo-Saxon freedom, justice and moderation.” These swarthy men living in “rotting edifices” were “the brains of a hideous revolution” and “at their word of command many millions of brainless, besotted beasts would stretch forth their noisome talons from the slums of a thousand cities, burning, slaying, and destroying till the land of our fathers should be no more.” Eventually, the sinister hordes are destroyed when their squalid homes (referred to as an infested “nest” filled with “stench”) collapse, burying and killing all their kind in a genocidal apocalypse.

image5A similar story of foreign contagion, The Horror of Red Hook, goes full tilt into the race-baiting, with such wonderful descriptive characters as “an Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth.” Charming. One only needs look at Lovecraft’s personal letters to catch the influences for these fantastic tales of race-war and extermination. In them he recounts a 1920s trip to New York, where he is repulsed by being jostled in the subway by “sneering, greasy mulattos” and terrified at the sight of “hideous negroes that resemble gigantic chimpanzees.” Similar to his stories, he goes on to rail against what he sees as the real-life “mongrelization” of America’s finest cities:

The New York Mongoloid problem is beyond calm mention. The city is befouled and accursed—I come away from it with a sense of having been tainted by contact, and long for some solvent of oblivion to wash it out! … How in Heaven’s name sensitive and self-respecting white men can continue to live in the stew of Asiatic filth which the region has become—with marks and reminders of the locust-plague on every hand—is absolutely beyond me. … There is here a grave and mighty problem beside which the negro problem is a jest—for in this case we have to deal not with childlike half-gorillas, but with yellow, soulless enemies whose repulsive carcasses house dangerous mental machines warped culturelessly in the single direction of material gain at any cost. I hope the end will be warfare … In New England we have our own local curses … in the form of simian Portuguese, unspeakable Southern Italians, and jabbering French-Canadians. Broadly speaking, our curse is Latin just as yours is Semitic-Mongoloid, the Mississippian’s African, the Pittsburgher’s Slavonic, the Arizonian’s Mexican, and the Californian’s Chino-Japanese.*–Letter from Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, August 21, 1926.

Disturbing notions indeed. During a visit to Chinatown in 1922, Lovecraft declared it a “filthy dump” filled with sub-human “swine … a bastard mess of stewing Mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to the eye, nose and imagination.” He goes on to wish for a “kindly gust of cyanogen [cyanide]” that might “asphyxiate the whole gigantic abortion, end the misery and clean out the place.”

America’s black inhabitants presented Lovecraft with a most peculiar problem–a group too numerous to erase with a genocidal whiff of poison gas, and too entrenched to send packing. He ruminated on this on more than one occasion:

Now the trickiest catch in the negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. The black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary and unsentimental biologists—eminent Europeans for whom the prejudice-problem does not exist. But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the negro were the white man’s equal. For the simple fact is, that two widely dissimilar races, whether equal or not, cannot peaceably coexist in the same territory until they are either uniformly mongrelised or cast in folkways of permanent and traditional personal aloofness. . . . . Just how the black and his tan penumbra can ultimately be adjusted to the American fabric, yet remains to be seen. . . . Millions of them would be perfectly content with servile status if good physical treatment and amusement could be assured them, and they may yet form a well-managed agricultural peasantry. The real problem is the quadroon and octoroon—and still lighter shades. Theirs is a sorry tragedy, but they will have to find a special place. What we can do is to discourage the increase of their numbers by placing the highest possible penalties on miscegenation, and arousing as much public sentiment as possible against lax customs and attitudes—especially in the inland South—at present favouring the melancholy and disgusting phenomenon. All told, I think the modern American is pretty well on his guard, at last, against racial and cultural mongrelism. There will be much deterioration, but the Nordic has a fighting chance of coming out on top in the end.– Letter from Lovecraft to James F. Morton, January 1931.

We could do this all day. Lovecraft wrote in copious amounts, and seemed to have no filters. His words. No need to take them out of context. No need to puzzle out their subtle meanings. He could be quite blunt and forcefully direct. Still, label Lovecraft a racist and some in the geek-o-sphere waver, erupting into spasms of denial and a plethora of excuses.

Petition: Make Octavia Butler the WFA Statue Instead of Lovecraft

“Keep in mind, he was just a man of his time” goes the most familiar argument, ignoring that victims of racism were also men and women of those times. Privileging the perpetrator by trying to reason away his/her actions doesn’t mean one whit to those on the receiving end, then or now. Further, we’re well aware that white thinking of his era was backward and retrograde. So quit with the white-splaining already. Early 20th Century America was no doubt a time where white supremacy reigned supreme. But let’s be clear. Lovecraft was no average Joe who happened to go see Birth of a Nation or spoke in quaint terms about the “Negro’s propensity for music.” He went above and beyond the more normalized requirements of whiteness, veering into the hateful and obscene. Most whites of his day likely held poor views of ethnic and racial minorities; however, most did not speak (quite repeatedly) in such vile and at times frightening exterminationist language.

Or there’s the, “well we have to separate his personal life from his works” defense. Yes, because as writers we slip out of our skins, wipe our brains blank and pluck ideas from some non-personal non-reality based ether. In reality, understanding Lovecraft’s personal bigotry sheds profound insight into his writings. His racist fanaticism, eugenic pseudoscience and xenophobia lay behind the many horrors and unknown encroaching fears in his works, all lurking on the edge of human existence and threatening utter destruction.

Lovecraft with wife Sonia who claimed she often had to remind him that she herself was Jewish whenever he launched into one of his diatribes.

Lovecraft with wife Sonia

Apologists look for any sliver of hope in Lovecraft’s life that might point away from his rampant biases, such as the fact that he married a Jewish woman. Yes, and Strom Thurmond, segregationist and believer in black inferiority, fathered a child with a black woman. Lovecraft’s random act does little more than prove that racism is illogical, contradictory and filled with psychosexual complexities of Freudian proportions. Besides, one of the reasons cited for the eventual divorce from his Jewish wife, according to her letters, was his virulent anti-Semitism. She claimed he enthusiastically devoured Mein Kampf in one sitting, and that she often had to remind him that she herself was Jewish whenever he launched into one of his diatribes.

The more desperate defenders, grasping at the fine straws, point out that Lovecraft disavowed Nazi doctrines and were he to have lived to see the Holocaust, he most certainly wouldn’t have agreed. Of course, what’s left out is that Lovecraft’s initial thoughts on Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were much more complicated, veering between a displeasure with tactics but admiration of their goals:

[Hitler's] vision is of course romantic & immature, & colored with a fact ignoring emotionalism … There surely is an actual Hitler peril–yet that cannot blind us to the honest rightness of the man’s basic urge … I repeat that there is a great & pressing need behind every one of the major planks of Hitlerism–racial-cultural continuity, conservative cultural ideals, & an escape from the absurdities of Versailles. The crazy thing is not what Adolf wants, but the way he sees it & starts out to get it. I know he’s a clown, but by God, I like the boy!–Letter from Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, November 1936.

There’s no evidence Lovecraft ever declared himself a Nazi. Nor was he a member of any of the Nazi parties that sprang up in 1930s America. In fact, his moderate Hitler praise appears to have dropped off abruptly in the last year of his life (1937), after a German acquaintance (recently returned from the country) told him of seeing Jews beaten in the streets. Still, if one’s measuring stick of racism is where one draws the line in praising Adolf Hitler, something is seriously wrong with your argument. Besides, as Lovecraft’s personal letters remind us, his very hate-filled and raging anti-Semitism predated the Nazis:

The mass of contemporary Jews are hopeless as far as America is concerned. They are the product of alien blood, & inherit alien ideals, impulses, & emotions which forever preclude the possibility of wholesale assimilation… On our side there is a shuddering physical repugnance to most Semitic types…so that wherever the Wandering Jew wanders, he will have to content himself with his own society till he disappears or is killed off in some sudden outburst of mad physical loathing on our part. I’ve easily felt able to slaughter a score or two when jammed in a N.Y. subway train.–Letter from Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, January 1926.

When properly riled, Lovecraft could let his white supremacy freak flag fly with reckless abandon:

Of course they can’t let niggers use the beach at a Southern resort – can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, & I wish they’’d apply it in N.Y. both to niggers & to the more Asiatic type of puffy, rat-faced Jew. Either stow ‘em out of sight or kill ‘em off – anything so that a white man may walk along the streets without shuddering nausea.–Letter from Lovecraft to A.E.P. Gamwell, February 1925. 

Given all of that, it seems an introspective look at Lovecraft and his place within geekdom (in all its forms) is more than warranted. Certainly there’s a way to appreciate his imaginative contributions while confronting his virulent and hateful beliefs. But for some Lovecraft fans, it would be more preferable to go swimming with the Deep Ones than mar a single hair upon the author’s hallowed head.

In 2012 sculptor Bryan Moore (whose film credits include Nightmare on Elm Street and Jumanji) launched the The H.P. Lovecraft Bronze Bust Project on kickstarter, dedicated to “the preservation and celebration of the famous author’s literary legacy.” As Moore noted, Lovecraft’s “cosmic imagination has influenced every region of pop culture including video games, comic books, music and film,” and he urged contributors to give “the Dark Prince of Providence the bronze monument he so rightfully deserves.”

Yes. He really said “Dark Prince of Providence.”

Yet that same year, when a group tried to launch what was described as “a book inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, but critical of his politics and racism,” Moore was having none of it.

“Why on earth this group wants to demonize Lovecraft for his “racism” is beyond me,” Moore lamented at the Facebook H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society  “Screw that. I wouldn’t give these people a penny.”

Moore continued to hold forth, declaring,

“I’m all for projects that celebrate HP Lovecraft in all forms, but I draw the line when I see the PC hypersensitive cult of victimhood of today thrust upon him unfairly. We cannot put our moralistic standards of today on a man who was from another time. If he was burning crosses in a Klan uniform, fine. But, he wasn’t. He was echoing sentiments quite common for the day whether we agree with it or not by today’s social mores. I don’t like anything that trashes HPL for it’s own socio-political agenda.”

Moore echoes much of the (mostly white) fan-base of H.P. Lovecraft. Celebrating him is fine. But any form of criticism when it comes to race is silenced, erased or met with bitter rebuttals. In a way, it mirrors the whiteness that pervades much of science fiction and fantasy fandom. If non-white, non-male bodies are often excluded or unwelcome in such spaces, their concerns warrant even less empathy. For Moore, the real problem isn’t Lovecraft’s views but rather his modern day critics, with their politically correct (read as non-white, women, and marginalized groups) who ruin things for white male fans like himself. What’s more, he asserts there might even be value to Lovecraft’s racism:

“I could care less about his personal views as they don’t change his great fiction in the least,” Moore states, “but they shape who the man was and I don’t see any tragedy if he didn’t recant those personal views based on the hysterical PC rantings of today.”

I’m not really against the Lovecraft bust. This is America. My predominantly African-American and Latino middle school was IMAGE3named for a Confederate commander. And the guy who wrote that Declaration of Independence and came up with such great ideas like the separation of church and state, was not only a slave owner and believer in black biological inferiority, but once fantastically wrote that “the Oranootan [orangutan]” was sexually drawn to black womenover those of his own species.” Not sure what that made him. I have stood in the shadow of long dead and celebrated racists and endured it my whole life. It is what it is. Conflicting. Vexing. Dubois. Double-consciousness. All that.

Neither do I have to devalue Lovecraft’s literary and imaginative genius, in order to name him a racist. He is without a doubt one of the “greats,” a giant whose influence cuts across varied genres of speculative fiction. It has been source material for everyone from Joss Whedon to Mike Mignola. Being a PoC and into geekdom, you are bound to have some rather disgusting white racist grandpas; don’t really have a choice. Figure that goes for everyone else.

But I ain’t sugar-coating who and what he was. And I don’t take kindly when someone tries “splaining” to me why I’m “misunderstanding” his work. Lovecraft spoke loud and clear. If you can’t hear him, you’re just not listening. Or perhaps you really don’t care. Not all of us however are afforded that privilege.

Moore managed to surpass his goal of $30,000 for the Lovecraft bust in little over two days. Impressive. Obviously a lot of Lovecraft fans out there. A national treasure this guy. The bronze sculpture now has a permanent home at the famed Providence Athenaeum Library. At the face of the base is a small plaque that reads: “I am Providence,” with the author’s own signature beneath. If I had put the bust together however I might have tagged it with something slightly different:

H.P. Lovecraft
Beloved Racist & Anti-Semite
Also wrote stories.

 

Read more by Phenderson Djeli Clark find him on twitter @pdjeliclark

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40 replies »

  1. Late to the party, as usual. Never mind. I enjoyed this post enormously because a) it’s cogently well written, b) it makes most of the points I ‘ve been making for yonks and c) it makes a few I never even thought of making. Nice. I’ll ad my pennyworth to the bag with the observation that HPL was such a WASP chauvinist that for him even the poor ol’ Dutch weren’t good enough. Re-read The Lurking Fear for full details. As for the poor ol’ French…well it’s all their fault in The Rats in the Walls, innit?
    Stay groovy.

  2. Late to the party, as usual. Never mind. I enjoyed this post enormously as it says a) most of the things I’ve been saying for yonks and b) a few I never thought of saying. Tell you one detail you left out: HPL was such a WASP chauvinist that even the poor old Duch weren’t good enough. Re-read The Lurking Fear for full details.

  3. I had a granduncle named Buddy Dubrock who was an incredible racist. He opened up a dude ranch in Hollywood before they plowed the orange groves under and Hal Roach was pretty much THE MAN in films. Buddy was taken to court a number of times because he refused to let “colored people” ride his horses. he used to pal around with publisher William Randolph Hearst who wasn’t exactly a liberal himself.
    But when Buddy was alive, he convinced Walt Disney to stay in Southern California by getting him hooked on the sport of polo and after he died, much of the real estate he owned (from Anaheim to the ocean) was donated to Los Angeles for freeways, parks, and business and residential use.
    And I am named after the first black sheriff ever elected in Wisconsin who had my parents’ help in getting elected.
    The real truth is that sometimes good can come out of something really bad. I don’t understand it myself, but it doesn’t keep me up at night.
    Peace and love for everybody here.

  4. Yup, Lovecraft was pretty darn racist and this article is spot on in my opinion, making many valid points (although I didn’t much care for the cheap shot at the end about the plaque reading “beloved racist and anti-semite, also wrote stories” because it seemed a bit petty and designed to incite; the research, however, was great). I agree that “product of his times” isn’t a very compelling justification, considering that such an argument fails to take into account all of the competing understandings on race that stem from the same period, as if every single person ever back then was an unabashed racist and there was no grey area at all. There was a whole world out there in the 1920’s and 30’s that was and wasn’t racist in a multiplicity of complex, different, and sometimes overlapping ways, just like there is today, so the conversation is very much still relevant. There wasn’t just the American WASP way of looking at things and the non-American WASP way. And Lovecraft, through his vociferous reading, had more access to that complex world than most, so if anything he is even more at fault on this particular.

    That said, I think a lot of the debate and “apologizing” comes from Lovecraft fans who are so used to his stories by now–having read each of them three, four, five, or even ten times–that when they come across a particularly racist passage, they simply smirk and think, “Oh Lovecraft, that is completely absurd,” and then get themselves back into the meaty cosmic parts of the tale. The problem here, which the article points out, is that they never really come back to critically examine the issue of race and how Lovecraft treats it, which makes some people uncomfortable. Heck, I’m guilty of this tendency myself; I’ll be the first to admit it. And Lovecraft’s racism did shock me more when I was just getting used to it then it does now, although, of course, this is just my anecdotal experience. Simply because race isn’t what I’m prone to latch onto while I’m reading Lovecraft, doesn’t mean that race or racism isn’t there. If other people choose to focus on it, that’s their completely fair prerogative and I don’t take any issue with that or the fact that they may feel uncomfortable with Lovecraft’s views and therefore the perceived modern whitewashing that’s going on.

    A very strong case can undoubtedly be made that xenophobia is a major driving force behind Lovecraft’s thematics, all of his “totally horrible, unfathomable, oozing, noxious terrors that are going to destroy humanity.” But since I’m more in the intentional fallacy camp myself, I tend to just take what I want out of texts. But “what we want” varies. It could be race for some people and philosophy or cosmicism for others. Moreover, if you’re doing an intentional, biographical, or historical reading of Lovecraft and ignoring his perspective on race then your analysis probably has some serious issues.

    Furthermore, it has long been noted that the SF/Fantasy world is predominately white, male, atheist/agnostic, etc. (as I myself am). It should come as no surprise to us that non-white, non-male, religious people don’t necessarily feel that included all the time, though they can obviously be just as passionate about the genre. Half the point of SF is to cast a cognitive glance on our world and suggest possibilities for the future. As such, there is A LOT of critically acclaimed SF out there that is socialist, feminist, egalitarian, and politically radical (as well as some, like Lovecraft, which is not). Yet the fans of these very texts sometimes don’t seem to “practice what they read,” so to speak. Instead of bickering amongst ourselves about how racist Lovecraft really was–as if racism can be measured on something like a one to ten scale–we should be working towards making our SF communities a civil space where everyone is free to present their views, even if they don’t completely mesh with our own views or interests. And this, it goes without saying, should work in both directions (so I wouldn’t necessarily object to offering a forum to particularly polemic, fascist, sexist, or racist works or ideologies myself, even though I don’t agree with their fundamental tenets and might have some staunch counter-arguments at my ready). The more understandings we have about a particular author or work, the more enlightened we are about her, him, or it. Plain and simple. Maybe if we simply said to the author of this article, “Hey, you know what, you make some pretty interesting points, I never thought about it like that. Here’s my opinion…” the conversation wouldn’t have to devolve into this game of back and forth blame and shame.

  5. Holy crap, I did not know of these letters… It’s painfully obvious he was racist as hell (and a constant source of conflict for me), but man… this is something else. I guess he was great at the fear of unknown, the nameless terror stories because of his irrational hatred of the “others”. His racism might have been the very source of his own genius. Pretty screwed up. (The last paragraph is not very nice, though. He WAS a great writer; it’s like putting a plaque to Byron’s busts saying: debased, alcoholic, liked to f”ck anything that moved, also wrote stuff”.)

    What I don’t understand why do people have to defend something that is undefendable? Let it be their favorite writer, politician, popstar, youtube streamer, their country, whatever -they react violently and harshly should someone dared to voice criticism. He had really nasty opinions -you still can like his novels.

  6. LOL. You’d put THAT tag under his bust? You wanna go around greek sculptures and put e.g. “Archimedes – Slave owner, racist. He was also a physicist”, to every single individual in the past? You wanna state loudly and clearly how much their views defined them more than what they actually offered? You think what they believed was more important than their actions? Your way of thinking is very problematic, try to focus on our current problems. I’m sure there are a lot of racists in the world, billions of people in the past who were racists to blacks, asians, whites, etc. Is there a personal beef with Lovecraft? I think there is. Don’t tell the rest what to think. If it helps you evaluate him, good, keep it to yourself. Other than that, yeah, he was 100% racist, sexist, xenophobe, etc. I bet one of your great grandparents was racist too, to a particular race, belief, sexual orientation, etc. What now? You just made a hole in the water. Clap. Clap.

    • His racism defines his work. The horror of ‘the alien’ is cheapened because Lovecraft can’t help tying it to his characters rationale for revulsion.

  7. I can’t believe anyone defends this guy. I knew he was pretty loathsome in his personal life and have never really respected him as anything other than the originator of an idea that other people have since done much better with (I observe that his stuff is better in German translation than English because the godawful purple prose doesn’t stand out so painfully), but…man. just regularly calling for peace, justice, family life and the extermination of all other life forms, huh? maybe I have a whitewashed view of jazz age racism, but I don’t think that everyone was dwelling on how much they wanted all immigrants dead quite so often as old H. P.

    never will I understand the nerd need for things to be “pure.” the desire not to be criticized, not only in themselves, but in things they happen to like, regardless of how valid that criticism. there’s a sick, entitled conservatism in potbellied fandoms that rejects anyone who puts a little more thought into the implications of their obsessions than they do, let alone anyone who’d dare to feel uncomfortable over those implications.

    • “never will I understand the nerd need for things to be “pure.” the desire not to be criticized, not only in themselves, but in things they happen to like, regardless of how valid that criticism.”

      But wouldn’t this apply as well to someone who might enjoy or appreciate Lovecraft’s work in other respects, as the author seems to, but to invalidate him entirely because he was a virulent racist? No one person or thing is pure.

  8. this was pretty fantastic. HP Lovecraft is one of my favorite author’s, and i knew of his racism, but holy hell, I hadn’t seen most of these letter excerpts.

    it’s never diminished my love for his work, and it shouldn’t have to. but, as a POC into geekdom myself, it definitely helps me see what a lot of his fiction is rooted in.

    he can be both a towering influence in literature and a virulent racist at the same time, and that’s ok, as long as I recognize both sides of him, or any artist

  9. You’re really only showing your own ignorance and biased nature. While Lovecraft’s racism is a stain on his legacy, it, by no stretch of the imagination, overshadows his works. Although his work doesn’t hide his racist views, the foundation of those stories had nothing to do with race, so trying to push the idea that the man was more important than the work is a personal prejudice, one I hope you recognize.

    I am NOT asking you to forgive nor forget… but do try to keep in mind Lovecraft’s works were not aimed at race/social equality/etc. And I believe that’s why his fans are so willing to overlook such a glaring personal flaw.

    Besides, we all have our own flaws. Lovecraft was not immune to them. He probably had more than most. But we still should not condemn… Especially considering he grew up in an era where such beliefs were encouraged long before they were condemned.

    “H.P. Lovecraft”
    “Beloved Racist and Anti-Semite”
    “Also wrote books”

    What a ridiculous notion. To claim the high ground of morality and then to post that?

    Absurd.

    • While I understand your impulse in this comment, it can be easily argued that the foundation of most of his stories does indeed have a racial element, one which relies upon racism and xenophobia to create fear and tension. This idea is so prevalent in the criticism that it’s almost universally accepted. And this is also why it can be so difficult to accept Lovecraft, both the man and the writer, because his work is inextricably tied up in his beliefs.

      • Not ‘most’ and hardly a ‘foundation’. The Shadow Over Innsmouth, undoubtedly, and parts of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ but ‘The Dunwich Horror’ did the same thing with poor white trash and most of the core Cthulhu Mythos stories have no (or inly incidental) racial elements – The Shadow Out of Time, The Haunter of the Dark, The Colour Out of Space, the Case of Charles Dexter Ward, At the Mountains of Madness etc.

        Lovecraft didn’t like non-white people, but he also hated seafood and the cold and was a committed atheist and all of those themes are far stronger in his stories.

        • Are you seriously comparing a dislike of the cold, to being a racist, as if the two are equivalent? The point isn’t the level of hatred, the point is the hatred. There’s not centuries of human oppression promulgated against cold weather.

      • No he’s not comparing them, he’s saying fear of the cold is more prevalent in his stories than his racism – which may be arguable, but what he says is fairly clear.

        • That misses the point. I’m not contesting the amount of times Lovecraft used specific themes in his work. I’m contesting evoking his dislike of the cold, and his dislike of people of colour in the same argument. They’re not even close to similar, so why even place them together?

          The whole point of the piece is that Lovecraft said & penned many egregious things. That it’s not part of the general narrative around him is problematic. Anything else around the debate is pretty superfluous. His fear of the cold – or seafood – should never be more important (or equal to) his racism.

      • No one said it is. The first comment claimed his racism is obvious in the whole bulk of his work and “his work is inextricably tied up in his beliefs”. Mark Chiddicks above disagreed with this, saying that it only shows in a few of his writings and isn’t more important an element of his fiction than his fear of the cold. That’s all. The argument was on what influenced him more as a writer, not on what is more important as a character trait.

        • But it totally misses the point, in relation to the piece. Whether Lovecraft’s dislike of the cold influenced his work a little or a lot is irrelevant. It’s not irrelevant in terms of his ouevre, but it’s irrelevant in terms of the man’s racist conduct.

          The point is Lovecraft’s racism, the subsequent effect on his work, and the way it’s not included as an important part of the narrative of the man. Any other topic, whether it’s climate, seafood, or rush-hour traffic, is not germane to the subject at hand.

  10. Nice job using Moore—and, apparently, a guy in a forum?—as representative for all Lovecraft enthusiasts, when he by no means speaks for anyone but himself. Of course fans would rather talk about his writing than his racism. They typically don’t share his opinions on the matter! Not unique to his fans by any stretch of the imagination. By the way, how did you determine that Lovecraft’s fanbase is mostly white? Just anecdata? Your argument—that it’s absurd for Lovecraft fans to make excuses for him or downplay the virulent nature of his racism—is a statement that Lovecraft scholars and fans alike have made countless times.

    “But any form of criticism when it comes to race is silenced, erased or met with bitter rebuttals.”

    This is simply not true and any time spent reading critics and fans of his actual work, as opposed to the broad spectrum of the geek community, will show you that.

  11. Thank you for continuing this discourse; it is essential to remind ourselves of and not ignore while studying his works. To silence those who draw attention to these aspects of the man and the effects on his stories is to exclude those without privilege from studies of horror, the weird, and Lovecraft himself. Obviously I do not need to tell you this, but I want to express my gratitude for what you’ve done here.

    I think one thing that people rarely touch in with his racism is how profoundly it stems from his weaknesses as a human being. He was scared of things that were new; he latched onto things he studied or experienced in his childhood (Georgian architecture; eighteenth century literature; and Providence) and only after significant exposure changed his opinions. An offhand example is his initially strict-to-the-point-of-psychotic views of metrical regularity in poetry that slowly loosened to allow for aspects of free verse. In New York, he was out of his element, alone, and failing in his pursuits of employment, success, and comfort. His racism grew substantially at this time, because—and this is my opinion—he attempted to blame the aspects of New York that were not present in Providence for his failures. He was scared and struggling, and thus lashed out with vitriolic hatred of others. When he tried to expand his comfort zone, his life became significantly worse for both internal and external reasons, and so he decided to bring his comfort zone to him. Of course, his racism was present before and grew for similar reasons in other times of his life, but I think the extent to which his hatred grew in New York is important. Sadly, he would justify these views with bad science—ironic indeed in contrast to his crusades against the self-serving logic of religion.

    I do not mean to say any of this to excuse him or contradict things in your article; I merely wanted to embellish some of my perspectives on exactly how some of these qualities came to be. That is not the focus of your article, but I figured, while we’re discussing racism in Lovecraft, ya know? Please feel free to tell me if I’m pushing this conversation too far away from the purpose.

    Thank you again.

  12. The brighter the picture, the darker the negative. Remarkable individuals often do have faults commensurate with their stature. Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant to dramatize the alleged dangers of Tesla’s alternating current. I wrote an article about Lovecraft’s racism for Crypt of Cthulhu. Among my conclusions: HPL’s racism was actually GERMANE TO HIS ART. He could not have been the same man, or the same writer, without that paranoid streak. Some of his racist rants are the segments of his non-fiction writing that most closely resemble key passages of his horror fiction. I delved into his background to see how certain formative experiences warped his personality. He seemed to me less a bigot than a man with a bigot on his back. Also, agree with others here that the last line of the article is the only cheap shot.

  13. I think this article though very accurate, miss the big point about Lovecraft. Even though I love his work I also recognize that he was a member in good standing of a number of Eugenic Societies that were springing up around the world in the late 19th/ early 20th century. His writing though wonderfully unique and fantastical is at its base is propaganda. The Anglo-Saxons rule the world because they are better and if I repeat it enough the world will believe it.

    The common thought process that there were races that came from sub standard stock is very prevalent in the writings of this time. According to their version of history we all evolved separately at just about the same time. It is where the “Master Race” idea of the Nazi’s came from.

    What is sad is that in some circles (especially political ones) these views have never died.

    The Anti-Semitic idea that the Jewish people are in some way evil by nature. The thought process that there is a difference between a bi-racial offspring and “pure” African-American. The idea that all Arabs are prone to violence because that is what they are. These are all from that same school of thought. Think of that one the next time you read about the Mad-Arab and the Necronomicon.

  14. I am a big fan of Lovecraft, and yes, he was undoubtedly racist. I’m actually a bit shocked at the notion that anyone whould even debate that (or rather idolize him to such extent to gloss over it). However, paradoxicaly, “The Rats in the Walls” are also one of the most harrowing displays of self loathing and bashings of Eurocentrism, as well as colonialism of any kind I’ve ever seen. It stands in stark contrast to, say, Tolkiens idylic view of “natually good and simply English countryfolk”, and is well worth taking out of context of being a footnote in the life of one misguided weirdo from Providence. Or rather, the fact that such a deep damnation of so many deeply wrong things that the term “racist” contains could come from such a man is kind of astonishing. He was a chauvinist, a colonialist, a classist – racist is just the tip of the iceberg – and he wasn’t a man of his time, but rather a man of a time before his.

    On the other hand, along with all the uglyness of that time, it had some values that had been lost since, so he’s also one of the finest, or rather, most imaginative and prolific, critics of his own time. Which is also our time, tbg. And it’s an ugly time which has had too much euphoria going for it for a long while, and god knows we’re producing fools going around thinking harmful nonsense as well as any other age did. Still, some are worth remembering, even if none are worth praise for thir nonsense.

    And i’m pretty sure plenty of black people could appreciate “The Rats in the Walls” despite the N bomb. “We Europeans suck even harder than anyone’d believe” is quite something when it comes from a guy as mind blowingly chauvinist as Lovecraft was.

  15. I agree with every word except the last line. An unnecessary cheap shot. Not untrue, but his claim to fame is for being a writer who happened to be racist, not as a racist who happened to write stories. Neither negates the other, but there is a distinction. He’s not a “beloved racist”, not even by those who try to justify him. It’s like saying “if I made a bust of Hitler I’d tag it as ‘vegetarian, liked dogs. Also a dictator’ “.

  16. Wow. I had never read any of the excerpts presented here, but had heard the racist label used. Really shocking and sad. I love his fiction, but condemn his views on humanity.

  17. You cannot separate the two sides of the man. I love his stories, but think that I would have found the man repugnant and vile. It’s sort of similar to when I was growing up, attending Lutheran grade school and high school – that the teachers who taught me all about Martin Luther and how he changed the “church” they went on and on about his 95 Theses and what-not. It wasn’t until college that I learned, later in his life, Luther also wrote on and on about how the Jews should have their property taken, their synagogues burned to the ground and be forced to convert to Christianity, or be destroyed. Yeah, somehow the teachers kinda just ignored that part of him and when I have brought it up to my friends who went on to be Lutheran pastors and ministers, you get the same kind of mental back-bending that goes into Lovecraft defense. “He was old.” “He was sick.” No, he was an anti-semite, period. Lovecraft was racist, but he wrote some really good stories.

    • Yeah, but that’s narrow and misses the point We don’t need to separate the man, we just need to acknowledge some parts are of him and his life are repugnant, and that some display a rare genius.

      Unless you need a perfect person to accept the validity of their premises, the US Independence should be repealed since Washington held slaves. And the UK should have surrendered to the Nazis since Churchill was an alcoholic. And we should ban calculus because Newton was petulant.

  18. Remembering a ground breaking, outstanding artist for his worse traits instead of accomplishments reflects poorly on us. Not them.

    I always understood Lovecraft’s racism. In fact, before reading Red Hook I thought the Deep Ones were just the best allegory for mixed bloods (I am Latino, very much mixed). He didn’t need to – his vitriol to non-whites needs no allegory.

    But condemning his writing as an afterthought for his racism is stupid and narrow. Might as well make a commemorative plaque for Albert Einstein due to his many girlfriends.

    Albert Einstein
    Beloved adulterer and philanderer
    Also did some science.

    • Actually, Lovecraft’s blatant racism (or, more precisely, xenophobia, as the Italians were on his shit-list as well, despite being as white and Latin as it can get, pun intended) explains the main themes of his work: the fear and loathing toward the “alien”. Because seriously, what’s the difference between a mulatto and a half-human/half-elder-hell-knows-what to someone who hates both for their alienness?
      Also, I find the idea of “white gentleman’s” supremacy as Lovecraft presents it simply stupid. And, tellingly, the white gentlemen of Lovecraft’s fiction go completely clucking insane thanks to their arrogance and prejudice – I don’t know about you, but to me it’s darkly hilarious. An arrogant xenophobe writing stories where arrogant xenophobes go mad because of their arrogance and xenophobia when faced with inconvenient facts about the universe or their own history (see: “Arthur Jermyn”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “Rats in the Walls”) – I can’t tell whether it’s intentional irony or being tone deaf, but my bet’s on tone deaf.

      • Agreed. Clearly xenophobic. Always a fear of the strange and unusual. Add “Terrible Old Man” there.

        One of my best friends just posted (on FB) whether maybe it was a subconscious betrayal that on Shadow Over Innsmouth the hybrid, abominable race is actually superior to the humans. Darkly hilarious as well.

    • The fact that Einstein was abusive stains him more than the fact that he was an adulterer, though.

      http://jezebel.com/5903251/as-a-husband-einstein-was-more-of-an-asshole-than-a-genius

      The problem is that perpetrators hurt real people and that so many abusive Great White Artists & Thinkers are remembered and lauded (Sartre; de Beauvoir; Picasso; Gaugin; David Foster Wallace…) while their victims were silenced and are now forgotten.

      Once an abusive artist or writer is dead I have no problem with people enjoying their work, as no fame or money is going their way. While they are alive, I honestly think they should be boycotted. Abusive behaviour does seriously lesson the artist’s work. The fact that David Foster Wallace wrote about how to be “a fucking human being” alongside trying to murder Mary Karr’s husband and push her out of a moving vehicle, lessens his work in light of his being a hypocrite; de Beauvoir sexually exploiting her high school aged students puts her writing on feminism in “bad faith” … and so forth.

      I’m not calling for a ban on Lovecraft, but equally, if people don’t want to see him celebrated or his memory honoured, I might be with them.

      Even if I created work as imaginative and interesting as Lovecraft’s at his best, I’d still feel that the memory of anyone I have hurt in my own life, of any of my hurtful or abusive actions, should be remembered foremost over anything I created. Surely, anything else disrespects the victims of the artist – and in Lovecraft’s case case – the victims of racism.

  19. I would like to think that one can be a fan of his works without agreeing with, or excusing, his racism. Lovecraft was a great writer, but an awful person.

  20. SO, yes about the racism, for sure, but have you ever looked up the rest of this guy’s life? He was totally out there. He hardly ever left his house. It’s not like he were some brilliant scientist or philanthropist. He was a towny hick with aspergers who loved to make up scary stories. It does not surprise me in the least that he has crazy ideas about race.

  21. Spot on.

    Huge, huge, huge fan of H. P. Lovecraft. And good gods was this man racist. I will defend the quality of his writing (he wrote prose in the most obscene shade of purple, but at least he had the decency to be good at it) but I would never and could never defend his racist views, or when he used them in his writing. I enjoyed “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” as an interesting, creepy story while simultaneously knowing what it implies and repudiating the mindset that would want to write such implications. The most absurd example of racism in his works that comes to mind is “Medusa’s Coil”, where a woman having some small percentage of African ancestry is supposed to be horrific; I lol’d. I mean, really…how is *that* supposed to compare with coming face-to-face with something like Great Cthulhu or a shoggoth?

    “He was a product of his time” is a stupid excuse and I hate it. I really think you one can simultaneously praise his mastery of cosmic horror and condemn his racism, and I’ll continue to do so. People who try to defend/excuse/ignore his racism are doing a disservice to themselves and the nerd/geek community.

  22. Being into geekdom, I can’t digest Lovecraft’s influences on underground culture without the thought of his views. This post tackled these snags with far more grace than I ever could have. I couldn’t stop nodding in agreement.

    Thanks for addressing these truths.

  23. Pretty comprehensive breakdown of Lovecraft, here. His defenders aren’t surprising, as once a creator of work someone likes is shown in all their ugliness, the fan has to either examine themselves, or try to diminish said ugliness. Sadly, self-examination is often conspicuous by its absence in these situations.

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