Howie and Racism

(This started its life on Facebook but I wanted a place I could refer folks to: https://www.facebook.com/LtKessler/posts/750931899435)

I just read over 300 comments from a Lovecraft page in response to the Salon article and I have Some Thoughts™ regarding what I view as the problematic responses that crop up again and again

Dead Horse: Did you know there are themes of suicide in Hamlet? That a topic comes up again and again is not a problematic thing. It suggests that new eyes are coming across Howie and bringing with them familiar questions. That these questions are seen as a nuisance is telling. It’s not enough that folks don’t want to participate in these conversations but they don’t want these conversations taking place in a space they share. Mind you, there is seldom the same level of vitriol aimed at the 1001st discussion about del Toro’s Mountains of Madness or lengthy rants about Derleth but somehow race is the one topic that has been answered perfectly and need never be returned to. Ever. Hmm…

I Just Read It for the Articles: These are the folks who don’t care that Howie was racist because they just like the stories. He could be a cannibal clown and it wouldn’t make Colour out of Space a worse story. It just isn’t relevant so why bring it up? I don’t buy that folks can separate artist from art and in Howie’s case I think there are two issues which really undercut this. One is that his racial views pervade his stories just as much as his Spenglerianism or his love of Machen and Poe. The other is that Howie himself is a draw for folks. There’s just as many deviantart portraits of his giant jaw as there are of Cthulhu. People watch my show because they’re interested in him as a man and not just as some invisible clock-maker who wrote some stories and disappeared. Maybe it’s just that he has a catchy name but he is as much a product and marketable asset as his monsters and his biography and his worldview are a part of that and can’t be excised.

Man of His Time: The issue that usually takes up the most digital ink. We can admit that he said and wrote racist things but how racist were they given his environment and shouldn’t we cut the old man some slack? He’s like a doddling grandmother who keeps talking about her darkie nurse stealing her china. This is really something of a side issue because it doesn’t matter if Howie was racist for his time. As pointed above, his racial views spill over into his stories and folks today have to decide how they feel about him. You can recognize DW Griffith as an important film maker and still be really bothered by Birth of a Nation. Howie in his writings supported the terrorism meted out against southern blacks and in one casual moment opined that the Indian subcontinent could use a little “fumigation and extirpation” to make it fit for civilization. These are troubling things to hear come out of a hero’s mouth or pen and folks should be allowed to be discomforted by it and given space to discuss it.

PC Thought Police: They’re here to take away our N-bombs. Folks who bring this issue up or who think Howie’s might not be the best face for the WFA inevitably get called PC and are accused of trying to ban Howie. In all my many discourses, I have not once seen anyone try to ban him. Folks have called him a poor writer and some have said his racism turns them off from reading him but not once have I heard it said that he shouldn’t be read, that his books should be pulled from libraries or bookstores, or that he should be boycotted. This is a boogieman and a strawman and a way for folks not interested in having this conversation take place to try to shut it down. In many ways it is ironic that folks screaming “thought police’ spend so much energy policing the conversations they don’t want to take place.

Love It or Leave It: And here is the most troubling issue. If you aren’t comfortable with Howie’s racism then just go. We don’t want you. This is really what I think is at the heart of the matter. There’s a notion that real fans don’t complain or make waves or bring this issue up and only newbies or interlopers trying to force their agenda do and they need to go away and let the adults get back to talking about how quaint a name Niggerman is for a cat. Consciously or not, this sends a message that Lovecraftian fandom shouldn’t be a safe place for people of colour or women. It should stay what it’s been: a boy’s club where we can fart and put up half-naked pictures of women covered in tentacles and not have to think about how white and male our membership is and whether or not our response to discussions of Howie’s racial views is somehow communicating that fandom doesn’t belong to those who don’t look and sound like us.

 
And an earlier post:

Why We Don’t Like to Discuss Lovecraft’s Racism

1) Liking the work or celebrating the legacy of a racist could imply that one approves of said racism.
2) Acknowledging and bemoaning Lovecraft’s racism might lead to Lovecraft losing his status in the canon and might even lead to him being banned altogether.
3) Discussing Lovecraft’s racism diminishes his market value and thus threatens the livelihood of numerous writers, artists, publishers, etc.
4) There are a non-zero number of folks who do not disapprove of his racism and indeed for whom it is a feature not a bug.
5) Lovecraft’s legacy might very well be an artificial one built up and inflated by a network of fanboys and anything that diminishes his reputation could make folks realize that.
6) Any discussion of race reminds folks that racial issues are still alive and kicking.

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