Excerpts from MLK’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured…

-From Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Written by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 16, 1963

Racism and the Romani People

In some respects, this is a retread of a blog post I did on Halloween three years ago, about the way we as Americans treat “Gypsies” as imaginary fantasy beings, like elves and wizards. But I keep running up against it. Last week it was someone doing their “Gypsy” accent and talking about their costume. The next day, one of the blogs I follow used an image of an old “Gypsy” fortune telling machine as part of a post about the current political situation.

When I pointed out to one of these individuals that “Gypsy” was a racial slur*, they said they knew, but used it because people wouldn’t understand, otherwise.

Sokka What gif

Look, the treatment of the Romani people throughout history has been horrific, and continues to be to this day. We’re talking about a group who have been persecuted, enslaved, and murdered for centuries. Here are a handful of the many examples:

  • 1749: The “Great Roundup” in Spain. During the reign of Ferdinand VI in Spain, thousands of Romani were “deported, interned, subjected to forced labour, punished, hurt and killed.”
  • 19th-20th Century: The Church of Norway and the Roma of Norway.
    • “End of 19th century: Legal to shoot Roma people, priests that gave baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral to Roma people were in risk of losing their job.”
    • “Most of 20th century: Children were taken from their parents (1500 children out of a population of less than 10.000 were either brought up at other people’s homes or in institutions) laws were enacted to make it impossible for Roma to continue their traditional living and Roma were subject to forced sterilization, often without their knowledge.”
  • 20th Century: Hounded in Europe, Roma in the U.S. Keep a Low Profile. “One law in New Jersey, enacted in 1917 and repealed in 1998, allowed Gypsies to be regulated more harshly than other groups by allowing local governments to craft laws and ordinances that specified where Gypsies could rent property, where they could entertain and what goods they could sell.”
  • World War II: The Roma Genocide. The Roma were among the first victims of Hitler and his Nazis. “[A]t least 500.000 Roma were victims of the genocide, amounting to perhaps as much as 70-80% of the total Roma population in Europe at the time.”
  • 1979: Sterilised Roma accuse Czechs. Beginning in 1979, Czech doctors sterilized Roma women against their wills. This policy officially ended in 1990, but human rights groups say the practice continued through at least 2003.
  • 2008: This persecution of Gypsies is now the shame of Europe. Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni responded to a wave of violence against the Roma people with the quote, “That is what happens when Gypsies steal babies.”
  • 2012: The situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States. “[O]ne in three is unemployed, 20% are not covered by health insurance, and 90% are living below the poverty line. Many face prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and social exclusion in their daily lives. They are marginalised and mostly live in extremely poor socio-economic conditions.”
  • 2016: NYCC ’16: Anti-Romani Statements Made at X-Men LGBTQ Panel. American author Peter David defended the portrayal of Romani people as thieves, relaying a story about how Roma parents break their children’s legs to make them more effective beggars. David refused to discuss the issue further, and “told the questioner to go away.” (David later apologized, saying he was mortified and ashamed of himself.)

There’s a lot more information out there about the Roma and the discrimination they continued to face. There are an estimated one million Roma living in the U.S. today, but many prefer to keep a low profile. From the Hounded in Europe article linked above, “‘Traditionally, nothing good has come from being identified Roma because the prejudice is so high,’ says Robert Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights Center.”

I grew up ignorant. I had no clue “Gypsies” were a real thing. I thought nothing of the person in my D&D group who played as, and later dressed up as, a “Gypsy” character. Eventually, a friend of Romani descent helped me start to open my eyes.

In the U.S., racism against the Roma is similar in some ways to racism against Native Americans. We erase them, replacing real, living people with stereotypes and costumes and caricatures. The idea of a white person dressing in black face and putting on a minstrel show would horrify to most of us today, but people think nothing of dressing up in their homemade “Gypsy costume” and putting on their best fortune-teller act for Halloween or the local Renaissance Festival.

Is that conscious, deliberate hatred or intolerance? Not always. But it’s still racism. It’s still hurtful and damaging to a marginalized group that’s been targeted for hatred and extermination for centuries.

Harm done in ignorance is still harm.

*The last time I talked about this, a commenter challenged whether “Gypsy” (or the derived word “gypped,” which is essentially equivalent to saying “Jewed”) was really a racial slur, or if I as a white person not of Roma descent was just White-Knighting and making a big deal over nothing. Here are a few links and references for that conversation.

  • Always Romani, But Never a Gypsy. “It is an ethnic slur word for my people. Originally it alleged incorrectly that we came from Egypt, instead of India, but, over the centuries, it has come to imply we are thieves.”
  • The Problem with the Word “Gypsy”. “There are Romanies (like myself) who take no offense to the word, and in fact, have embraced it and there are others who abhor the word, likening it to the word ‘nigger’ when describing an African American or ‘spic’ and ‘wetback’ to refer to a person of Mexican heritage.”
  • I’m sorry, but no you cannot & never will you be. “This little word, ‘gypsy’, makes my skin crawl. It causes aches in my heart and beats at my soul. I die a little inside everytime I must say or write the word. ‘Gypsy’ is a racial slur. It is tantamount to the ‘N’ word. Like the ‘N’ word, ‘gypsy’ was created by people who believed we were sub-human and enslaved us.”

Guest Post on Policing in Problematic Times

I blogged last week about the police shooting of a black man in Florida. I’ve talked about Black Lives Matter as well, and I’ve been trying to follow the reporting and discussion online. Recently on a friend’s Facebook page, a commenter talked about how the police should be trained to shoot to wound instead of shooting to kill. Which…isn’t how that works. It’s hard to have these conversations if all you know about law enforcement comes direct from Hollywood.

A U.S. police officer named Griffin weighed in and offered his perspective and experience. I appreciated the knowledge he shared. We chatted a bit more after my post last week, and I invited him to share some of his thoughts on the blog. His friend Adán, a retired police administrator from a department in an urban area, also contributed.

Both men recognize that our nation has systemic problems with race and other issues. That creates very real conflicts for the police. (As a police officer, your job is to enforce the law. What do you do when the law itself is racist?)

I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything. But their post gave me more to consider, and is a good reminder that these problems exist on multiple levels, from the individual to the global and everything in between.

Thank you to Griffin and Adán for taking the time to write this. Please remember they’re guests on my blog. I’d appreciate if we treat them as such.

The whole thing comes in at about 4400 words.


Racism and the Backlash Against Black Hermione

I had a long layover in Minneapolis when I was flying out to Launch Pad at the start of the month, and ended up in a bit of a heated Twitter exchange, as one does. It started with this Tweet.

Naturally, this led to responses like, “Why make this automatically about racism? People can’t disagree just because they don’t think it’s true to character?” and “Assuming they’re racist w/o knowing anything else about them makes you guilty of same prejudice you accuse them of,” along with the ever-popular, “Is that actress best audition, or was production going just for ‘diversity’?”

Ron, Hermione, and Rose Granger-Weasley from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

What is it about the suggestion that someone or something might be racist that makes people lose their minds? It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago where in I was told, in all seriousness, that yeah, racism is bad, but being accused of racism is worse.

Some thoughts in the aftermath of that argument earlier this month:

1. Saying, “Hey, this thing/comment/whatever is racist” does not mean “You personally are a horrible person who should be shot and stabbed and otherwise killed to death for your horrible horribleness.”

We live in an imperfect world. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in a context of racism and sexism and other forms of inequality and discrimination without having some of that garbage get into your head. We all stumble. We all make mistakes. We’ve all absorbed messed-up ideas and assumptions. That doesn’t mean we’re all horrible, awful people. It means we’re human.

Doubling down on racism and other ugliness, on the other hand? Defending and trying to justify it? Belittling and minimizing it? Assuming it’s so much more important to wave your “I’M NOT RACIST!” flag than it is to actually, you know, try to fight and reduce racism? Yeah, that crap steps you closer to the horrible person category.

2. Questioning whether a person of color was picked just for the sake of diversity? That’s pretty messed up. And yeah, racist. Let’s talk about why.

Take a look at this chart, from a PBS article about race in Hollywood.

Diversity in Film GraphIn 2010, non-Hispanic whites made up 63.7% of the U.S. population, but we consistently have about 75% of the roles in these films. We’re overrepresented. And yet how often does anyone ask if a white actor was cast not because they had the best audition, but as a result of their whiteness? To meet some unconscious white quota, or for the sake of making sure the film is white enough to be comfortable for “mainstream” audiences, whatever that means?

If you assume white actors (or authors, or speakers, or whatever) got the job because they were best qualified, but question whether people of color were chosen to meet some kind of diversity quota, guess what?

That's Racist

3. Reading comprehension is important.

Before you go off with knee-jerk defensiveness, make sure you understand what’s being said. Re: Hermione, one response I saw was that people had gotten used to Emma Watson as Hermione, and between that and illustrations in some editions of the books that portrayed her as white, it was totally understandable that people might stumble over seeing a black actress take over the role.

Personally, I’m having trouble adjusting to all of the new actors, having imprinted pretty strongly on the movie cast. But that’s not what I was tweeting about. I didn’t say anything about people who were having trouble resetting their mental Hermione. I was talking to people who are pissed off about it.

If the only casting change you’re struggling with is the role of Hermione, and if you’re actively pissed off about that one change? Please see the previous gif.

4. What’s up with the whole, “Talking about race/racism makes you racist!” fallacy?

It feels like elementary school-style arguing. “I know you are but what am I?”

Pointing out that white people are overrepresented in Hollywood doesn’t actually make me racist against white people, no matter how much you want to play the “I’m rubber, you’re glue,” card.

It’s almost like people don’t understand what racism is. Or they don’t want to understand. They don’t want to learn, or to try to change anything for the better. They just want to shut down the conversation.

Or maybe it’s the colorblindness fallacy. The idea that “I don’t see color” is a good thing, and falling short of that ideal makes you racist. The thing is, “not seeing color” means refusing to see or acknowledge the whole of who people are. It means ignoring systemic inequality and discrimination, because how can you see racism when you refuse to see race? It’s a luxury, a way or turning your back on very real problems. Basically, it’s a cop-out.

5. Some commentary from folks who aren’t me.

I Don’t See Color” – An excellent article by Michi Trota.

The Effect of Media Representation on Self-Esteem. “Television exposure predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys, and an increase in self-esteem among white boys.” Is anyone shocked by this?

J. K. Rowling and #MagicInNorthAmerica

Over at Pottermore, J. K. Rowling has been releasing background information and history about magic in North America, and … okay, I loved the Harry Potter books, and I have a lot of respect for Rowling as a person, but this is a mess.

Others are talking about this far better than I could.

“‘The Native American community.’ Oh man that loaded “the.” One of the largest fights in the world of representations is to recognize Native peoples and communities and cultures are diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another. There is no such thing as one ‘Native American’ anything. Even in a fictional wizarding world.”

-From the Native Appropriations blog post Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh

“We’re marginalized in real life and we’re marginalized in media. To have a powerhouse like Rowling (though any non-Native author really) profit off our continued erasure and harmful representations is something I am totally not here for. The argument that it’s “fiction” is worthless to me. If we (as consumers) had diverse representation of Native people the same way white people do, Rowling’s latest wouldn’t be so problem, because consumers would have other representations to base opinions off of. As it is, so much of the Native narrative is romanticized and fantastical and now one of the world’s most successful authors has thrown her mighty magical empire against our fragile reemergence from near-total cultural genocide.

Magic & Marginalization: Et tu, JK?

“Pretty sure [Rowling] would never have dreamt of reducing all of Europe’s cultures to “European wizarding tradition”; instead she created Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and so on to capture the unique flavor of each of those cultures … [H]ow much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?”

-N. K. Jemisin, It Could’ve Been Great

“It’s fear of erasure, another white story brick built on top of 400 years worth of erasure and destructive lies … If you think the work this does is harmless, ask yourself how many years of Native North American history you took in school. How many native people have taught you about our real histories? How much of what you know is from Hollywood, or non-native authors?”

Mari Kurisato

The Washington Post had an article with more roundup and reactions.

There’s also a lot of good discussion on the #MagicInNorthAmerica hashtag on Twitter.


I recommend reading the articles and discussion. Listen to why people are angry and upset. Try to recognize that this is part of a larger problem against people the U.S. has a long and ongoing history of trying to erase.

And please don’t be one of these fools. (Sadly, this is just a small sampling of the backlash.)

"So fantasy cannot have history roots or basis?"

Colin: Sure it can! If you base your fantasy story on actual, you know, history, as opposed to racist stereotypes and ignorant generalizations.

"You can't complain your culture is under-represented in books and films and then tear it to shreds when it is."

April: The word you’re looking for in this case is “misrepresented.” I think it’s fair for people to ask for more than to be portrayed as homogeneous stereotypes or else erased altogether.

"This faux-outrage over #MagicinNorthAmerica might be the most ridiculous thing I've seen on Twitter. Good God, people. Chill out."

Jason: Thanks for this. It’s okay everybody! A white dude has arrived to tell you your anger isn’t real, and you’re all overreacting.

"Muggles getting their undies in a bunch over these short stories geez #FICTION"

"She's just writing a STORY not history. She didnt attack or insulted anyone. Writers make their own characters & world."

Jessie & Emily: And everyone else making the weak-ass “It’s just fiction!” argument. Y’all just blew out my ignorance-meter. Story is one of the most powerful things we have. Stories save lives. People go to war over stories. Fiction can change a person’s life and change the course of history. So, yeah. Just don’t.

Boycotts and “Ironic” Racism

So a handful of trolls decided to start a Boycott Star Wars VII hashtag on Twitter, claiming that the movie erases white male heroes and promotes white genocide and whatever. Star Wars: Aftermath author Chuck Wendig talks about it a bit here. The Mary Sue weighs in here. There’s been plenty of mockery, as well as folks pointing out some of the obvious irony. (Y’all know the most iconic figure in the franchise was voiced by a black man, right?)

There’s also folks pointing out that this was nothing but trolls begging for attention, and that the internet fell for it. Ah, internet. So gullible!

Nelson - Ha ha!

I read some of the 4chan board so you don’t have to. I can’t read minds, but yeah, there’s a good chance folks were stirring shit for attention and LOLs. But here’s the thing. You know Clarke’s Law? The one that says any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic? Well…

Any sufficiently hateful trolling is indistinguishable from bigotry.

The same folks crowing about how they suckered those stupid SJWs into reacting are also going on about how the black protagonist in The Force Awakens looks like a gorilla, how they can’t reshoot the film just because the protagonist is a n****r, and worse. Are these people trying to be ironically racist, or are they just bigoted assholes?

As it turns out, I don’t actually give a shit. Whether they truly believe a more diverse cast in Star Wars = promoting white genocide, that’s the message they’ve chosen to spread, and whatever the original intent, that message has attracted others. It’s become a magnet for spreading racism and antisemitism and hate.

If you punch me in the face, do you think I care whether or not you were doing it “ironically”?

If you truly believe that casting a black man and a white woman as leads in a Star Wars movie should be equated to genocide, you’re a racist asshole. But if you believe stirring up talk of boycotting Star Wars because they cast a black man and a white woman is a good way to get attention? You’re also a racist asshole.

Stormtrooper: middle fingers

Go ahead, please boycott the new Star Wars movie. I find I enjoy my movies more when there are fewer whiny, bigoted assholes in the theater. Better boycott Star Trek as well. I mean, you wouldn’t want to catch any of those icky “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” cooties. Boycott Marvel, where they’ve introduced a black Captain America and a black/Latino Spider-Man and an Asian-American Hulk. Boycott Legend of Korra and their non-white, non-straight heroines. Boycott video games for including transgender characters and nonwhite characters and more. As the push for diversity and inclusion continues to grow, you might want to boycott the whole damn field of science fiction and fantasy.

So either grow the hell up and stop fighting a losing battle to build a wall around the genre, or else boycott yourself right out of fandom, and let the rest of us enjoy a community with a few less bigoted assholes.

You can even boycott “ironically,” if that’s what it takes to get you to leave.

Black Lives Matter

This is a companion piece to go with the charts I posted in Two Thoughts on Ferguson. That post showed the disproportionate number of police-inflicted deaths in the U.S. compared to Australia, Germany, and England & Wales, as well as the fact that when you look at the percentage by population, black people in the U.S. are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people.

The links below are some of those deaths from 2014. This is in no way a complete list.


February 16. Bastrop County, TX. 47-year-old black woman Yvette Smith was shot and killed by white police officer Daniel Willis after opening the door for police. Police had been responding to a call about an altercation between two men. Police initially claimed Smith was armed and ignored their commands. They later retracted these claims. Officer Willis was indicted for murder in June.

April 30. Milwaukee, WI. A mentally ill 31-year-old black man named Dontre Hamilton was shot 14 times by white police officer Christopher Manney. An autopsy suggested that roughly half of those shots were fired from above, as if Manney was standing over Hamilton.

July 17. New York City, NY. 43-year-old black man Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by white police officer Daniel Pantaleo. Police had confronted Garner on suspicion of selling loose/untaxed cigarettes. Garner was heard on video saying, “I can’t breathe” eleven times. The grand jury declined to indict the officer.

August 5. Beavercreek, OH. 22-year-old black man John Crawford was shot and killed by white police officer Sean Williams while carrying a BB rifle inside of a Walmart store. Police claim Crawford was waving the rifle around and refused to obey orders. Surveillance video contradicts this. No officers were indicted.

August 9. Ferguson, MO. 18-year-old black man Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury did not indict the officer. Between payment for an interview with ABC and donations from various fundraisers, Wilson has reportedly received more than $1,000,000 as a direct result of killing Michael Brown.

August 11. Los Angeles, CA. An unarmed, mentally ill, 25-year-old black man named Ezell Ford was shot and killed by two LA police officers. Officers claim Ford resisted and tried to grab an officer’s weapon. Other accounts claim Ford was cooperating, and was shot in the back while lying on the ground. The autopsy of Ford’s body has not yet been released.

September 10. Saratoga Springs, UT. 22-year-old black man Darrien Hunt was shot six times in the back by two white police officers, Matthew Schauerhamer and Nicholas Judson, while cosplaying and carrying a decoartive sword. Video appears to show Hunt running for his life moments before being killed. Neither officer will face criminal charges.

November 12. Cleveland, OH. Mentally ill 37-year-old black woman Tanesha Anderson was killed after police officers slammed her head into the pavement during a “take-down.” Anderson’s brother claims officers made no attempt to resuscitate her.

November 20. Brooklyn, NY. 28-year-old black man Akai Gurley was killed when police officer Peter Liang fired a single shot while patrolling a housing complex. EMTs arrived a short time later to find Gurley’s girlfriend — not the police — performing CPR. According to the NY Daily News, the officer who killed Gurley was texting his union representative instead of calling for medical help.

November 22. Cleveland, OH. A 12-year-old black boy named Tamir Rice was shot by white police officer Timothy Loehmann. Rice had been playing with a toy gun, which a 911 operator was told “was probably fake.” Video shows Loehmann shot Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene. Officers did not administer first aid.

December 2. Phoenix, AZ. An unarmed 34-year-old black man named Rumain Brisbon was shot and killed by police. A police spokesman says Brisbon was verbally challenging and reached for something in his pocket/waistband (which turned out to be oxycodone pills). Witness statements contradict this.

Lovecraft Apologists and the World Fantasy Award

About three years ago, World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor wrote an essay about Lovecraft’s Racism and the World Fantasy Award Statuette. Earlier this year, author and editor Daniel José Older started a petition to change the World Fantasy Award trophy to Octavia Butler. There’s been plenty of other discussion, but those are two of the pieces that stood out to me, and seemed to generate a lot of awareness and debate.

There is now a counter-petition to keep Lovecraft and fight back against the forces of the Social Justice League, or something like that.

I’m not sure we should make Octavia Butler the new WFA statuette, in part because I’m not sure any specific individual is the best image for an award meant to represent the world of fantasy. But I am 100% on board with getting rid of the trophy we have now.

WFA TrophyFirst of all, I’m sorry, but I find the trophy to be almost obscenely ugly. I get that it’s intended to be a caricature, and artist Gahan Wilson is obviously a skilled sculptor and artist. But Wilson’s style is described as “fantasy-horror” and “playful grotesque,” and I just don’t think one of the top awards in our field should be embodied by the word “grotesque.”

As numerous others have pointed out, there’s a deeper level of grotesqueness. Lovecraft undeniably influenced the fantasy and horror genre. He was also undeniably racist. In Nnedi’s blog post, she quotes Lovecraft’s 1912 poem “On the Creation of Niggers“:

To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’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.

This isn’t the only example of racism in Lovecraft’s work, though it’s one of the more blatant. Phenderson Djeli Clark has an essay examining Lovecraft’s racism at Racialicious.

Steven Stevenson disagrees, and posted a counter-petition to “Keep the beloved H.P. Lovecraft caricature busts (‘Howards’) as World Fantasy Awards trophies, don’t ban them to be PC!

The very first sentence describes Lovecraft’s “racism” in scare quotes — because sure, the guy’s writing was full of references to “subhuman swine” and the “negro problem” and “sneering, greasy mulattos” and how blacks are “vastly inferior” and “negro fetishism” and a cat called “Nigger Man” and so on. But let’s not leap to conclusions and label such things racist.

Stevenson admits that some of Lovecraft’s personal views were “less than ideal.” But he quickly explains that Lovecraft was a product of his time.

This excuse is, to use the technical term, bullshit.

Lovecraft was a product of his time, and spewed an awful lot of hateful, racist shit in his fiction and in his personal writing. There are a lot of other authors who were a product of that same time, and they somehow managed to avoid dousing every page in fetid, over-the-top racism.

This isn’t to say Lovecraft’s contemporaries were perfect. L. Frank Baum wrote a nasty editorial regarding the Sioux nation. I could barely finish Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Tarzan novel. But while it is important to acknowledge historical and cultural context, Lovecraft’s bigotry is pretty extreme, even when examined within that context.

Samuel Bowers co-founded the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and was convicted of murdering several civil rights leaders. He was a product of his time. You know who else was a product of that exact same time? Mister Rogers. Any given time will produce a whole range of people, from amazing, kind, compassionate human beings to frightened, hateful cowards.

There’s no need to deny that Lovecraft was an influential writer. And nobody’s saying you’re not allowed to read or even enjoy his stories. (Though you might want to check out How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.) But let’s not pretend the man didn’t hold and espouse some despicable views on race.

Stevenson hits other tired buzzwords and phrases in his petition. It’s just the “humourless PC crowd” who want the trophy changed. Arguing for that change is suggested to be a “fascist act.” He also throws in an attack on “the misandry … promoted by many self-described ‘feminist authors’.” Because if you’re going to play Defensive Apologist Bingo, you want to fill the whole damn board!

The complaints about Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Award aren’t about “diminish[ing] him for being male and Caucasian.” It’s about wanting something other than the bulging decapitated head of an over-the-top racist to embody one of the highest honors in our genre.

So yeah, if I haven’t made it clear before, add my voice to the crowd calling for a change. I don’t know that the trophy should be any specific individual, but at this point, I think just about anything would be an improvement. (Please don’t take that as a challenge to come up with something worse.)

Black and White in the U.S.

A few data points for anyone who thinks what’s been happening in Ferguson, MO is an isolated incident as opposed to an ongoing, systemic problem.

It’s not just Ferguson.

There’s a lot more data out there, but I hope this will help people who are watching events in Ferguson and throughout the country, and having trouble understanding where all of the anger is coming from.

A Few Thoughts About Racism and Defensiveness

As posted on Twitter yesterday, and potentially relevant to certain conversations in fandom this week:

Saying, “But Bob has always been so kind to me” doesn’t mean Bob is incapable of racism.

Saying, “I’ve never felt personally offended by Bob” doesn’t mean Bob has never said or done anything racist.

Saying, “I’ve known real racists and Bob isn’t like that” reveals an overly simplistic & harmful all-or-nothing misunderstanding of racism.

If multiple people are angry because Bob said/did something racist and you call them a “lynch mob” … yeah, just don’t. #Facepalm

Racism is not restricted to sheet-wearing, cross-burning, moustache-twirling villains.

Also, ignorance does not make you a Bad Person. (Being called on ignorantly hurtful actions and refusing to learn, however…)

Basically, if Bob is accused of racism and your defense of Bob consists of, “But I like him so he can’t be racist,” you’re doing it wrong.

Jim C. Hines