Robert A. Heinlein Racist?

I just read Farnham’s Freehold in which he deals with what seems to be racists ideas. And I’m trying to determine if he is attempting to be racist or if he is trying to denounce racism.

The problem is the black man owning tons of white slaves, but more than just owning them but actually eating white people as meat, and thinking that white people are so below them that it is okay.

I see two options:

  1. Heinlein was trying to say that if the tables were turned black people who even be worse to white people than whites were to blacks, thus he is racist.
  2. Heinlein was trying to say that racism sucks no matter who is doing it, and the whole reversal of roles was to get his readers (mostly white?) to think of the plight of the African American even in their day and encouraging them to not be racist.

i lean towards the second view because in Heinslein’s other books I get no sense of racism at all.
What do you guys think?

The second view is more correct, I’d say.

Hit the submit button to fast.

Heinlein sometimes comes off as racist because, in addition to the satire of books like Freehold and the incredible stupidity of some of his critics (and I’m looking at you, Paul Verhoeven), there is often a deliberate paucity of physical character description in his books, which often feature cover illustrations commissioned and/or created by the clueless. This creates a misimpression as to the ethnicity of more than a few of his characters. The male character picture here is black; the female character featured here is Maori (sort of; superficially that is what she most resembles). Many readers miss that because the cover illustrations are misleading, and thus they misintepret some elements of the story (such as the Sambeaux character in Cat Who Walks Through Walls as indicative of authorial racism.

Number two.
it’s taking an idea to the extreme.

Say you call me an arsehole for no reason, then i punch you in the face.
You: Hey what the fuck?
Me: You started it, you called me an arsehole!
You: I never punched you in the face though!
Me: Well i never called you an arsehole…

Sometimes you need to amplify things in order to make a point.

Probably the second reading. Heinlein was known to sometimes write protagonists as being non-white and not give that away until three-quarters of the way through the book. Juan Rico in Starship Troopers is Latino and probably from Brazil or Argentina. Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis is clearly mixed race, Latino and Irish from the names and something Central Asian based on some of his comments. Rod Walker in Tunnel In The Sky is supposed to be black, though that’s only explicit if you read some of RAH’s letters. We’re supposed to pick it up because he’s interested in Caroline, who is strongly hinted to be non-white.

I believe that part of that is Heinlein’s deliberate fucking with the reader’s default assumptions. If the reader assumes on no evidence that Rod, Manuel, and Juan are WASPs, then the reader is bringing sometime of his own to the table.

I think Heinlein was very progressive on racial issues, but was a product of his times, and thus somewhat racist. There is a subtle condescension in some of his works (i.e. towards the black servant in Farnhams Freehold) which is a kind of racism, but he probably considered himself anti-racist and tried his best to not be one.

This plus #2. He was a product of his time and tried to overcome it whenever possible. In several novels he makes fun of people who judge by skin color. Friday comes to mind.

I agree; I’ve seen letters somewhere from RAH stating that this was indeed his intent.

Nitpick: Juan Rico is Filipino. He mentions that they speak Tagalog at home. His mother was vacationing in Buenos Aries when the Bugs nuked it. That’s how the book had it at least.

There’s a nice bit in Space Cadet where Oz accuses Tex of being prejudiced against the Venerians. Tex is hurt by the accusation, and says something like “Did I ever say a word about Lieutenant Smith being black as the Ace of Spades?”

Johnny Rico was Filipino.

ETA: Must type faster!

I stand corrected. And good point about Space Cadet, too, especially with Smith being the cadets’ superior officer. Although it now occurs to me I’d been assuming that the cadets were white and except for Tex’s comment, there’s no evidence that any of them are… :smack:

Heinlein wrote non-white characters the way that Asimov wrote women, the only thing about the character that showed they were of a non-white race was in a brief description that is often easily missed by the reader and nearly always missed by the cover artists.

In one of his books, the characters are talking about race and the Howard families, and, IIRC, Lazarus Long indicates that he thinks the Lees were Chinese and more intelligent than some of the other Howard families and the transcriptionist marked Chinese as possibly a religion indicating that such distinctions were meaningless.

I always thought that if Robert Heinlein were racist, it was not something he was proud of. In contrast, he put in homophobic nastiness in Stranger in a Strange Land, and had Lazarus make comments about transgenders and homosexuals but never, to my knowledge had a narrator or important sympathetic character make overtly racist remarks. Many repugnant characters were racist to varying degrees.

He calls transsexuals deluded and worse, either as narrator or Lazarus, but then when Andy Libby decided that he was better off reanimating as a she, the character was portrayed as becoming a real, non-deluded woman who was not less desirable because she had been a man. He also seems to indicate that being less than perfectly bisexual is in the future considered a personality defect, but that Lazurus prefers women. Lazarus seems to recognize this as a defect, and I wonder if Heinlein saw any of his personal racist feelings similarly as personal defects that he was doing his best not to pass along to future generations.

Yeah, that sounds right to me - Heinlein had overcome the substantial racism of his time to a large extent, and intellectually opposed racism very strongly throughout his life, but ironically, people who grew up in the much less racist societies that he endevoured to bring into existence will find it easy to see the residue of racism that he was unable to purge from himself.

Useful references - “Lost Legacy” in 1941, in which the KKK is explicitly drawn as part of a demoniac conspiracy and “Tramp Royale” (a non-fiction travelogue) which shows Heinlein’s revulsion toward apartheid in the 1950s.

RE: the slavery and cannibalism in Farnham’s Freehold.

Heinlein was not saying “This is what they will do to us if they get to vote.”
He was saying “This is what we will do to them if we continue to treat them as less than human.”

According to the notes in We, the Living (or whatever the recently rediscovered first novel of RAH’s is called, don’t bother reading it, its wretchedly awful) the Heinleins’ were swingers, and I’d say its likely that RAH was bisexual.

Certainly Lazarus is bisexual, though he prefers women.

It’s not necessarily true, anyway, that the opinions voiced by a character–even such a central character as Lazarus–are those of the author. In the most Lazarus-centic of RAH’s books, it’s clear that, no matter how much Ira, Ishtar, et al love the Old Man, they think he is an idiot in many ways. And both Jake Burroughs and Richard Campell actively dislike him (though the former, at least, is rather an ass himself).

I need to clarify this. The condescension towards Joseph, the Farnham’s houseboy, in the book is clearly intentional. And it’s done so that later in the book Joseph can call Hugh Farnham on it in the climatic discussion between the two characters. Joseph points out to Hugh the various ways in which the Farnham’s had made their sense of superiority clear to him and that he was glad to be rid of it, and them, and was happy that the shoe was on the other foot.

Yes, but it did seem very unflattering to Joseph that he would be happy about the Farnhams being made into actual slaves and possibly eaten because they had been mildly condescending towards him when he worked for them. At the time the story was set, the Farnhams treated Joseph remarkably well for a black houseservant (when I first read the story I skimmed past the part that described who he was, and I assumed he was Farnham’s son for a couple of chapters!). I also feel like there was some condescension in the authorial voice, it wasn’t written in first person by one of the Farnhams.

There is one black character in the story who was not raised in a slave-holding white man eating society, and he’s portrayed as someone who betrays a family that obviously respected and loved him because he felt condescended to as soon as he gets the chance.

The Sixth Column is an interesting contrast to Heinlein’s later work, with its monolithic imperialist Asians and the secret death ray that kills people according to race. But of course there was a war on at the time.