My Year of Short Stories: August 25th, in which I confront some racist shit

August 25th, 2017, The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association: History Is What We Say It Is by Thomas F. Monteleone, published in published in Cemetery Dance, issue 74/75, 2016

Blurb: This is a recurring column in Cemetery Dance by Mr. Monteleone. In this issue he gives his two cents on The World Fantasy Award and why changing the trophy from a bust of H.P. Lovecraft (an outspoken racist) is nothing more than political correctness run amok.

Opinion: (This is going to be a long one). Mr. Monteleone might have been writing for forty years and editing, as he says, “award winning anthologies along the way,” but we aren’t living in the past forty years. We’re living now and when we look at the controversy surrounding the award bust of H.P. Lovecraft and The World Fantasy Award in 2015 it is shockingly similar to Confederate statues falling down all over the country. Perhaps it was a precursor, this bust, to what we’re experiencing today. But I digress.

Mr. Monteleone starts his column with an account of reading with a younger author in New York City some years ago. He doesn’t name this author because he says he wants “to protect the guilty. . .” and then goes on to note how horrible this writer was at reading his own work as well as how mediocre the story, in general, was. Keep in mind this column was written after The World Fantasy Award controversy. This same young author, who is and was Daniel Jose Older, started a petition in 2015 to replace the trophy-bust of H.P. Lovecraft with something that doesn’t celebrate a profound and exceptional racist. This rubs Mr. Monteleone the wrong way, for instance he writes,

“Lovecraft was indeed a xenophobe when it came to foreigners and, as they say today, ‘people of color.’ He often plugged in little asides and pejoratives about streets and neighborhoods being populated with ‘swarthy’ and furtive Portuguese and Italian laborers. Did I give a shit what Lovecraft thought about Italians? Puh-leeeze.”

This is a common reaction from (dare I say) older white men who grew up in an era of meritocracy, i.e. the harder you work the farther you’ll go. But in the last 40 years, when Monteleone was writing and editing “award winning anthologies” how many black people, Latino people, Arab and/or Muslim people, etc, got the message from editors and publisher that, “Yes, we value you and we believe your experiences, your stories, your world views are valuable, publishable, and most importantly, essential and undeniable due to the fact you exist and write.” Yeah, it wasn’t really until the last few years and anyone who brings up Octavia Butler as a black woman who was successful, you are correct. She was. But she was also the exception–and I might add, she gets much more love today than she did even five years ago. N.K. Jemisin was the first black author to win the Hugo Award for best novel. That was in 2016.

So, for a white man–Mr. Monteleone–to say, Hey, look, I don’t know what the big deal is, I’m Italian and Lovecraft didn’t like Italians, why should we focus on race? is an exquisite false equivalence. Being white in the USA compared to being Italian in Lovecraft’s USA compared to being black (or brown) in the USA compared to being black (or brown) in Lovecraft’s USA is just a cluster-fuck of irrelevance. Because in terms of the Lovecraft bust the only thing that matters is this: Who are we honoring with The World Fantasy Award? Are we honoring H.P. Lovecraft or are we honoring the writers of today? And while some of Lovecraft’s writing is quite exquisite, what does The World Fantasy Award represent if it’s trophy is a man who would have reviled those people of other ethnic and racial identities who will surely continue to win the award?

In the end Mr. Monteleone’s column reeks of white privilege. I’m an award winning editor and have a column in Cemetery Dance, now, because I have this platform, let me tell you what race in the USA really means! Shut the fuck up Mr. Monteleone. Up until recently racist figures throughout history were puzzled over, but not called out. In many ways people divorced the horrible things historical figures did from the great things they did. While I am not adverse to this as a rule (I wouldn’t want to grab a beer with Lord Byron, yet his poetry is moving), should it be up to me, or you, or any white person to tell non-white people that, Hey, you’re overreacting to the reverence our community, our institutions, and our leaders give to those who did everything they could to oppress people like you–now here, accept this trophy in their likeness. No. It is not our place. Want to honor H.P. Lovecraft, grab a copy of his work–reread The Call of Cthulhu.

Monteleone raises the same question concerning this bust as the president raised with Confederate statues. “Where does it stop?” First you come for this trophy, then will we purge the libraries of his work? Mr. M. asks. Nobody is talking about purging books but he. Just as nobody is talking about removing Statues of George Washington except the president. It’s immaterial. It’s out of context. It’s fear mongering to cement those at the top and keep them there.

Sadly, the fact Cemetery Dance gives this man, Thomas F. Monteleone, a platform to preach his dated and bitter views on race in their magazine means I will no longer be subscribing. You may say this is an overreaction, but I rather give my money to a magazine that doesn’t provide a platform for old white guys to expound on race and political correctness.

Update: After writing the first draft of this post, I emailed Cemetery Dance with my concerns and received a thoughtful reply from general manager, Brian Freeman. With his permission I present to you our correspondence.

Dear Cemetary Dance,

In February of 2017 I placed a 6 issue order for your magazine. There is
nothing wrong with the order. The reason I am emailing is that, despite some
of the great stories you include in your magazine, I cannot support a
publication that gives a platform to men like Thomas F. Monteleone. this is
why:

His column in the #74/75 issue was deeply troubling to me, yet another white
man explaining race and the nuances of race relations at the expense of those
articles like this effect the most. Columns like this propagate the idea that
political correctness is to blame for racial tension, rather than systemic
racism. In his article, Monteleone derides authors of color for speaking out
against racist symbols. He writes of the retiring of the H.P. Lovecraft bust:

“The genre was expelling the writer without whom there would be no genre, no
conventions, no awards, no nothing. Can you say irony? (I thought that you
could. . .)

However, it is just, if not more ironic that The WORLD Fantasy Award trophy
was a likeness of a man who would have reviled those authors of color who have
won it. Should anything that proclaims to be the “the world XXX award” of
anything be symbolized by someone or something that doesn’t believe in the
humanity of any group of people?

Anyway. I know I still have 5 issues left on my subscription. I’m not asking
for a refund. I’m just letting you know why I won’t be interested in your
magazine in the future. If possible, save the paper you’d print my copy
on–just send it to someone else. I no longer want to receive them. I rather
give my money to magazines who support underrepresented voices.

Regrets. A white guy.
 Alex Clark-McGlenn

###

Hi Alex,

Thanks for reaching out to us with your concerns.

I understand where you’re coming from. I think we missed a golden
opportunity to offer a “counterpoint” column after Tom’s where someone could
have made the same points you made about Lovecraft and the discussion the
genre is having about him right now. Many people agree with your point of
view, and we should have thought beyond the general idea that this was Tom’s
usual “shooting from the hip, saying what he thinks” column.

We’ll be refunding and canceling your subscription since you’re not
interested in future issues. More people should speak up about the things
that matter to them, and I’m certain I’ll think of your email the next time
we have a situation like this where other voices should be represented.

Thanks again for voicing your concerns.

Best wishes,
Brian Freeman

General Manager

###

Dear Brian,

Thank you for the response.

I do wish there could have been some follow up. Perhaps a letter to the editor. . . I don’t think censorship of Tom’s ideas is a good idea either. Freedom of speech is wonderful and while I disagree with his article, and don’t support a one-way platform for him to expound on these thoughts, I do think dialogue is essential. I think what put me off (besides Tom’s worldview) is that it was a completely one-way attack on some groundbreaking artists within an industry that has been dominated by the conventional culture (white culture–and I’m talking about the “power” of being in power, when I use the term “white culture”) for so long. Suddenly these underrepresented people get a part of the power and are uncomfortable with the systemic issues and want to change it. I can understand why, as a white man, this can feel like an attack on our heroes. I love H.P. Lovecraft. his work was a massive part of my adolescents and I can still enjoy his writing–divorced from his horrific views.

I wrote up a large blog post today in response to this article and I’d love to include your email to me within it (I haven’t published it yet), as I know Cemetery Dance also publishes some fantastic work, stuff that I really enjoy. I feel your response is pertinent and insightful, but will not include it in my blog post without your consent.

Thank you for your time.

###

Hi Alex,

Absolutely, please feel free to include my reply.

You made great points, and we definitely dropped the ball by only having one
view represented to our readership. Including other perspectives should have
been an obvious decision, but we missed the bigger picture when we only
viewed the column through the lens of “here is Tom’s column, he has
opinions and he shared his opinions.”

Missing that bigger picture was an unforced error on our part, and it’s also
a valuable lesson that will be remembered in the future.

Thank you again for taking the time to email us.

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