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January 2001
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Racism and Robert Heinlein

Heinlein is sometimes accused of having been a racist. One can make a case for it, particularly in some of his earliest work. None-the-less it is a bad rap.

One way to look at it is that he wasn't racist but that he was provincial. Thus you find people of various "races" among his characters, commonly with just a passing reference to their color and origin. That's what you would expect if color and origin do not matter. He does speak out against racism here and there, e.g., in the passages on Lorenzo Smythe's aversion to Martians in Double Star. Charging Heinlein with racism is the sort of thing that should be left to the ideologues who find fascism under every bed.

On the other hand Heinlein clearly was very provincial. Despite his best efforts his cultural settings and characters were seldom far removed from his America in the first half of the twentieth century. One doesn't notice that his characters are black or Asian or American Indian because they don't differ in culture and character from white Americans. The world that Heinlein and his characters dwelt in was very narrow, culturally speaking.


This page was last updated January 1, 2001.

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