The Lie of ERB's Racisim Exposed
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2000
All too often we encounter critics who claim ERB was a racist, yet we rarely hear any comment from these same people as regards the many ERB characters who are involved in interracial marriages.
Tarzan is the main sticking point. This character is most commonly named as being the vehicle for ERB's supposed racism commentary. ERB's English nobility-born infant, raised by savage apes on the African west coast, and who conducted a personal war upon blacks who had killed his ape mother, is most often raised as the "proof" of ERB's alledged racisim. Yet, it that same Tarzan who admires the Waziri and works closely with this tribe of blacks to protect their villages.
But Tarzan is not the be-all-end-all in the pantheon of Ed Burroughs heroes! Racisim, though not a new concept as regards humanity in general, is a concept that has more current roots as regards the media and politics of the United States in the decades before 1964 and those decades following. Great Britain smudged the lines of racisim quite some time earlier than the "Colonies" and the Germans of Hitler's day—those who were in power, not the German population at large--exercised a form of racisim that defines the worst implementation of racisim in a modern historical context.
There's no doubt that racisim exists but to imply that Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was a racist based on a few comments necessary for a literary tension (Tarzan) taken out of context as regards the works themselves is balderdash! Worse, any attempt to overlay today's "politically correct" attitudes upon a work that was written in an earlier era, an era where ERB was a shining example of tolerance and understanding, is a ridiculous attempt to rewrite history as regards current fad social attributes and ignoring the historical facts.
John Carter, the hero of Burroughs' first published novel A Princess of Mars, marries a woman not only of a different race, but perhaps a different species altogether. This was a successful marriage by any standards and the family that comes as an outgrowth of the love between Carter and Dejah Thoris is chronicled in subsequent volumes of the Barsoomian series. Carthoris, a "breed" successfully woos Thuvia, a red woman. Tara, a "breed" is won by Gahan, a red man. Carter's granddaughter, a mix of Jasoomian white and Barsoom red, is courted by a Barsoom white (who was probably successful in his courtship!).
In the novel Jungle Girl (1932) Gordon King, a white American traveling in the Far East (old time Siam, today Cambodia), falls for a girl of a different race (Asian). King falls for the girl, smitten deeply, regardless of her race. We don't really know what happens thereafter, but we do know they are deeply in love and more than willing to ignore the implications of their interracial relationship.
Carson Napier ends up with a Venusian babe. She is reported to be human in all aspects, but we aren't told if she's of a different race. Let us settle for the overt fact that each was born on different planets to carry this "interracial" question along. Duare and Carson do what men and women do, regardless of race, they interface via emotion and desire, regardless of origin. What ERB portrayed was the love and difficulties between a MAN and a WOMAN, race/species being an indifferent thing to them both.
In the whimsical Edgar Rice Burroughs short "The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw" a Neanderthal frozen for thousands of years and revived into the "present" is pursued by a white woman as much as Jimber-Jaw pursues her. She eventually turns on him, but that turn of events is a plot point based on human male/female relations and is not a statement of racism.
ERB's famous Apache Devil is not interracial in reality, yet we are faced with the other reality that Jerry Duncan, a white infant, was raised as an Apache. That upbringing and mindset creates the surface tension of an interracial marriage because Jerry Duncan is Apache first, white second. The girl he loves is white and she is a member of the race that is decimating his adoptive people. While the romance depicted is not, strictly speaking, interracial in reality, it is a tale of cross cultures and interracial bias since Shoz-Dijiji is truly Apache in all but birthright.
As with Napier, mentioned above, Julian the 5th takes a lover from a different planet. Again, biology and pedigree is not overly discussed, yet there will be few who will quibble over the extra-terrestial origin of lovely Nah-ee-lah. She is an "alien," a person of non-terrestrial birth, who loves her man as much as he loves her. Later in the series Julian 20th takes as his mate the daughter of Or-Tis, a lady who might have Kalkar blood in her genealogy.
In Tarzan and "the Foreign Legion" Tony Rosetti, a young American of Italian extraction, falls for a lovely Eurasian girl of mixed descent. She is older than he is by perhaps 10 or more years, and is known to be a murderess and member of an outlaw gang. From what we are told, it looks like a happy union between these racially and culturally different people will result.
In one of his earliest works, The Land That Time Forgot, two ERB heroes take mates from the racially (and perhaps species) different Galu women of Caspak. Insert the odd evolutionary aspect found in these novels and these girls are even further removed from joint racial backgrounds. The romantic alliances between Billings and A-Jor and Bradley and Co-Tan appear to be successful marriages.
I daresay there is more positive racial and interracial interplay in the works of ERB than any overt negative "racism." See my "Tarzan of the Apes" review for the worst possible scenarios. ERB heroes of all levels—major to minor—seem to find a common ground within the context of romance and loyalty.
I, for one, am more than a little ticked to have ERB raked over the coals every once in a while by the media and "blinders on" reviewers of Burroughs' works. Burroughs, as reported in Irwin Porges excellent biography Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan reveals a fellow sensitive to racial issues.In fact, about the only thing Ed Burroughs ever found offensive was human stupidity.