Racism and Robert E. Howard is a sore spot, because he undeniably was racist. Just about everybody was racist in the 1930s. His letters, while full of the same sort of brash piss-and-vinegar hyperbole he enfused everything with, has some really difficult stuff to read. Then you have stories like "The Last White Man" that really tie REH to the same period of "The Great White Hope." However, to concentrate on those elements is to ignore some of the more amazing things he did do.
How many writers in the 1930s would've been featuring a sensitive, intelligent, kind black man as a hero anyway? Robert E. Howard did, in "The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux" and "Double Cross" with Ace Jessel, who's also the only of Howard's many boxing characters to be a world champion. How many authors during the height of Jim Crow law would depict an African witchman as more intelligent, wise and powerful than the very white protagonist? Robert E. Howard did, in the Solomon Kane tales featuring N'Longa. Hell, read "Pigeons from Hell," a story of black vengeance against the cruelty of white slave-owners. H. P. Lovecraft sure didn't have any black protagonists. I don't even know if Clark Ashton Smith, who was ahead of his time in his dealings with ethnic minorities, did.
I've been planning on doing an "Accentuate the positive" blog on the good minority characters in Howard. Ace Jessel and N'Longa obviously preeminent, maybe add John Garfield for the Native Americans, Juan Lopez for the Mexicans (again, a hard-working, honest, loyal Mexican - from a 1930s Texan author?), Lala Tzu for the Chinese. Lambasting Robert E. Howard for period racism is like criticizing the science of The War of the Worlds: sure, it'd be great if the work was at least universal enough to span all periods, but it's pointless to apply modern mores onto period pieces, and complain when they don't match up.
It's great to acknowledge how far we've come in terms of cultural and ethnic acceptance, just as it's wonderful to know all the discoveries and inventions that have come to pass since the death of H. G. Wells. But to be intolerant of a period's more for the crime of being less progressive is in itself intolerant. Hate racism all you want. I know I do. It's one of those things that gets to me, whatever the reason (it's why I despise a lot of element of Urban black culture, for instance). There are many Howard passages and stories that are anathema for me to read. But I don't hate REH for this serious character flaw, a flaw shared by countless Americans and people across the globe - the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of the current generation.
I just prefer to judge someone by their best work. And at his best, REH could rise above the confines of his period to have amazing characters from any and all ethnicities, truly breaking the bounds. Ace and N'Longa were black - and they were as human as any of Howard's white men. That has to count for something.
EDIT: Well by gum, looks like there's justice, as the article has mysteriously vanished. With that in mind, it occured to me that I didn't actually explain what the article was about. So, here I shall.
The article basically took the following paragraph from "Red Shadows":
A giant Negro stalked into the space between them. He was the hugest man that Kane had ever seen, though he moved with catlike ease and suppleness. His arms and legs were like trees, and the great, sinuous muscles rippled with each motion. His apelike head was set squarely between gigantic shoulders. His great, dusky hands were like the talons of an ape, and his brow slanted back from above bestial eyes. Flat nose and great, thick red lips completed this picture of primitive, lustful savagery.
Instead of taking it for what it was - a depiction of a gargantuan, ferocious, primal individual - the article tried to spin it as Howard commenting on black people as a whole. Which is patently absurd, since you could find completely different descriptions of black people in not only the same story, but preceding and following the very paragraph. Particularly odious was the notion that Howard's use of the phrase "negro" instead of "tribesmen" was an attempt to show some sort of universal similarity to the millions of black people over in America. Instead of - oh, I don't know - using it to differentiate him from the other tribesmen.
Then he accuses Howard of appelating Gulka with "non-human characteristics" like talons to emphasize this depiction of Gulka as "other". This was Howard's intent - to emphasize how Gulka was "other" not just from the white bread Solomon Kane, but to even other Africans!
The look in the Puritan's grim eyes had pierced the primitive hazes of the gorilla-slayer's soul, and for the first time in his life he felt fear. To throw this off, he tossed a challenging look about; then, with unexpected animalness, he struck his huge chest resoundingly, grinned cavernously and flexed his mighty arms. No one spoke. Primordial bestiality had the stage, and the more highly developed types looked on with various feelings of amusement, tolerance or contempt.
Let's swap this around. Let's switch the scene to, say, Denmark. Kane is met with a huge Viking, who has "limbs like trees", "flaring nostrils" with an "apelike head set between gigantic shoulders." Let's have him among fellow Vikings, who although hearty and barbaric themselves, are still far closer to Kane than they are to the beast, unlike this behemoth. Howard describes many people of many ethnicities as "ape-like", with "primordial bestiality" and the like, even his precious Picts in the Bran Mak Morn stories: Gulka is kin to Buruc the Cornishman, Skol Abdur, Grom the Pict, Tamur of "The King's Service," Golnar the Ape - none of whom are black. Hell, even Steve Costigan could be described as something of a bruiser.
So... would this then be considered racist against Danes?
Of course not. This is way deeper than mere cultural issues. Gulka, as an individual, is closer to beast than to man, to the amusement/tolerance/contempt of his African fellows. And I feel the racist elements of his character are handily offset by the presence of N'Longa.