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According to the comments on this question, there may have been racism in Middle-earth. Was there? If so, was it rampant or isolated?

Please note that I am asking about in-universe racism, not racism displayed (or not displayed) by Tolkien or by filmmakers.


This is a different question from:

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    See and this and a gazillion other post accross the web. – TGnat May 5 '15 at 1:58
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    @TGnat, your first link was about whether Tolkien, himself, was racist against a specific group, and your second link appears to be about racism in the creation of the movies; that is, the filmmakers being racist. It was my intention to ask about in-universe racism, which I will clarify momentarily. – atk May 5 '15 at 2:10
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    I dimly remember the Drúedain (Drûgs) not being met with much respect, even being hunted by the Rohirrim. – DevSolar May 5 '15 at 8:26
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    Your first bullet link Was there racism in Middle Earth? currently takes me back to this question. I'm stuck in an infinite loop, help! Did you mean Is Tolkien prejudiced against the East? – user568458 May 5 '15 at 13:58
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It might be better to call it "speciesism". But it was clearly a constant theme, at least in the first book, and to a lesser extent in the films. In the movies, elves and dwarves clearly hate each other. Gimli complains about the elf Haldir's frosty reception, and says "I spit on your grave" in Dwarvish, for which Aragorn scolds him. In the book Fellowship of the Ring, it is more widespread.

Gandalf, says, albeit affectionately:

Ever since Bilbo left, I have been deeply concerned about you, and about all these charming, absurd, helpless hobbits. It would be a grievous blow to the world, if the Dark Power overcame the Shire; if all your kind, jolly, stupid Bolgers, Hornblowers, Boffins, Bracegirdles, and the rest, not to mention the ridiculous Bagginses, became enslaved.

He also routinely seems surprised that Frodo isn't a wimp.

The elf Gildor initially doesn't want Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin to join his group, because:

We have no need of other company, and hobbits are so dull.

Elves seem to show condescension towards men and hobbits in general, treating them like children. The elf Lindir of Rivendell thinks so little of hobbits and men that he can't tell the difference between them -

It is not easy for us to tell the difference between two mortals.

When Bilbo takes exception to this, Lindir says

To sheep, other sheep no doubt appear different

but to elves all mortals - not just individual mortals, but different species of mortals - are essentially indistinguishable from one another.

Mortals have not been our study. We have other business.

When Frodo wakes up in Rivendell, he tells Gandalf that he has grown fond of Strider, and continues:

I didn't know that any of the Big People were like that. I thought, well, that they were just big, and rather stupid: kind and stupid like Butterbur; or stupid and wicked like Bill Ferny.

At the dinner in Rivendell honoring Frodo, the dwarf Glóin says the humans in Dale are friendlier to dwarves than men anywhere else, but even the men of Dale

are not over fond of dwarves.

Of course, everyone despises orcs, trolls, and goblins. Humans tend to show condescension towards hobbits, and jealous contempt towards elves. And the exiled Rohirrim are obviously shocked to see a man, a dwarf, and an elf together, and suspicious of their intentions and reasons for being in Rohan.

There is actually a page on Tolkien Gateway titled "Racism in Tolkien's Works", where I found many relevant tidbits:

The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.

― J.R.R. Tolkien

What negative stereotypes apply to real world Jews and Tolkien's Dwarves? One need look no further than Elrond's comment at the council:

Who will you look to when we've gone? The Dwarves? They toil away in caverns, seeking riches. They care nothing for the troubles of others.

So Dwarves care only about material wealth - a common slur leveled at Jews by antisemites for centuries.

Also:

Racism in Middle-earth

Tolkien portrays racism within the "heroic" races as unabashedly negative. Elves and Dwarves distrust each other. Some Elves hunted the Petty-dwarves as animals, as did the Rohirrim to the Woses. The friendship between Legolas and Gimli is portrayed as unusual but commendable, and several scenes illustrate them learning to understand and respect each other's cultural differences. When Gimli takes a strand of Galadriel's hair, he is described as having "look[ed] into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding."

It is notable that there is apparently racism within the ranks of Orcs as the Uruk-hai held themselves as superior to the common Orcs, whom they called snaga (slave).

The point-of-view characters of the book -- the hobbits -- are themselves of a race that is frequently described as being overlooked, under-estimated, and lightly regarded by the other races of Middle-earth, yet they often demonstrate far greater courage and nobility than the races who denigrate them. They are not without prejudice, however, and Gandalf is shown reprimanding Frodo for his comments on Barliman Butterbur.

The Númenóreans of Gondor fell to infighting because of a supposed need for racial purity, especially concerning the ancestry of their king (the Kin-strife), and grew weaker as a result. In this affair, the villain was the pure-blooded Númenórean Castamir while the hero was the half-Númenórean Eldacar.

The "Middle-earth & J.R.R. Tolkien Blog" addresses this issue at length, and seems to summarize the answer very well:

Q: Is It True There is Racism in The Lord of the Rings?

ANSWER: Yes, it is true there is racism in The Lord of the Rings. However, many people who ask this question may really mean to ask, “Is The Lord of the Rings a racist work of fiction?” Although some people claim that is the case they are mistaken for J.R.R. Tolkien embedded numerous examples of the folly of racism in The Lord of the Rings. In other words, it would be difficult for any other modern work of fiction to be as anti-racist as The Lord of the Rings.

For more along these lines, see my answer to the question about whether the racism in Middle-earth was intentional on Tolkien's part.


Edit: It should be noted that Gandalf's obvious affection for hobbits does not make his statements less prejudiced. It merely designates his prejudice as "benevolent racism" or "benevolent prejudice". Such a thing exists, and is very common - some examples include "black people are good at basketball" and "Asians are good at math". Prejudiced statements said with affection, even when the statements are complimentary, are still prejudiced. It is easier to see this by way of analogy - imagine someone saying "I love black people; they are so absurd, helpless, ridiculous, stupid, and charming". If Gandalf had said this, no one would suggest that he wasn't racist, despite the affectionate terms mingled in with the offensive ones (and indeed, he uses all these words to describe hobbits). The same holds true for the elves who make racist remarks but otherwise show affection for the races in question.

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    Gandalf was joking. Gildor was joking. Lindir was unable to distinguish between verse written by a hobbit and verse written by a man. – Ian Thompson May 5 '15 at 7:30
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    Are they really different species? At least some of them can reproduce with each other. Depending on that, some of the examples might be racism and other speciesism. In any case, that's hardly the most correlating fact - that would be "distrust to that which is different". They don't really care whether they hate someone they can reproduce with or not, do they? :D – Luaan May 5 '15 at 8:47
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    My memory is foggy, but as for actual racism, are the Haradrim not also in the books described generally in negative terms and as being ‘swarthy’, even though there’s little real interaction with them? @Luaan Lions and tigers can reproduce, as can donkeys and horses and many other heterospecific pairs. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 5 '15 at 9:53
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    @MattGutting - And keep in mind who Lindir is talking about - Aragorn, who lived in Rivendell for years and who is part elf and heir to the throne of Gondor, and Bilbo, a 3 foot tall elf-friend who has spent lots of time in Rivendell as well. These aren't unremarkable nobodies, nor are they random strangers Lindir has never met before, and they don't resemble each other, even vaguely. They are extraordinary figures, both of whom he knows quite well, and who couldn't be more dissimilar in appearance. Even an Orc could tell them apart at first glance. – Wad Cheber May 6 '15 at 0:14
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    It's ironic how you never mention the blatant racism against orcs. Everybody kills them and feels good about it. – Raphael May 6 '15 at 6:55
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The races do tend to regard each other with suspicion, but we must keep in mind that several of them have done unwise, or outright despicable things throughout history. Moreover, many of the characters are not well-educated, and instead get their knowledge of other races from old tales, passed down by word of mouth. Taking an obvious example:

Eomer is wary of outsiders in The Riders of Rohan, which is understandable given the situation in his country at the time. He makes some hasty and ill-informed comments about elves, but it's fairly clear he doesn't know much about them, asking Aragorn

Are you Elvish folk?

Saruman hints at Eomer's lack of wisdom

Meddle not in policies which you do not understand

(The Voice of Saruman) and Eomer later admits it himself in The Last Debate:

I have little knowledge of these deep matters...

However, Eomer loans very valuable horses to Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, and learns the value of his new friends before he even witnesses how deadly they are in battle:

Legolas upon my left and Aragorn upon my right, and none will dare to stand before us!

Later (in Many Partings) he admits to Gimli that his words about Galadriel were rash. So, Eomer spoke some rash words in a tense situation, concerning a subject he didn't fully comprehend at the time. His words and actions later prove that he was not a racist. The behaviour of many other characters can be explained in a similar way.

  • More importantly he Road with Gimli whom he was initially most dismissive of – user46509 Jul 27 '15 at 11:26
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No there is no racism in M-E. Racism nowadays itself is used beyond it's own definition. But no, no racism in M-E.

I'm adding this edit to the post due to the claim that I'm "at odds with the accepted answer" as if that makes what I said wrong.

Let's get our terms correct in the circle of mendacity! To pre-judge another without knowledge is prejudice > the expression of such prejudice is bigotry > & acting on such bigotry is discrimination > and such acceptance is racism. The latter being borne of the former.

There are various nit-pickers out there who have looked for racism in the books and ascribed racism to the author and to the story he wrote. One of the funny ones is that orcs are black people (the race in our society). I'd think orcs represent evil rather than black people even though they are described as black. There are also negative associations with the words swarthy, squint-eyed, brown, black, etc that are used in charges of racism against the characters exhibiting these characteristics in the story. I'll point out really quick how foolish it can get when you go reading something into a thing that's not there. The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in describing himself said that he was "a long black fellow." He described himself again in the following manner:

If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said that I am, in height, six feet four inches, nearly; lean, weighing an average one hundred eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and dark eyes. [Hannibal Hamlin of Maine: Lincoln's First Vice-president]

A black man if I did not know one!

Squint-eyed may be used in reference to Asians for "race baiters", but truth be told, it also means cross-eyed [see strabismus]. Swart which comes from the German for black did not refer to race but denoted dark skin. The idea of these enemies being evil because they look a certain way also needs to be addressed but before that how about that evil black man Tom Bombadil?

It seemed to grow larger as it lay for a moment on his big brown-skinned hand. [In the House of Tom Bombadil]

The idea of brown/black = enemy = evil is a bit absurd. Sure there are dark (not necessarily a race of black people) people who are with the enemy, but they're not evil for being dark. The high race of Númenor, the Kings of Men, work with Sauron. This is contrary to the idea that Tolkien portrays only a certain groups as being evil or working for the enemy. Look at what the King's Men were doing:

in that temple, with spilling of blood and torment and great wickedness, men made sacrifice to Melkor that he should release them from Death. And most often from among the Faithful they chose their victims; yet never openly on the charge that they would not worship Melkor. the Giver of Freedom, rather was cause sought against them that they hated the King and were his rebels, or that they plotted against their kin, devising lies and poisons. [Akallabêth]

There is also this:

Sauron gathered to him great strength of his servants out of the east and the south; and among them were NOT A FEW of the high race of Númenor. For in the days of the sojourn of Sauron in that land the hearts of well nigh all its people had been turned towards darkness. Therefore many of those who sailed east in that time and made fortresses and dwellings upon the coasts were already bent to his will, and they served him still gladly in Middle-earth. [Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age]

Aragorn is said to be "lean, dark, tall" [At the Sign of the Prancing Pony]. Sauron is referred to as black:

And if the west prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and they folk: [The Passing of the Grey Company]

Also we have those evil black men known as the Black Riders, "The black fellow sat quite still." [A Short Cut to Mushrooms] There is also among many other examples "Black horsemen have passed through Bree." [Strider] haha Lastly, let's not forget those trees that represent black people:

His heart is as rotten as a black Huorn's. [The Voice of Saruman]

One poster to a degree seems to portray Hobbits as victims and says that "Humans tend to show condescension towards hobbits" and yet those very Hobbits, such as poor disdained Frodo says of other humans:

I did not know that any of the Big People were like that. I thought, well, that they were just big, and rather stupid: kind and stupid like Butterbur; or stupid and wicked like Bill Ferny. [Many Meetings]

I'm not saying that this makes Frodo a racist, but clearly there is prejudice here as we see in various people throughout. Then we have another poster bring up the point of speciesism because Gandalf referred to the Hobbits as "absurd, helpless, stupid, rediculous". Note Saruman's similar declaration toward one of his own:

"Radagast the Brown!" laughed Saruman, and he no longer concealed his scorn. "Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool! Yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him." [The Council of Elrond]

There is the racism in our world people assume is something done to blacks. Look around, even with some of the quotes of the posters, when racism is looked at in the real world it's always something that's said to be done to blacks, or some other minority in a white country. These people I never trust. Also there is the idea that slavery = racism. Slavery is not even extinguished and has a long history across milennia. Don't confuse the two. Might a slaveholder be racist? Sure. But might a black man in America like Nat Butler or Anthony Johnson hold black slaves themselves? Sure. Might a white man in America hold white slaves himself? Sure. Might a black slaveholder be racist? Sure. Btw, blacks had white slaves in America too, true story. These are true things that have happened. White slavery existed before and along with black slavery in America. In fact a movement in the South was surging where they were thinking all white laborers should be enslaved. Then again, you have idiots saying the Civil War was to free the blacks, but it was the whites looking out for their own skins. Slavery is NOT racism. Don't get it twisted.

Slavery is the natural and normal condition of the laboring man, whether white or black. The great evil of Northern free society is, that it is burdened with a servile class of mechanics and laborers, unfit for self-government. [Sociology for the South, or The Failure of Free Society]

The idea of even trying to apply racism to the characters in Tolkien's world does not even make sense because there are things in Tolkien's world that are not applicable to our own. The men of Númenor actually do have characteristics that make them superior to other men in Middle-earth (unlike that false belief in the Third Reich) whereas racism is the false belief that one race has characteristics that make it superior to another race. They don't exist in our world. The Númenóreans came from the Edain, so they share the same descent as many of the men in M-E, but they became better because they were blessed to be so. Longer life and vitality, greater physical abilities. This is clear in those who're not Númenórean. Take for example Éowyn when she meets Faramir:

she looked at him and saw the grave tenderness in his eyes, and yet knew, for she was bred among men of war, that here was one whom no Rider of the Mark would outmatch in battle. [RotK, p. 265]

Also the Númenóreans were not particularly averse to mixing with non-Númenóreans. For example after Númenor was destroyed and the Faithful made it to M-E:

There many already dwelt who were in whole or part of Númenórean blood; but few of them remembered the Elvish speech. [The Return of the King; Appendix F]

It was only looked down on in the royal house.

it was a thing unheard of before that the heir to the crown, or any son of the King, should wed one of lesser and alien race. [Appendix A]

I'd say, stop the race baiting. It's unbecoming, nonsensical, and also in this case reading something into a story that's not there.

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    How about some supporting arguments with backing from Tolkien's works/writings to support your statement ? You're at odds with the accepted answer and you've provided no refutation of it's statements. – Stan Jul 21 '15 at 11:11
  • You seem to be under the impression that the question is "Was Tolkien racist?". That is not the question. The question is "Did Tolkien describe racism/bigotry in Middle-earth?". The answer is a resounding "Yes, because he despised bigotry and wanted to expose it as pure folly". – Wad Cheber Jul 27 '15 at 18:50
  • Tolkien scholar Michael Martinez: "'Q: Is It True There is Racism in The Lord of the Rings?' 'ANSWER: Yes, it is true there is racism in The Lord of the Rings. However, many people who ask this question may really mean to ask, “Is The Lord of the Rings a racist work of fiction?” Although some people claim that is the case they are mistaken for J.R.R. Tolkien embedded numerous examples of the folly of racism in The Lord of the Rings. In other words, it would be difficult for any other modern work of fiction to be as anti-racist as The Lord of the Rings.'" – Wad Cheber Jul 27 '15 at 19:00
  • And I think the Drúedain would be displeased to hear you say that racism/speciesism/bigotry didn't exist in Middle-earth. The Rohirrim, and most other men, hunted them like animals, persecuted them, and mistreated them for several thousand years. – Wad Cheber Jul 27 '15 at 19:20
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    Forgive me for my inability to follow such an incoherent argument, but incoherent arguments are inherently hard to follow. This isn't an answer so much as it is a rant, which serves the sole purpose of reflecting your own discomfort with the issue of racism. It still appears to me that you're answering a question that no one asked. The question was as follows: Are some characters in LotR bigoted/racist/speciesist? Your answer seems to boil down to: "Racism isn't a real thing anymore, and no one should ever talk about it again". Which is simultaneously incorrect and irrelevant. – Wad Cheber Aug 3 '15 at 0:00

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