Subject: Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Posted on: 2020-05-29 14:49:14 UTC
The critics are wrong that:
-Tolkien just wrote about Absolute Good vs Absolute Evil. The Noldor in the First Age were kind of awful [Gestures at all three Kinslayings, plus the whole colonialism thing], the Numenoreans literally went from good to evil, and the Gondorians were hecka racist (they literally assigned people moral status based on how closely they were related to Numenoreans). Then you've got all Gondor's Imperialist Adventures, and things like the way most of the Shire is quite happy to accept Saruman's fascist state (it's only the misfits in Buckland who really stood up to him before Frodo arrived). Meanwhile, the Evil Peoples are mostly being forced into it by Sauron, whose methods of dealing with rebellion include a) feeding people to werewolves, b) human sacrifice, c) burning entire countries so hard they don't recover for three thousand years, and of course d) the ever-popular slavery. They're not exactly enthusiastic converts, is what I'm saying.
-Tolkien's Good Guys were all white. There's a series of posts (and a download) on this at the Ask Middle-earth blog, but the upshot is that the Rohirrim were white, as were the House of Hador in the First Age, the Vanyar over in Valinor, and the Fallohide branch of Hobbits (the Took-Brandybuck lineage; note that 'Fallow-hide' means 'pale-skin'!). Pretty much everyone else in Middle-earth is either up for grabs, or confirmed darker-skinned.*
*'Brown' and 'swarthy' are the usual terms; I think the only time Tolkien intensifies more than this is one instance of 'black'.
The critics are right that:
-Tolkien's Bad Guy Races are all non-white. They are. There are evil members of the good races, and occasional sympathy for members of the evil ones, but that doesn't change this fact.
-Much of this isn't exactly obvious. Gondorian racism is there in Lord of the Rings if you already know to look for it, as is the fact that two thirds of Hobbits are non-white, but it's in no way highlighted. The fact that the most prominent characters in various races come from the paler parts of those races - Legolas has a blond dad, Galadriel is half Vanyar, Frodo, Merry and Pippin are all Fallohides - is a huge contributing factor here.
Ultimately, Tolkien on race is a very similar question to Tolkien on women. When he addressed it at all, he generally did so decently - but he mostly just ignored it entirely.