I've read various claims that Tolkien was racist. There are typical arguments but rather than list each here I will have a section for each claim and explain just how misinformed the argument is. Finally I will cite specific quotes of his on racism itself. I will first discuss the colours black and white; discussing this first is important as a background.
Please note that although I have the Letters of J.R.R Tolkien and have read them and I have naturally read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and other works by Tolkien numerous times all my Tolkien books are in my bedroom and my books do not leave the room they belong as a personal rule. Therefore any quotes will be indirectly from the books and letters rather than directly. Many of them I actually remember almost word for word, however, so I know they're accurate; and in either case the quotes are to some people damning of Tolkien when in fact it couldn't be further from the truth.
The word 'black' inevitably has people jumping to conclusions because in Tolkien's world black is often associated with evil; this actually has everything to do with the dictionary and has nothing to do with Tolkien. People who cite the word 'black' are neglecting that one of the definitions of 'darkness' is 'Wickedness or evil' and also of remembering that when it's black out it's dark: once again this has everything to do with the dictionary; darkness and black are related and Tolkien - as many authors and non-authors alike do - was making use of the English language (of course Tolkien made use of his own languages too). The fact that Tolkien used a lot of figurative language suggests that there would be (and indeed there are) many instances where he uses 'black' in the sense of wickedness. Not only is there the Black Speech (language of Mordor) but Mordor itself (in Elvish) means Black Land: 'Mor' = Black; 'dor' = 'Land'; you'll find the suffix '-dor' elsewhere: 'Gond' = stone so 'Gondor' = Stone Land. (It should also be noted that there is literally a darkening of the world which takes place and is the subject of the Quenta Simarillion, the Simarillion proper).
Yes there are coloured people in this world; but that doesn't mean he is referring to black people: once again black is long associated with darkness and thus evilness. It should also be pointed out that Gollum is described as black but as Tolkien noted Gollum was never exactly in the light; indeed he hated Yellow Face (the Sun) and White Face (the Moon) and refused to move on while they were out. Tolkien also notes in the Letters that Gollum almost repented and probably would have if only Sam understood the relationship between Sméagol and their (Sméagol and Sam) master Frodo. In the end Sam does understand it but for Gollum it is too late; the fact he stayed his hand however meant the quest didn't fail because Gollum bites the Ring off Frodo's hand and then falls into the Cracks of Doom immediately after: if that didn't happen Frodo would have ultimately been destroyed (this is also in the Letters; I have a picture of this one but it's long and it would detract from the point).
Those who have not read The Silmarillion might not know it but there was an event known as the Kinslaying led by the Noldor Elf Fëanor: in a rebel against the Valar they went after the [first] Dark Lord Morgoth ('Black Foe') in order to recapture the Silmarils. When they reached the Teleri clan they demanded ships; the Teleri refused and the Noldor attacked killing elves of both clans; those who would not repent were cursed by Mandos and forbidden from returning to Valinor: Galadriel was amongst these elves and her ban is referenced in The Lord of the Rings. What's more is there was a second Kinslaying by the Noldor. Elves are white and they killed their own!
What about the Orcs? The Uruk-hai ('Orc folk' in Black Speech) are described as 'black' and all types of Orcs are often described as 'slant-eyed' and 'swart' (chapters 1 and 3 of book III, 'The Two Towers': 'The Departure of Boromir' and 'The Uruk-hai'). There is an Orc tracker in Mordor described as 'black-skinned' (chapter 2, 'The Land of Shadow' in book VI of 'The Return of the King'). There are other examples. Meanwhile Tolkien notes that while the Orcs were corrupt they still would stick up for their own clan; this is seen in The Lord of the Rings: in The Two Towers and The Return of the King. He also notes in the Letters that he doesn't believe they are fully evil.
In Letter 210 Tolkien has the following to say about Orcs. It seems damning but this is once again jumping to conclusions:
squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.But note that he specifies not only in the Europeans eyes but also that the Orcs are degraded and repulsive versions and not Mongol-types full stop.
So not only are there two incidents where Elves killed their kin but there are examples where the Orcs defend their own clan! But what about humans? The Haradrim (also known as the Southrons) for instance. This is a quote I've always loved because it shows just how coloured good and evil (this is the same in our world):
It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace-all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind. For just as Mablung stepped towards the fallen body, there was a new noise. Great crying and shouting. Amidst it Sam heard a shrill bellowing or trumpeting. And then a great thudding and bumping like huge rams dinning on the ground.
Need another example where 'white' isn't good? Saruman the White is someone who falls from grace; he started out good but he eventually lusts after the One Ring for himself and he has his Orcs kill many people, destroy trees and do everything to dominate all life (and in The Return of the King, chapter 'The Scouring of the Shire' he does even more harm).
Another thing cited by those claiming Tolkien was racist is the fact that Mordor is in the east and the Haradrim are in the south (but so is Gondor!) whereas the good Men are in the West; I'm not sure what they say about the North but all of this is once more ignorance.* North
The original evil from the first Dark Lord came from the north because that is where his fortress Angband was.* South
I'll be honest and say I'm a bit more vague on this in that I don't remember why the Haradrim were there but part of it is that Mordor is in the south and east and they allied themselves with Sauron. Which leads me to the West. But Boromir is introduced as a man from the south (as expected seeing that Boromir comes from Gondor).* West
You say the Men of the West (Westernesse) are wholly good? In fact the Númenóreans also fell from grace: they launched an assault on Valinor; and this very act not only ended most of their line but also resulted in Númenor being swallowed whole, dramatically changing the geography of Middle-earth; Elendil and his sons Isildur - do the names sound familiar? - and Anárion as well as the few Faithful fled on ships before Númenor and so were saved. Sauron was behind this rebellion and assault and he didn't anticipate the devastation; while his spirit fled to his stronghold he could never again take a fair form.* East
And finally for East: the reason Mordor is in the East is because Sauron needed a place far away from the Valar; there is nothing suggestive about the East here. Also the Elves and Men originally woke in the East and not all of them were corrupted to evil.
There is one more thing I'll personally discuss although I'm sure there are other claims. He had the following to say about Dwarves:
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.He also elaborates on that he refers to the language and he draws other comparisons. It's important to realise that he doesn't at all refer to the fact the Dwarves became greedy with gold and jewels: if he had it might be easier to suggest that he was alluding to the Jewish Conspiracy (but even if he had the fact remains he didn't even believe in the Jewish Conspiracy so any allegory wouldn't apply even if he believed in allegory); instead he had many things to say about anti-Semitism but particularly he wrote this to his son Christopher:
Anyway, I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.And since Hitler was very anti-Semitic early on in the Nazi Party that's a good indication Tolkien wasn't anti-Semitic. But there is a better example.
Thank you for your letter... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware noone [sic] of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.To those who don't know 'arisch' is German for Aryan. Note the fact he calls Jews gifted. At the same time he is against racism and extermination in general:
There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don't know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done.(I want to say he wrote this to his son Christopher as well but I can't be certain on that.)
While many will choose to see the negative and bad things in this world the fact remains there is plenty of positive and good in this world too; good and bad cannot exist independently: and without good or without bad we wouldn't have a way to define the two. This world is exceedingly complicated and perhaps most complicated is our very species: homo sapiens. Tolkien certainly understood this concept but many unfortunately do not. Tolkien wasn't racist but neither was he perfect; nobody is perfect in this world because this world is imperfect. There are many ways to interpret what you see, read, hear, smell, dream, ponder, literally everything can be interpreted in different ways but interpretations can be just like looks: deceiving. As for me I try to see the light in everything; I don't always succeed but in recent days I've discovered that even I have a lot of good in my life and things to be happy and proud about; this took a lot of time, effort and introspection but I'm glad to have been enlightened.
I'd also like to remind everyone that not only was Tolkien very against racism but he was also against allegory: this should also be remembered when you want to try to draw parallels of his world to racism and other problems in our world; it absolutely was not the case; he was influenced by his life experiences (indeed The Dead Marshes is inspired by his time at the Battle of Somme in the Great War, a battle with over 1million deaths) but there is a big difference from allegory.