So when Joe Lansdale asked me to contribute to an anthology called Retro Pulp Tales, I said it had to be Yellow Peril. I decided it would involve a face-off between two fictional titans of the times. I came up with the most lurid title I could think of and, after that, the story pretty damn near wanted to write itself.
But since I was going to set it in the 1930s, I first wanted to get a feel for the times. So I found a collection of Yellow Peril stories (It’s Raining Corpses in Chinatown, edited by Don Hutchison) and read half a dozen. The casual racism surprised me. The operative word here is “casual.” I detected no hate in the true sense of the word; more like workaday denigration of another race.
In polite conversation they were called Chinamen or Orientals (not “Asian,” as political correctness now dictates). But down on the street they were chinks and coolies. Chinatown was No-Tickee-No-Shirty-ville. As I said, casual, accepted. Like those 1930s scenes in Something the Lord Made (the film about the brilliant Vivien Thomas) where the black folks step off the path and tip their hats as the white folks pass as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Racism, pure and simple, but taken for granted by both sides. Like when I was a kid and loved Little Richard’s music. It was known as “race music” on the radio, but called “nigger music” at backyard barbecues – and no one raised even an eyebrow.
My how things have changed.
But the stories in the following triptych don’t take place in modern-day America. You’ll hear cops and detectives refer to their fellow citizens of Chinese descent just the way they did in the 1930s. That has upset readers in the past, but to do less is to betray the setting, the characters, and the genre. This is the way it was. We shouldn’t forget that, shouldn’t sweep it under the rug and pretend it never existed. If nothing else, we can be grateful this is no longer the way it is.
F. Paul Wilson
The Jersey Shore