Is Morrissey a racist?

MorrisseyThis week started with Morrissey, kind of by default, because people had been arguing all weekend over a comment he’d made in a Guardian interview.

Taking what he said completely out of context, he labelled the entire population of China a “sub-species”, thus re-opening the debate about whether or not he’s a racist.

The, at the very least, misjudged term was actually used by the singer as part of a comment on China’s animal rights record, or lack of one. Speaking to poet Simon Armitage, he said: “Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a sub-species”.

Now, if you’re going to debate this, you have to ask whether there was intent to present a racist view, and also if (regardless of whether or not that intent was there) it does harm to the victims of this slur in a racial sense.

Morrissey is a fervent animal rights campaigner, he named an album ‘Meat Is Murder’ and he’ll walk off stage at gigs if he can smell burgers. He’s also, as Foals’ Edwin Congreave put it this week, “famous for being a bit of a dick”. He’s not someone who keeps his feelings on animal rights polite. I’m fairly sure he’d consider anyone who harmed an animal part of a sub-species. That’s the kind of guy he is.

Does his use of the term “sub-species” in this context show intentional racism, or an incredibly unnecessary generalisation of an entire people in relation to a subject he feels strongly about? I’d argue the latter. Would he have made the same comment in the context of anything other than animal rights? Almost certainly not.

But does the comment do harm, in spite of this? Is it likely to lead others to form a hatred of Chinese people purely because of their race? Well, no. If you’re already a racist, you might see that quote and agree with it purely because you’re a cunt. If you’re an animal rights advocate, you might see it and agree with it purely because you find the mistreatment of animals abhorrent. If you’re neither, you might see it and wonder what the people of China have done in order to be called such a thing.

Does this debate further our understanding of racism, or the likelihood of bringing about its end? No. But, of course, you could argue that by challenging the use of any language that could possibly be deemed racist, you can eventually remove it from our society and make the world a better place.

But then, you could equally argue that by jumping on everything that might be considered offensive, regardless of context, you remove the potential to have a proper debate on any subject whatsoever. I’m sure at least one of you was offended by my use of the ‘c’ word in the last paragraph, but if you were to focus on that, rather the whole sentence, we’d not really be discussing the important issue there, would we?

This is my editorial from the 10 Sep 2010 edition of CMU Weekly, which you can read in full here.

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