Morrissey’s ‘Racist’ Blunder
Sorry, privileged white guy. “Racist” is still a thing.
Today I Googled “Morrissey” and “racist” and made an interesting discovery. The alternative-rock demigod and ex-frontman of The Smiths appears to be nearly as heavily associated with the word as U.S. President Donald Trump.
Maybe that’s why he’s declared it meaningless for the second time in two months, in a new Tremr interview with Fiona Dodwell, who snagged a chat with the singer after writing an article titled “Morrissey: The Great Unfiltered Artist.”
Who says flattery will get you nowhere?
Does Morrissey deserve the “racist” tag? He certainly gives his detractors plenty of ammunition. He once called the Chinese a subspecies because of the nation’s treatment of animals. More recently, he criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s speech, specifically how the politician, whose parents were immigrants from Pakistan, pronounces “mental.”
In the same April interview with John Riggers on the musician’s own Morrissey Central website (whose homepage features a photo of the iconic black writer James Baldwin), he damned halal and kosher, which, to some, was like damning Islam and Judaism by association. He also characterized those pesky “racist” accusations as a conspiracy by “the Loony Left” to “distract” the “enlightened.”
Then there’s his support of UK politicians Anne Marie Waters, leader of the new For Britain party, and Tommy Robinson. Both espouse far-right ideology and have been vocally anti-Islam. Morrissey’s endorsement of them has only fueled the ire of his opponents.
The revived backlash has been swift and loud, multiplying those “Morrissey”/“racist” Google hits. True to Morrissey form, though, he’s neither backtracking nor zipping it. In the Tremr interview, he let loose with a number of new zingers (he only eats, bread, potatoes, pasta, and nuts, and he believes vegans are superior beings) while tackling the latest round of “Morrissey is a racist.”
“For Britain has received no media support and have even been dismissed with the usual childish ‘racist’ accusation,” he says.
“I don’t think the word ‘racist’ has any meaning any more, other than to say ‘You don’t agree with me, so you’re a racist.’ People can be utterly, utterly stupid.”
I’ve loved Morrissey for most of my adult life. He fronted my all-time favorite band, and his early solo albums helped define my late 1980s and early 1990s. (The Smiths’ “London” is the story of my life during my last 12 expat years.) I’ve loved him for the off-the-wall things he says on and off his records, and I would be disappointed if he stopped being opinionated and outspoken. But I just can’t get behind his lazy deconstruction of “racist.”
Was he solely lamenting his own brushes with “racist”? Or was he aligning himself with the Roseanne Barrs, the Donald Trumps, and the anti-Islam UK activists of the world, the ones who insist they aren’t racist but merely speaking their minds, regardless of whom they denigrate or offend? I can get behind contrarian thinking (I go there myself quite often), but this is where Morrissey jumped on the wrong train of thought.
He claims to support “open debate,” yet he falls into the trap that also ensnares so many liberals when they don’t want to hear what the other side of the face-off has to say. It’s disingenuous and hypocritical to dismiss a different point of view as “childish” just because it connects you to a word that you’d rather pretend is meaningless.
If bigmouths are going to strike again and again, they need to be prepared for opposition. Not everyone will praise them for having an opinion and being straight-shooting without bothering to analyze or daring to criticize any of those opinions.
Last month, ABC gave Roseanne Barr and her rebooted ’80s and ’90s sitcom Roseanne the boot after she sent a tweet in which she said former President Barack Obama’s former aide Valerie Jarrett looks like “Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes had a baby.” Morrissey’s sentiments about “racist” echo those of Barr apologists who complain about her being branded one by overly sensitive liberal witch hunters.
“Racist” isn’t about differences of opinion or political affiliations. It’s in how we talk, how we walk, how we live, and how we love. It’s in “England for the English” (to quote Morrissey’s 1992 Your Arsenal track “The National Front Disco“). It’s in comparing a black woman to an ape. It’s in building figurative and literal walls to keep out foreigners of color.
I’m beginning to wonder if “The National Front Disco” was a condemnation of or a celebration of the racist organization in its title. Morrissey makes it hard to know for sure.
Dismissing the word “racist” is tantamount to pretending racism doesn’t exist, or that it only lives on the fringes of society, where relatively few whites dare to tread. “Racist” doesn’t cease to apply just because it applies more often than many are comfortable acknowledging. Even words that actually are overused and/or abused, like “literally” and “personal” (the latter isn’t interchangeable with “personally,” people), aren’t rendered meaningless as a result.
Morrissey’s comments make him sound like the ultimate privileged white guy, someone who sees himself as beleaguered but has never had to deal with real oppression. He’s a native Brit who has spent many years living in Los Angeles, and I bet he would be singing a different song if he were facing eviction for being from one of those so-called (by President Donald Trump) “shithole countries.”
For someone who is so concerned with animal welfare and claims to have such respect for anything that had a mother, Morrissey doesn’t seem to care that much about people. And he appears to have little sympathy for those who are dismissed and discriminated against daily because of the color of their skin.
This isn’t to brand Morrissey guilty as charged. If he is indeed a racist, that’s between him and his conscience. But freedom of speech gives him the right to speak his own truth as much as it gives others the right to call him out when they think his truth sounds like B.S.
And even if the shoe doesn’t fit him, “racist” is still a thing and far more prevalent than anyone but the people who suffer most from it realize. It’s harsh reality for those of us who walk in the battered boots of blacks or Latinos or Asians or Muslims or Jews or any ethnic group that faces routine or systemic discrimination.
The corns and callouses that harden our souls are as real and meaningful as the racism — and yes, the racists — that put them there.
This article originally appeared on Tremr.com on June 8, 2018.