Morrissey reignites racism row by calling Chinese a ‘subspecies’
Remark came in attack on animal welfare in China, with singer having faced repeated criticism on race comments
- Alexandra Topping
- guardian.co.uk, Friday 3 September 2010 21.30 BST
- Article history
Morrissey, a vegetarian and animal rights advocate who last year abandoned the stage at the Coachella festival in California because of the smell of cooking meat, described the treatment of animals in China as “absolutely horrific”, referring to recent news stories about animals in Chinese circuses and zoos. He told interviewer Simon Armitage: “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 subspecies.”
A spokesman for Love Music Hate Racism, which received a donation of £28,000 from the singer in 2008 after his apparently anti-immigration comments made in music magazine NME convulsed the media, said it would be unable to accept support from Morrissey again if he did not rescind or dispute today’s comments.
“It really is just crude racism,” said Martin Smith. “When you start using language like ‘subspecies’, you are entering into dark and murky water. I don’t think we would, or could, ask him to come back after that.”
Armitage said Morrissey was typically and deliberately provocative throughout the interview. “I thought at the time it was a dangerous thing to say into a tape recorder. He must have known it would make waves, he’s not daft,” he said. “But he’s provocative and theatrical, and it was one of dozens of dramatic pronouncements. I’m not an apologist for that kind of remark, and couldn’t ignore it. But clearly, when it comes to animal rights and animal welfare, he’s absolutely unshakable in his beliefs. In his view, if you treat an animal badly, you are less than human. I think that was his point.”
Morrissey said in a statement tonight: “If anyone has seen the horrific and unwatchable footage of the Chinese cat and dog trade – animals skinned alive – then they could not possibly argue in favour of China as a caring nation. There are no animal protection laws in China and this results in the worst animal abuse and cruelty on the planet. It is indefensible.”
His latest comments are not the first time the singer has provoked accusations of racism. Some of his song titles and lyrics have attracted criticism, including the tracks Bengali in Platforms – “He only wants to embrace your culture/And to be your friend forever/ … Oh shelve your western plans/ … life is hard enough when you belong here” – and National Front Disco.
In 1992 NME accused Morrissey of “flirting with disaster” and racist imagery after wrapping himself in the union flag while on stage in Finsbury Park, north London.
In the same year, the singer, now 51, was quoted in Q Magazine stating that he did not want to be “horrible or pessimistic” but he didn’t “really think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other. I don’t really think they ever will.” [Sept 92 http://motorcycleaupairboy.com/interviews/1992/isay.htm%5D, While iIn 1994 he told Select magazine that the far-right National Front should be given a clear voice or platform in order for them to be “less of a threat”. [http://motorcycleaupairboy.com/interviews/1994/glove.htm].
The war of words with NME continued in 2007 after Morrissey, who lived in Rome at the time, was quoted in an interview with the magazine apparently criticising levels of immigration after being asked if he would ever consider moving back to England. “With the issue of immigration, it’s very difficult because, although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears,” he said. “If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won’t hear an English accent. You’ll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent.”
At another point in the interview he stated: “England is a memory now. The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in.”
Morrissey issued a writ for defamation against the magazine and its then editor Conor McNicholas, saying the publication had “deliberately tried to characterise me as a racist … in order to boost their dwindling circulation”.
He vehemently denied the accusations of racism. “I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic … Racism is beyond common sense and has no place in our society,” he said in a statement.
Simon Price, a music journalist who has followed Morrissey’s career closely, said his die-hard fans who have idolised him for more than 25 years would be unlikely to desert him, but others would be “appalled, if not exactly surprised”.
The singer appeared to have left little room for explanation in his controversial comment, he added. “What are the apologists going to say this time? It looks like in his old age Morrissey has forgotten to include the ambiguity, like he has done in the past. Maybe he just doesn’t care any more.”
He added: “For Morrissey’s hardcore fan base, no matter what he says he can do no wrong, but this is not going to make those in the media feel favourably toward him and lots of doors will be shut to him that maybe had been ajar in the past.”