I Know It’s Over: Morrissey, Racism and Xenophobia
After Morrissey’s outburst this week, the lyrics to one of his less popular tracks came to mind. Titled The Loop, the lyrics go “I just want to say, I haven’t been away, I’m still right here where I always was”. Given the former Smiths frontman made his most recent comments during an interview for his own website, it could be argued it was just a timely reminder that he hadn’t gone away. For me, the lyrics were pertinent as they made me realise that he continues to be where he always was: espousing racist and xenophobic views.
His latest offering is both. Beginning by taking a swipe at Theresa May, Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan, he criticises the former for describing the Eid al-Adha festival as a joyous celebration (“as millions of animals had their throats slit to mark the occasion. I wondered what kind of compassion she could possibly have”). Abbott was attacked for being a “moral disaster” who Morrissey — bizarrely — suggests Tesco wouldn’t employ. Khan was criticised on the basis that London is “debased” and because “…he cannot talk properly”.
Morrissey also attacked halal meat producers. As a vegan, it’s unsurprising he believes animal slaughter is “evil” and “very cruel”. While so, suggesting that “halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS” is unfounded and in truth, quite ridiculous. It’s also problematic as it has become common practice for those wanting to make covert Islamophobic statements to link ‘normal’ Islamic practices with support for extremist ideologies and terrorism. The far-right in Britain has been doing so for a number of years.
Some are likely to argue that Morrissey was solely criticising the practice. While so, Morrissey has form when it comes to making controversial statements under the guise of animal rights and so it’s right to ask questions. On this basis, it can’t be overlooked that in the same interview Morrissey also gave his support to For Britain. A far-right political party set up by the former UKIP member Anne Marie Walters, it is the second time he’s voiced his support for her. As regards Waters, Nigel Farage has previously described her and her supporters as ‘Nazis and racists’, she’s been publicly supported by the former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, while her party advocates zero Muslim migration to Britain. It’s also interesting that since the interview, Morrissey has made a further post on his website informing his “Muslim friends” that while he is neither racist nor fascist, “there is only one British political party that can safeguard our security…For Britain”. I think we can conclude that Morrissey wasn’t just criticising the practice.
It pains me to see Morrissey become what he is today. As someone who was once able to brilliantly articulate working class intelligence and humour, I was able to empathise with both his political sensibilities as also his ability to capture the banality of Britishness and British culture. Take for instance the record sleeve to the Smiths single, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Featuring Viv Nicholson, someone who became famous for stating that she was going to ‘spend, spend’ spend’ her football pools fortune, I was able to relate to this on the basis that had any of my family had won similar, they too would have done exactly the same. It’s unlikely that anybody with a middle class background could ever understand the working class mindset. Other record sleeves featuring Pat Phoenix, Billy Fury, Elvis and Yootha Joyce spoke to my working class sensibilities also albeit in different ways.
More painful is that for years, I genuinely believed that Morrissey was either being misrepresented or just ironic. When Morrissey claimed reggae music was ‘vile’ in his Smiths heyday, I put it down to him trying to get provoke a bland 80s music press out of its slumber. When he released his first two solo albums (Viva Hate and Kill Uncle) and included the tracks Bengali in Platforms and Asian Rut respectively, I felt uncomfortable. But by suggesting Asians don’t “belong here”, I interpreted the lyrics as a critique of the welcome migrants coming to this country ttpically receive. Similarly, I thought Morrissey was trying to understand British — maybe English — culture on his album, Your Arsenal. To me, the refrain “England for the English” on National Front Disco was an ironic lament of the far-right; the claim that football hooligans were “the last truly British people you will ever know” on We’ll Let You Know a mockery of how football firms ‘invade’ countries and chant about the Second World War and former glories. In hindsight I now believe I was wrong on every occasion and thankfully, I was never an apologist for him.
Still, the evidence is compelling. In 1992, Morrissey said in an interview for Q magazine he questioned whether “white and black people will ever really get on and like each other”. In 2008 he opined about how you don’t hear an English accent in Knightsbridge. Two years later, he told the Guardian that the Chinese were a “sub-species” of people. Last year he told Der Spiegel that refugees had made Germany the “rape capital of Europe”. On his 2017 North American tour, he sold a t-shirt featuring the face of the black writer and activist James Baldwin encircled by the lyrics from Unloveable, “I wear black on the outside, ’cause black is how I feel on the inside”. Eventually withdrawn from sale, Cameron Cook explains that the t-shirt was offensive on the basis Baldwin didn’t wear black on the outside but was black on the outside. As he added, it was even more offensive given Baldwin’s skin colour was the central tenet of his work in an era when black American were routinely harassed, assaulted, and killed solely because of their race.
Following the terror attack in Manchester, Morrissey again spoke out. Upset that his birthday celebrations had been tainted by the coinciding atrocities, he blamed the attack on immigration at the same time denouncing Saidq Khan for apparently failing to condemn Islamic State. In relation to the perpetrator, he rhetorically asked “the attack is the work of an extremist. An extreme what?” In doing so, some believe Morrissey was being Islamophobic albeit being smart enough not to overtly say a ‘Muslim’ himself.
Looking back, it struck me the extent to which I’ve found myself ever-more disinterested and dissatisfied with Morrissey’s musical outputs over the same period of time. Despite having been excited at the time, it’s only now that I’ve realised just how little I’ve listened to any of his albums since Your Arsenal. I do listen to one or two tracks on Vauxhall and I, Southpaw Grammar, Maladjusted and You Are the Quarry but that’s it. In truth, they’re all a bit bland, Morrissey by numbers and little more. As regards his latest album Low in High School, I think I listened to it in full once. That was enough.
Morrissey’s beloved Oscar Wilde famously wrote that “the only thing in life worse than being talked about is not being talked about”. Some will no doubt use this to ‘explain’ or maybe even try to justify Morrissey’s racism and xenophobia. Others will continue to bury their heads in the sand or even apologise either of which remind me of a Morrissey album I remember very little of, his ninth studio album Years of Refusal.
Whether we like Morrissey or not, it’s time to see him for what he is and in doing so, I know it’s over.