Former Smiths front man Steven Morrissey should realize that animal-rights violations are not a justification for racist remarks.
If you are a fan of the Smiths or the band’s former front man Steven Morrissey, or if you’re an animal-rights activist, or a racist for that matter, you probably weren’t surprised to learn that Morrissey referred to Chinese people as a “subspecies” in an interview with the Guardian’s Simon Armitage a couple weeks ago.
“Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific,” Morrissey said in the Sept. 3 interview. “You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies.”
This isn’t the first of the “Meat is Murder” singer’s racial ranting. He’s made several alarming statements in the past, mostly fueled by animal rights, the cause Morrissey is best known for.
“I’m surprised at how blatantly he said what he did,” said Edward Avery-Natale, a sociology instructor and doctoral student. “It’s just such old-fashioned racism ¬– he didn’t even try to disguise his opinions. The very use of the term ‘subspecies’ is so ridiculous and outdated.”
Armitage, who interviewed Morrissey, is a long-time fan and defended the singer’s statements.
“But clearly, when it comes to animal rights and animal welfare, he’s absolutely unshakable in his beliefs,” Armitage said in a Sept.3 article for the Guardian by Alexandra Topping. “In his view, if you treat an animal badly, you are less than human. I think that was his point.”
Later, Morrissey followed up with, “There are no animal protection laws in China, and this results in the worst animal abuse and cruelty on the planet.”
This doesn’t excuse Morrissey from singling out an entire race in a careless, vulgar way and placing blame on Chinese citizens for their government’s lack of lawful protection.
A friend of mine, Derrick Crucius, a digital filmmaking and video production student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and fan of the Smiths, took another perspective.
“Is his album ‘Meat is Murder’ going too far?” Crucius said. “Because that’s basically insulting anyone who’s a carnivore. People didn’t throw that out of proportion – isn’t that also targeting a certain group?”
Another friend and Smiths fan, Ian Van Kuyk highlighted that just because Morrissey is a celebrity doesn’t mean he never carelessly makes rash statements. Van Kuyk, a second-year film and media arts major at Temple, said he could “totally see him saying that.”
“I don’t know if he intended to straight-up attack the Chinese. He could have chosen better wording,” he said. “But I know he’s aware of the cruelty that goes on in every country, and he’d probably say the same thing about the British who treat animals this way.”
For a public figure and a prominent animal-rights sponsor like Morrissey to make such an insulting word choice, though, is obviously going to cause quite a warranted upheaval, especially in a society where racism is by no means a thing of the past.
Surely not all Chinese people support the animal cruelty that goes on in their country, just as not every American is responsible for the brutalities that take place in our country’s daily agribusiness practices.
“Just like different activist groups will associate things like the Holocaust with chicken farms, this sort of statement completely turns people off from the whole movement,” Avery-Natale said. “And what he said very much projects the idea that the West has learned animal rights because we have laws against cruelty, but that really has nothing to do with what actually goes on here and around the world.”
Fans could also argue that Morrissey hates all humans, not just the Chinese. The singer left the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., during a performance earlier this year after he smelled meat, or “burning flesh,” being cooked nearby.
“I hope to God it’s human,” the singer said at the time.
When it comes down to it, Morrissey’s racist remarks and the similar words of other public figures, for that matter, prove there’s still a long way to go until we can entirely rise above racism and stereotyping. Just because he’s a glorified and talented musician doesn’t mean we should take his opinions lightly.
“I’m sure any Chinese student of mine would be very offended by Morrissey’s statement,” Avery-Natale said. “And it goes to show that a race problem still exists. We haven’t completely moved on from it, we’ve just changed the face of it.”
Brittany Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.