29 November 2007

Morrissey, A Racist?

I love the intelligence and wit of Morrissey's lyrics and songs, but sometimes he does get prone to view the world through a less intelligent Daily Mail prism - well according to this he does.

Is he racist? Well in the sense of discriminating directly against an individual because of their race, I suspect not. But based on these recent and some previous comments and in a less direct, less overt sense, I am beginning to suspect he might be a bit racist.

I have always thought...
it a bit rich for ex-pat Brits (Morrissey lives in Rome) to criticise immigration into the UK (especially when their British education has enabled them to earn large sums abroad and repaid little or nothing to Britain).

So, is it racist to say British culture is being damaged by immigration? Some would argue that this is xenophobic nationalism not racism - it is just a superiority complex about British culture. If they have not even mentioned race, how can it be racist? I think however, to distinguish between nationalism and racism is false - they go together like peas in a pod.

For a start, it is absurd to think that any culture should not be open to other cultures and that your culture should not constantly change and evolve. British culture, however you define it (and of course it varies for each person - think goths versus bullingdon club), has been one of the most open cultures to immigrant and foreign influences and has benefited massively as a result - look at our history - our language, monarchy, food, whatever - all of it has come from abroad in some aspects and either been adapted or even adopted wholesale. Generally culture that stagnates and looks to the past soon becomes inferior. It is healthy to take the best from other cultures. If our culture was so good, we should have little to fear anyway. This protectionism is just foolhardy - but underlying this irrational fear is something quite nasty.

Ask people why they oppose immigration and apart from the 'cultural difference' aspect mentioned above, they might talk about 'overcrowding' or 'strain on public services or resources'. This is where it gets interesting because if it is just numbers that bothers them, then why do so few of them find the birth rate (which is 3 times as high as net immigration and a much bigger burden in terms of public services and resources) a problem. Indeed some even have the cheek to oppose abortion and call for 'British' women to have more children.

Race is inextricably mixed up with people's perceptions of nationality - scratch the surface of someone opposed to immigration and how many times do we also find crude racial stereotyping underneath.

So I am afraid Morrissey, you have fallen for the worst stereotypes of the Daily Mail et al- they have been doing this for over a hundred years, so I suppose they are good at it - whether it was describing the Jews as filthy and disease ridden criminals in the 1930s or doing the same to immigrants today. One day we might learn that they lie - I hope.


  1. Sorry, it’s a long one:

    Is it racist to say that a nation’s culture can be dramatically altered by immigration?

    Surely not, it is evidently true, particularly when the emphasis has been not on integration but multiculturalism. You presumably believe that on balance the changes that Britain has undergone have been, on balance, positive and on the whole I would agree. There have however, been many negative effects as well and pointing these out and wanting less of them does not make you a racist. The correlation is the other way round, if you are a racist you will view any foreign influence as negative and therefore object. A does not necessarily lead to B but B does necessarily lead to A.

    While nationalism and xenophobia are not mutually exclusive, they are not the same thing. The manner in which you conflate the two says more about the position that you are arguing from than what you are arguing about.

    Nationalism is simply the desire of a geographically defined group to order their affairs according to their own wishes. This can be and usually is, combined with an appreciation of the culture of other nations. It should not be surprising, nor is it a bad thing when people take pride in their nations, each exists an attempt at the best possible way to live for its citizens and as such should have many unique combinations of things to be proud of.

    Finally, it can be galling when an expat criticises the nation they have left behind. However, their residency does little to ascribe a value judgement to their statement. I suspect that Morrissey lives in Rome because he appreciates Italian culture. That does not mean that he does not value British culture and wishes to defend it from damage nor that he is a racist because he does so.

  2. Neil,

    Perhaps you and the rest of the far left should deal with this problem once and for all.

    Analyse everyone, and I mean everyone. Scrutinise every part of their speech. Did they ever refer to another race as "them"? That could be racist!!! It's up to you guys to decide!!!! (Feel the power!)

    Did they ever, ever mention concerns over immigration? Racists! Burn them at the stake!

    Did they ever discuss another ethnic group as "white"? (even if they are themselves, that's still racist!!!!) If so, they are Nazis!!!! Deal with them before they poison the rest of the people!

    You need to ensure people get the message, bigotry will not be tolerated. I suggest you attach them to a pole and dunk them in the water.

    Be fair, ask them if they are racist. If they say "yes", dunk them. If they say "no" they are clearly ashamed of their racism, dunk them anyway.

    No need to listen to what they say. In a democratic society, racism must not be tolerated.

    I'm surprised you didn't have kittens when you heard Griffin appeared at the Oxford Union (and gave some Lib Dem guy a hell of a time in the debate)

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  4. "fifthy", what does that mean they always take 20% or something?

  5. Falco, there is nothing wrong in pointing out negative effects to immigration. What makes me suspect racism is when someone focuses only on the negative and never the far more obvious positives.

    I don't think it is possible to be nationalist without relegating the needs of people in other countries. To justify this position, it becomes natural to belittle foreigners and be xenophobic. Being an internationalist, I find this need to be 'proud of your country' not only pathetic but dangerous as well.

    When Morrissey lived in the US, he was the biggest critic of US culture - 'warmongering big fat pigs'. That was not wrong - it is free speech and neither is it wrong to walk around Knightsbridge speaking your own language. Do you really think Morrissey has immersed himself in Italian lessons and adopted an Italian lifestyle? Me neither. People like Morrissey are wealthy and small in number, but if there were a million poverty stricken downtrodden Morrisseys in Italy - do you think he would be so critical of immigrants while being one himself.

  6. Mark, thanks for pointing out my typo, I have now corrected this.

  7. Red&White. Thanks for labeling me 'far left', this completes the set, I have now been labeled everything from far right to Blairite centrist, centre left to far left and seemingly everything inbetween.

    I don't think someone has to use racist language or refer to themselves as racist to convey a racist message. Most racism is subconscious and covert. Even the BNP claim not to be racists and we should get away from this idea that racists can only be working class skinheads. Under your definition, very very few people indeed would be racists, whereas in reality racism permeates our society. Can you honestly say you have not had a racist thought or action in your life? I know I have. This is not, of course, limited to white people. But the historical context rightly puts the emphasis on the dominant racial group to be more careful in their language and actions - as they wield more of the power and can do more harm. Racism of course, is equally wrong whatever group it comes from, but from the dominant group it can have more consequences.

    What worried me about the Oxford Union debate was giving the far right the 'oxygen of publicity'. The problem was actually the inevitable opposition and national media coverage of this, which allows the far right to portray themselves as 'gagged'. Although it was a dilemma, I think it was right of the union to debate with Griffin and Irving. I think it should have been nationally televised. From memory Nick Griffin has been on Newsnight and other programmes. Did people resign from the BBC because of this? If not, I tend to think that Tory MPs resignation had more to do with projecting a new 'ethnic friendly' image than to do with principle. Why pick on the Oxford Union but not the national media?

  8. Neil, the problem is that whenever any of the negative results of immigration are highlighted there is a hue and cry of "racist", (usually from the left). This makes discussing such problems almost impossible and the whole situation worsens because the issues cannot get an airing until crisis point has been reached.

    As to the relationship between nationalism and "relegating" the needs of nationals of other countries I think we have a more fundamental disagreement. There is a flexible hierarchy of concern, starting with one's family and friends, then the wider community, then the country and then the rest. There are good philosophical and practical reasons for behaving in this way. No xenophobia is required.

    As for Morrissey, we don't know much about his lifestyle and despite the fact that he is a miserable sod, uncharitable speculations are not useful. Nor would they make your argument more pertinent if they were true, (man, ball, etc.) Why do you think that his remarks about the US were valid and the ones now not. I would argue that both were valid points of view that he is entitled to express if he so wishes.

    Finally, if the poor Italians were saddled with a million Morrisseys, (however much or little money they had), then it would be perfectly valid for me to say that they were ruining Italy, despite the fact that I don't live there.

  9. Falco, I think we do have a fundamental disagreement. This 'hierachy of concern' is prejudice in my view.

    Do you choose your friends by their location or whether they are relatives? I doubt very much you do and neither would I discriminate. I get on better with some of my friends abroad than i do some relatives.

    I think Morrissey's views about the US, while uncharitable, do have a resemblence of truth about them. His remarks that 'England is not England anymore becuase of immigration' are just total tosh. He himself should know his parents were from Ireland. Did they damage his 'Englishness'? Like I say definitions of Englishness vary widely from person and person and English culture, like most cultures has been highly influenced by foreigners. I for instance have an Indian friend I would regard as much more English than me (in the way he acts) despite the fact I was born and bred here and so were my parents.

  10. Neil, revealing your prejudices I see. You're happy with Morrissey's remarks on the US because they match your opinion of it. When he then says that immigration has changed the nature of Britain, (undoubtedly true, whether for better or worse), and that he doesn't like the manner in which it has changed, you describe it as "total tosh". The facts that he has stated are true, I don't think you even disagree with them, it is simply his conclusion that you disagree with.

    You believe that mass immigration has made Britain better, he thinks otherwise. That is the point to begin an argument, not by dismissing his views or over simplistically damning him as a racist.

    As to our other disagreement I suspect that you do things in much the same way. We look out first for those closest to us, (in terms of relationship not geography), followed by those next closest and so on. One aspect of identity that I use for this is nationality because it is a common factor. That is not to say that it is an overriding one but that it forms part of a more complex picture. Would I expect to have more in common with an Englishman or a Chinese man? So who would I tend to look out for and look to for support? Unless I have a reason to believe otherwise, such as actually knowing one of them, I would look to the Englishman.

    I know you regard yourself as an internationalist but I view nationality as a good and useful thing. There are both practical and emotional considerations in favour of nationhood that would require powerful reasons to be disregarded.

  11. Falco - "Would I expect to have more in common with an Englishman or a Chinese man?"

    Apart from the fact we share the same language, I would have no idea on this question. When it comes to culture, manners and politics, I generally find myself more in agreement with mainland Europeans than the average 'Englishman'.

    When Morrissey calls Americans 'big fat pigs' we know it is a gross stereotype, but the statistics do tell us that Americans are the fattest people on the planet which sort of backs it up.

    When Morrissey calls the US 'warmongering' we do know that the US has invaded and interfered in more countries this century than any other nation, which again sort of backs this up.

    When Morrissey derides immigrants for destroying 'Englishness', we do know that his own parents were immigrants and that history tells us that like Morrissey, the most quintessential 'Englishness' (think Oscar Wilde, The Beatles, TS Elliot, Meera Syal, Alec Issagonis) was not originally from families born in England at all. Our language, our culture, our food, our recent ancesters, even our monarchy all originate at least partly from abroad (think drinking tea, teddy bears and the three lions badge - what have they to do with England?) and have been for many centuries. Therefore Morrissey's comments are total tosh.

  12. I get the feeling that lots of the commenters on this debate which has spewed out all over the web including numerous CiF posts haven’t read the interview. I did and it made me reconsider what I blogged earlier.


    which is critical then


    after I found policy positions in it many good lefties could agree with on civil libs and condemning racism.

  13. Perhaps you and the rest of the far left should deal with this problem once and for all

    If you think that Neil represents the 'far left' then you must have had a very sheltered upbringing Red & White! He's the Labour equivalent of a Daily Mail reader: conventional and authoritarian. In other words, middle of the road Labour. As for Morrissey, I always hated the Smiths. And isn't he too old for behaving like a preening tosser?

  14. Stephen, "Labour Daily Mail?", "Conventional & Authoritarian". Ha! Ha!, now that would be interesting.

    I suppose you are basing the authoritarian claim on my support for ID cards, a DNA database, ASBOs and my support for the smoking ban and speed cameras. But what about my support for the legalisation of drugs, proportional representation, an immigration amnesty, citizens' income, 24 hour drinking, restorative justice rather than prison? These are hardly authoritarian or conventional are they?

    I think you may have slipped in a slapdash poorly researched Daily-Mail-like comment of your own there!

  15. Rupa, I know Morrissey says some good things in the article as well - but his negative comments on immigration were so strong and specific they are very difficult to gloss over.

  16. HHmmm. Well he loves saying quotable things. Lots of it couldn't be refuted by any New Labour politician. The floodgates comment was unwise but he's always had a colourful turn of phrase and we have never had untrammeled immigration in this country - not in my lifetime anyway. Also he has at least come out and denounced racism which people were urging him to do for years - I found it very frustrating.