Saturday, September 4, 2010

the imprecise vision of anti-racism

The singer Morrissey, a vegetarian and animal rights activist, said about China, "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." He's being called a racist. But he didn't say that about Asians. If he'd said the same thing about Germans, would he be called racist?

Given how imprecise "racist" now is, perhaps. But Morrissey was clearly speaking of a nation, not a race.

This fuzziness of language may explain why anti-racists insist the Tea Party is racist. They don't have a way to say the Tea Party is even more capitalist than the Democrats. Perhaps they do this because "racist" suggests an absolute failure, whereas discussing capitalism puts them on a slippery slope. After all, Obama is working to cut social security now, and while that will hurt poor folks of all hues, it will disproportionately hurt poor folks of color.

Possibly of interest: Is the Tea Party racist?


  1. If Morissey had said the same thing about Germans, he wouldn't be called racist and quite possibly he wouldn't have been called on the comment at all, because Germans are along with the French one of the few ethnicities it's perfectly acceptable to insult even in polite company. Which pisses me off, since I am part German and part French. Coincidentally, the only people who ever apologized and did not give me the "Why must you be so oversensitive?" routine (yes, white people get that one, too) when I complained about casual anti-German or anti-French slurs were all people of colour.

    However, Morissey's comment about the people of China may still be due to racism, as the people of China are not of the same race as Morrissey. I don't know a whole lot about the man, but in this case I suspect his comment was based more in dislike for the treatment of animals in China (which is pretty hypocritical in itself, because considering all the human rights violations in China, you'd think he'd be more concerned about people than animals) than in any inherent prejudice against Chinese, though racial prejudice might still play into it. And of course, referring to people of other races as subhuman is exactly the sort of thing racists do.

    If Morissey had decided to insult Germans instead of Chinese, he definitely couldn't be considered racist, because the overwhelmingly majority of Germans are white just like Morissey (though there are some non-white Germans and have been for decades), so the prejudice displayed wouldn't be racist. He'd still be a bigot, though.

  2. Americans are really odd about both Germans and French. They should be grateful to the French, who helped them several times and never fought them. As for the Germans, I think the people most like Americans are Germans, which makes sense, since the colonies had so very many German immigrants. (My family could be counted as French or German, since the Shetterlys are supposed to have come to North America from the Alsace-Lorraine.)

    I agree Morissey's comment could be racism run through a nationalism filter--if I remember correctly, the Nazis had a hierarchy for Asian countries and put Tibet at the top. So maybe Morissey thinks the Chinese people are inferior Asians. But it sure sounded like he was talking about a nation.

    I don't know enough of the context to know why he wasn't talking about human rights violations in general.