In the September 1992 issue of Q Magazine, Morrissey was asked by Adrian Deevoy:
Do you think people are innately racist?
And he replied:
Yes. I don’t want to sound horrible or pessimistic but I don’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. The French will never like the English. The English will never like the French. That tunnel will collapse.
This turned into a racism scandal, and is still cited in evidence against him.
But why would he be optimistic, even in a hyperbolic answer that ends in a joke, in 1992 when LA had experienced intense race riots in the wake of the acquittal of four police officers who were caught on camera beating up a black man for a traffic violation…
Catholics and Protestants were still fighting in Northern Ireland – 85 people would be murdered that year…
And the former Yugoslavia had disintegrated into a vicious, and genocidal, civil war?
There was nothing in 1992 to indicate that groups would one day get on with each other.
In March 1993, in the NME, Steve Sutherland, discussed Morrissey with David Bowie and Brett Anderson.
NME: OK, so we all agree that Brett has the right to be ambivalent about his sexuality in his songs and we agree with David that a person has the right to be ambivalent with his or her own personal sexuality, but doesn’t that also apply across the board? For instance, David, you’ve covered Morrissey’s ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday‘ on your new album. I don’t know if you’re aware that he’s been ostracized recently for his ambivalent use of the Union Jack at his concerts. It has been decided that Morrissey does not have the right to be ambivalent about race and that he should make a statement regarding whether he is or is not a racist. Are we not beating him with the same stick?
Brett: “No. The difference is, the way I speak about things is in a positive way and I think the way he’s speaking about certain issues of racism is an intentionally negative way. Therefore, I think we need to know the reasons behind it.”
Bowie: “I have to be careful here because I’m not quite sure what he said. But what I believe he said is that blacks and whites will never get on. I think that’s the general tone of it. So I guess the adult approach is to say. OK, let’s take his question and figure out for ourselves our own answer to that. Will they get on? Won’t they get on? And why? He is just posing a question so there is an argument that it’s perfectly OK for him to just pose that question. “He’s not giving us facts either way or giving us his feelings on the matter. Surely it would only be really negative if he were to say blacks and whites will never get on because it’s obvious that one is superior to the other.”
NME: I think his silence is more sinister than that. I’m suspicious of his motives. He’s never, to my knowledge, committed one altruistic act in his life so I don’t know why he should start now.
Brett: “He’s said other things in the past about how reggae is vile and hang the DJ and other things with all these connotations but, the thing is, he might actually be one of the most generous people that’s ever lived. I don’t know if it’s true but, by making himself a target, he might actually be trying to mend some gaps and build some bridges. I mean, he must know that he’s making himself a target because he’s not stupid and, by having criticism directed towards him, he might actually be doing some good. It might just be possible that he’s thinking that.”
NME: Oh come on! He’s just luxuriating in playing the misunderstood, the martyr, and damn the consequences.
Bowie: “I mist say I found him charming the couple of times I met him. When he heard my version of ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen’ (which, according to Brett, is “very 50s, very Johnny Ray”), it brought a tear to his eye and he said, ‘Oooh, it’s so-o-o grand!’ ”
NME: I’ve been suspicious of him from the start. All those bedsit anthems about wallowing in misery didn’t seem to be helping anybody achieve anything. He was just making himself an icon on the back of other people’s inadequacies and I don’t find that in any way admirable.
Bowie: “Tell that to Samuel Beckett. Or John Osbourne.”
So Steve and Brett decided Morrissey had no right to speak because he was negative, sinister and ambivalent – although Morrissey has never been ambivalent about racism, he’s made it clear he thinks it’s wrong, he’s ambivalent about human nature, and is from an Irish Catholic community that experienced colonial oppression and discrimination, while Ireland was still in the midst of a paramilitary civil war.
Also damaging/demeaning stereotypes can still be reinforced by ‘positive’ things – the charitable and cheerful ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, reduced the entire continent of Africa into a starving desert that only needed the West to bung it some cash.
And they were talking to David Bowie – an artist who went through a fascist phase, and an underage sex scandal – without ever becoming a pariah.