Music | August 3, 2022 12:00 pm

Rapper Slowthai Apologizes for Performing in Swastika Shirt at Osheaga Festival

The musician claims the shirt was meant to represent anti-fascism

Slowthai performs at Circolo Magnolia on June 30, 2022 in Milan, Italy.
Slowthai performs at Circolo Magnolia on June 30, 2022 in Milan, Italy.
Corbis via Getty Images

On Saturday, rapper Slowthai performed at Montreal’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival while wearing an anti-fascist shirt that featured a swastika under the word “DESTROY.” The shirt was modeled after the famous 1977 “Destroy” t-shirt designed by punk icon Vivienne Westwood, and its intended message was apparently that we should destroy fascism and bigotry, but in the days since, the musician has learned a valuable lesson: perhaps it’s best to just not wear a swastika at all, ever.

After a number of Jewish organizations denounced his decision to wear the shirt (as well as Osheaga organizers for allowing him to perform with it on), both the rapper and the festival issued apologies.

“i’m sorry to anyone who is offended by me wearing an anti-fascist / anti-regime t-shirt and the use of the symbol it represents,” Slowthai wrote in a statement posted on social media. “i want you to know i stand firmly against antisemitism and fascism of any kind, something the t-shirt was meant to illustrate with the word ‘destroy’ above the symbol.”

“A performer appeared on stage Saturday wearing a controversial t-shirt displaying a swastika that caused confusion. The t-shirt denounces the regime,” Osheaga festival organizers wrote in their statement. “We sincerely apologize to anyone who may have misinterpreted this message and felt hurt.”

The whole incident is a good reminder that the swastika is an ugly symbol of hatred (and of course, Nazism) that has no place in respectable society in any context. Westwood and other artists’ attempts to repurpose it or wear it ironically were addressed recently in a memorable scene from Danny Boyle’s Pistol where Westwood’s young son is seen screen-printing a pink swastika onto a t-shirt.

“Mum and Malcolm [McLaren] want to not only reject the values of the older generation, but also their taboos,” the boy says after Johnny Rotten expresses his discomfort with the image. “Everything’s anti-.” He goes on to explain that since Hitler hated gay people as well and forced them to wear pink triangles, “The Nazis would hate this swastika being pink.”

“Many millions of Jews might hate a shirt with a swastika on it,” Rotten responds.

Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to: Jewish people (and anyone else who finds the Holocaust to be reprehensible!) shouldn’t have to try to figure out the veiled meaning behind your swastika t-shirt, just like Black people shouldn’t have to try and figure out whether your Confederate flag is meant to signify your racism or your “Southern pride.” These are despicable symbols that represent the absolute worst of humanity, and they elicit strong, immediate emotional responses. It doesn’t matter if it’s pink or if it’s got the word “DESTROY” emblazoned above it; no one wants to see a swastika. (How is one supposed to assume just by looking at it that “DESTROY” means “Destroy Nazism” and not “Destroy all the Jews,” by the way?) Surely there are easier ways to convey on a t-shirt that you’re anti-fascist.