For the past few weeks, the issue of racial inequality and injustice has taken centre stage as people across the world protested the death of George Floyd who died two weeks ago at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Protests took place across the UK last week in what were considered to be mostly peaceful demonstrations with small pockets of violence which lead to the vandalism of landmarks in London such as Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square and the Cenotaph.
One moment that made the most headlines was the removal of a statue in Bristol of Edward Colston, one of Britain’s most infamous slave traders. The statue now lies at the bottom of Bristol Harbour.
In a statement that Downing Street released on Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said that although the prime minister conceded that discrimination did still exist he did not believe that the UK was a racist country.
The PM doesn’t doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism, but does not agree that this is a racist country. We have made very significant progress on this issue, but there remains more to do and we will not be complacent in our efforts to stamp out racism and discrimination where it happens
This comes just days after Johnson was asked by the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford asked Johnson to “at the very least say it now: black lives matter”.
Johnson’s response surprised some, as he stated:
Of course black lives matter, and I totally understand the anger, the grief that is felt not just in America but around the world, and in our country as well. And I totally understand that and I get that.
He went on to say that he “supports the right to protest”, but immediately followed up with a metaphorical “but”, saying (for the second time in 20 minutes) that “protests should be carried out lawfully” which is the rhetoric that he continued on Monday.
He also refused to condemn his ally Donald Trump for his comments about the protests, which is what Keir Starmer and Blackford had asked him to do, and what many British voters – especially black people and people of colour – would have hoped to hear.
These two instances reek of the type of hypocrisy that we have come to expect from his government.
Although Johnson might not think that Britain is a racist country, he has used many racist messages and sentiments throughout his career.
If you ever find yourself tricked into thinking Britain is above racism, remember this is the prime minister the country elected…
Referring to Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’
In a 2018 column for The Daily Telegraph relating to a burqa ban where he was actually attempting to defend Muslim women, he wrote that was “absolutely ridiculous” that “people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.
If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled… to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly. If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct.
Saying Malaysian women only go to university to find a husband
This was in response to Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak saying at the 2013 World Islamic Economic Forum that 68 per cent of women were going to be attending university, to which Johnson replied:
[Female students went to university because they] have got to find men to marry.
This is perhaps one of the most infamous and disgraceful quotes that is associated with Johnson. In 2002 Telegraph article about Tony Blair’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, he used the word “piccaninnies”, an extremely derogatory term to describe citizens of the nation.
It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.
Using yet another racial slur
In the exact same Telegraph article as mentioned above, he described black people in the Democratic Republic of Congo as having “watermelon smiles”.
No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.
Last year, while running for leader of the Conservative party, he was asked about these comments adding:
I do feel very sad that people have been so offended by these words and I’m sorry that I’ve caused this offence. But if you look at the article as written they really do not bear the construction that you’re putting on them.
Using dog-whistle racism against Barack Obama
In April 2006, he wrote in The Sun that:
The part-Kenyan president [has an] ancestral dislike of the British empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.
This is a consistent conspiracy mostly spread by the likes of Donald Trump, suggesting that Obama wasn’t born in the United States and had no legal right to be the president.
Using the word “Nigerian” as an insult
This one is interesting because we think he was actually trying to insult “young people” – the racism was just a by-product. Here’s the quote which he wrote in a 1999 article for The Spectator:
All the young people I know – ie those under 30 – are just as avaricious as we flinty Thatcherite yuppies of the 1980s in fact, they have an almost Nigerian interest in money and gadgets of all kinds.
Wanting to bring back colonialism
We’re back to The Spectator, this time in 2002 when he seemed to want to re-invade Africa (yes, the entire continent), saying “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore”.
The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.
Saying black people make him uncomfortable
In a piece written in 2000 for The Guardian, Johnson said that a “bunch of black kids” made him “turn a hair”, and added:
If that is racial prejudice, then I am guilty.
Yes, you are.
Saying we should “axe” parts of an “anti-racism industry”
In the same column, he railed against the Macpherson reforms, which were proposed in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
These reforms have since become the standard for prosecutors. They allow victims and third parties to define if something is racist. Johnson wasn’t keen, saying it was “Orwellian stuff” from the “PC brigade”.
He also wrote that they were “just as wrong” as Enoch Powell, presumably referring to his infamous racist “rivers of blood” speech.
At the time, Michael Mansfield QC, who represented the Lawrence family at the public inquiry, called Johnson’s comments a “disgrace”. Speaking to The Mirror after the article resurfaced in 2019, Mansfield said:
This is a man who is deeply prejudiced and obviously I’m horrified about the possibility that he may remain prime minister. He is fundamentally sexist and racist.