Boris Johnson just said 'black lives matter' – let's remember the horrifyingly racist things he's said

Boris Johnson just said 'black lives matter' – let's remember the horrifyingly racist things he's said

This week, the issue of racial inequality has taken centre stage as people across the world protest against police brutality after the death of George Floyd.

Today, many people wearily tuned in to Prime Minister's Questions to see whether Boris Johnson would address the unrest. In his opening statement, he made no mention of it. But leader of the opposition Keir Starmer immediately brought it up.

Still, Johnson's response was lacklustre, and SNP MP Ian Blackford used his time to call him out on it, asking why in the seven days since George Floyd's death the British government has failed to directly speak on the unrest.

Blackford asked Johnson "what representations he's made to his ally Donald Trump", and asked him 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".

There's a lot to unpack here. His somewhat dismissive tone when saying "of course black lives matter" has made people question whether he genuinely understands the gravity of the issue, despite his claim that as a white, upper-class, middle-aged man he "totally gets it" (he does not; he can not).

He also refused to condemn Trump, which was clearly what Starmer and Blackford were getting at, and what many British voters – especially black people and people of colour – were hoping to hear.

But perhaps even more importantly, people are pointing out the gross hypocrisy of his statement, given some of the shocking remarks he's made in the past.

If you ever find yourself tricked into thinking Britain is above racism, remember this is the prime minister the country elected...

Here are some of the most horrifying racist statements he has made.

1. Referring to Muslim women as 'letterboxes'

In a 2018 column for The Daily Telegraph relating to a burqa ban, he wrote that was "absolutely ridiculous" that "people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes".

He continued:

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.

2. 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.

Would he have said the same about British (white) women? It seems doubtful

3. Using a racial slur

In 2010, he used the word "piccaninnies", an extremely derogatory term, which he surrounded by an extremely derogatory take, saying:

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.


4. Using another racial slur

In 2002, in yet another Telegraph column, he described black people in the Democratic Republic of Congo as having "watermelon smiles".

Writing about a prospective trip by then-PM Tony Blair to the DRC, Johnson stated:

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. And no, he did not apologise. In fact, he brushed it off as "satire". We're not laughing.​

6. 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.

The evidence for this? His race.

7. 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 byproduct. Here's the quote:

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.

8. 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".

He continued:

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.

9. Saying black people make him uncomfortable

In a column in 2000, 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.

10. 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 Stephen Lawrence case.

These reforms have since become the standard for prosecutors. They allow victims and third parties 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", saying: “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."

In the face of the evidence, it remains hard to disagree.

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