Racism now seems to have become a key issue in this election. Nowhere was this more obvious than at the leaders’ debate hosted by the BBC on 6 December, where Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head to head on accusations of racism.
“I will never do that”
Johnson accused Corbyn of “a failure of leadership” over handling of antisemitism complaints in the Labour party. The Labour leader responded:
A failure of leadership is when you use racist remarks to describe people from different countries or in our society. I will never do that … I hope that the prime minister understands the hurt that people feel when they hear remarks and articles he has written.
I hope he will regret those and understand the importance of using respectful language towards people of all faiths and religions and languages in what is a multicultural society.
Corbyn’s not wrong. Johnson is hardly in a position to criticise anyone for poor leadership on the issue of addressing racism. Not least because he himself has been publicly racist on multiple occasions.
And yet the Conservatives still leading in the polls shows that the white majority has either forgotten Johnson’s many instances of racism, or they just don’t care. Regardless, for anyone who may doubt, or wish to dismiss, how racist he actually is, below is a comprehensive list of known examples.
In 1999, in an article for the Independent, Johnson described young people as having “an almost Nigerian interest in money.”
And in perhaps the most blatant example of Johnson’s racism, he wrote an article for the Telegraph in 2002, criticising Tony Blair. In the article is what’s probably Johnson’s most quoted racist phrase, where he describes Black people as “flag-waving piccaninnies”. He went on to use several racist tropes to describe people in the Congo:
They say [Blair] is shortly off to the Congo. 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.
Johnson also suggested then US president Barack Obama had an “ancestral dislike of the British empire” because of his Kenyan heritage in 2016.
At the 2016 Conservative party conference, Johnson referred to the entire continent of Africa as a country.
In the wake of the London bombings in 2005, Johnson wrote an article for the Spectator questioning British Muslims’ loyalty to Britain and saying “Islam is the problem”.
Then in 2007, adding to a new edition of his 2006 book The Dream of Rome, Johnson suggested Islam was to blame for a lack of progress and democracy in Muslim countries. He says in the book:
There must be something about Islam that indeed helps to explain why there was no rise of the bourgeoisie, no liberal capitalism and therefore no spread of democracy in the Muslim world.
It is extraordinary to think that under the Roman/Byzantine empire, the city of Constantinople kept the candle of learning alight for a thousand years, and that under Ottoman rule, the first printing press was not seen in Istanbul until the middle of the nineteenth century. Something caused them to be literally centuries behind.
Former chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum Mohammed Amin was expelled from the party for criticising the party response to Islamophobia and Johnson’s bigotry.
Then at the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum in 2013, Johnson said that the rise in Malaysian women attending university was because “They’ve got to find men to marry”.
And in one of his most criticised articles, in 2018 Johnson described the face-veil worn by Muslim women as “oppressive and ridiculous”. He went on to compare Muslim women who covered their faces due to religious observance to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”. In the week following the article’s publication, hate crime against Muslim women rose by an astronomical 375% – a stark reminder of the real-world consequences of racism from those in power. Johnson has repeatedly refused to apologise for these comments.
In 2015, criticising those who urged a boycott of Israel, Johnson described Israel as “the only democracy in the region” and “the only place that has… a pluralist open society”. This is despite the fact that the two-tier system in Israel that discriminates against Palestinians has been described as apartheid.
In the same year, on a trip to Israel, Johnson praised the country for “the audacity, the bravery, the willingness to take risks with feats of outrageous derring-do” that it displayed. This is clearly a whitewashing of Israel’s well-documented, systematic, persistent human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Moreover, Johnson’s support for an apartheid state stands in stark contrast with Corbyn’s track record of fighting against racism. Corbyn openly protested against apartheid in South Africa, which even led to his arrest in 1984. An endorsement from Nelson Mandela’s grandson is testament to Corbyn’s efforts.
However, the reality is that Johnson’s behaviour is only the tip of the iceberg. The Conservative Party has been institutionally racist for quite some time. And there are more individual instances of racism from Tory party members than we can count.
On antisemitism alone, from Johnson and Rees-Mogg’s dealings with hero of far-right nationalists Steve Bannon to May’s unveiling of the statue of a “virulently antisemitic” MP, the Conservatives have much to answer for. Tory MP Philip Dunne is being investigated for hate crimes after saying that his Sikh rival Labour candidate was “talking through his turban”. A senior Tory party official called an Asian council candidate an ‘orangutan’ – complaints about it were ignored by then party chairman Brandon Lewis. The list goes on.
But what’s also beyond doubt is the racism inherent in Tory policies over the last ten years. The Hostile Environment and Go Home vans, the mishandling of Grenfell, the Windrush scandal, the flourishing of the Prevent strategy, all happened under Tory rule. And Labour MP Dawn Butler has highlighted the disproportionate harm that the Conservatives’ policies have had on BAME communities. It’s no surprise, then, that Johnson has the endorsement of far-right leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson. And senior Tory ministers have openly backed candidates accused of Islamophobia.
Add to this Johnson’s homophobia, sexism, and allegations of sexual assault and corruption, and one thing becomes clear. Regardless of what he says about Corbyn’s leadership, Johnson has proven himself to be, without exception, the worst possible leader this country could ever imagine.
Featured image via YouTube/ The Independent
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?