Seven times Boris Johnson has offended minority groups

Seven times Boris Johnson has offended minority groups
Boris Johnson goes head-to-head with Jeremy Hunt in the race to become the next PM, but his history of gaffes, racial slurs and offensive statements are hard to forget...
5 min read
27 June, 2019
Boris Johnson is the Tory leadership frontrunner [Getty]

Boris Johnson has been touted the favourite to become prime minister but his history of gaffes, racial slurs and offensive statements have led to strong opposition from minority groups. Here are just a few examples of how he's alienated ethnic minorities.

1) Suggesting a reprise of the British empire

In an article for The Spectator, Johnson suggested reprising the British Empire in order to help Africans. He wrote: "The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.

"Consider Uganda, pearl of Africa, as an example of the British record. The British planted coffee and cotton and tobacco, and they were broadly right. If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain."

He went on to say: "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."

2) Calling black people 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles'

Back in 2002, Johnson referred to the windrush community as 'piccaninnies' in his Daily Telegraph column. The term is considered to be a racial slur describing a dark-skinned child.

In the article he wrote: "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".

In an effort to further highlight his point, Johnson went on to describe the people of Congo as "tribal warriors" with "watermelon smiles".

Johnson remained unrepentant until he stood for Mayor of London six years later, when he said he was "very sad that people have been so offended".

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3) Claiming Malaysian women only went to university to get married

In 2013, during the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), Johnson cracked a 'joke' about women's equality.

At the time, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was responding to a question regarding an increase of women attending university in Malaysia, when Johnson interjected to say that they "have got to find men to marry".

The comment was met with disgust and offense by equal rights campaigners, especially as a lot of work was being done at the time to combat gender inequality in countries where women had limited economic opportunities.

4) Describing Papua New Guinea as "orgies of cannibalism"

In 2006 Johnson managed to enrage and offend an entire country with his comments in a Daily Telegraph column. In the piece he wrote: "For 10 years we in the Tory Party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing".

Johnson's outrageous comments led to condemnation from the Papua New Guinea High Commissioner, and, although he refused to retract the comments, he said he would "add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apology".

5) Attacking Labour for their "appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools"

Johnson has come under fire for offending the LGBT community several times. In 2000, he attacked Labour for their "appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it" in an article for The Spectator.

A year later he wrote in his book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen, about gay marriage: "If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog."

Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris, who were recently subjected to a homophobic attack told Channel 4: "I do not think that Boris Johnson is fit to lead anything, much less the United Kingdom."

Responding to his past anti-LGBT comments, she added: "I think it is also very much aligned with the global political climate of today. He is not the only one ascending to power with his views and his ideology."

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6) Comparing Muslim women to "letterboxes" and "bank robbers"

In 2018 Johnson sparked outrage when he compared Muslim women who wore the niqab (a veil that covers the face) to bank robbers and letterboxes.

Johnson wrote: "If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree.

"I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes."

He added that if "a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber" he would ask her to remove it to speak to her.

The comments led to a spike in Islamophobic attacks, as recorded by Tell MAMA, but Johnson refused to back down. When asked about his comments he replied: "I will continue to speak as directly as I can".

7) Asking Libya to clear their "dead bodies"

While serving as foreign secretary Johnson commented that Sirte, Libya could be a popular tourist destination like Dubai – if they cleared away the dead bodies.

He said: "They literally have a brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, to turn it into the next Dubai. The only thing they've got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they'll be there."

Johnson refused to back down and apologise despite calls to do so from the Libyan government and members of the cabinet. Instead he accused opposition MPs, who were offended by his words, of "political point-scoring".

Sami Rahman is a freelance writer based in London. 

Follow her on Twitter: @bysamirahman