On Monday 8th June, following the spread of Black Lives Matter protests across the world, a spokesman for Boris Johnson announced the Prime Minister denies the UK being a racist country. On June 13th, Johnson also tweeted: “racist thuggery has no place on our streets.”. The use of the word “thuggery” mirrors the language used by the media in 2011, after the murder of British Black man Mark Duggan by a police officer in Tottenham, in which Duggan was labelled a ‘thug’. This stereotype alone is imbued with racism.
In this same initial tweet, he states: “Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality” – but is he really the best role model for an anti-racist country? How can a post-racial society become reality when a racist has managed to claim the highest power in UK government?
In a Telegraph piece written by Johnson in 2002, he referred to African people as “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. When later confronted about these comments, Johnson claimed they were “taken out of context”, but in what context would the use of this language and derogation on the basis of race be acceptable?
Not only this, but Johnson also faces multiple accusations of Islamophobia. In 2018, he
wrote an article commenting upon Muslim women who wear a niqāb as resembling “letter boxes” and said “any female student who appeared at school or in a lecture looking like a bank robber’ should be asked to remove it. Johnson responds to attacks on these comments by arguing they were “wholly satirical”.
Johnson has most definitely adopted a post-racial attitude. In his statement addressing the Black Lives Matter protests, he said: “what I think’s been slightly lost in all this is the story of success”, in reference to the increasing achievement levels of BAME students at schools and universities. But, you only have to look at the figures to find this “success” is simply a way for him to dismiss the racism inherent in this country’s education system. Why did he fail to mention that on average, Black people who went to Russell Group universities earn 25% less than their white colleagues, or that BAME workers make up 12% of the UK workforce, yet hold only 6% of management jobs in the UK?
Johnson declared there is “much more that we need to do” to tackle racism. So, what are they waiting for? They can and need to start acting now. The scrapping of powers like suspicionless stop and search could be put into place tomorrow if they truly wanted things to change, the fact that they have not done anything of substance yet is very telling of the Prime Minister’s attitude towards racism within the UK. Similarly, Johnson has mentioned a report which would look into discrimination against BAME communities, but he gave vague details as to how this could be achieved.
As someone who is currently one of the most influential people in the UK, it is imperative for Boris Johnson and his government to understand and address the deep-rooted racism within this country.