- Boris Johnson has a long record of controversial comments about women, gay people and ethnic minorities.
- He has called gay men “bumboys,” and compared Muslim women to “letterboxes.”
- In one column he labelled black Africans “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.”
- He suggested that Malaysian women only go to university “to find men to marry.”
LONDON – Boris Johnson’s spokesman this week denied that the UK is a racist country, in the wake of widespread protests by Black Lives Matters protesters across the country.
The UK prime minister also used an address to the nation on Monday to claim that protesters across the country who clashed with police and knocked down a statue of a slave trader, risked undermining the cause against racism.
However, Johnson himself been dogged by allegations of racism and bigotry over the course of his career, due to a series of controversial columns he has written and comments he has made.
Johnson claims that some of the comments were “wholly satirical,” while others have been taken out of context.
Here are some of the key comments he has made over the years, with context and links to their original sources.
Black Africans labelled ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’
Writing in the Telegraph in 2002, Johnson referred to a visit to Africa by the then prime minister Tony Blair.
“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. 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,” he wrote, referring to African people as having “watermelon smiles.”
Confronted about the comment during his first campaign for London Mayor, Johnson claimed that the comments had been “taken out of context.”
The problem with Africa is ‘we are not in charge any more’
Boris Johnson this week suggested that he understood the anger felt by black people in the UK about the country’s history of slavery.
However, this is not an attitude that he took while the editor of the Spectator.
In a column written in 2002, Johnson wrote that British colonialism in Africa is “not a blot upon our conscience.”
He added: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”
Comparing Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’
Boris Johnson was in 2018 reported to the Equalities Commission after comparing Muslim women who wear burqas to “letter boxes” and bank robbers.
The former foreign secretary wrote in an article for the Telegraph that “it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” adding that any female student who appeared at school or in a lecture “looking like a bank robber” should be asked to remove it.
It is not the first time that Johnson has been accused of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is ‘a natural reaction’
In 2005, Johnson wrote in the Spectator that he believed it was only “natural” for the public to be scared of Islam.
“To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke,” he wrote.
“Judged purely on its scripture – to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques – it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.”
‘Islam is the problem’
In the wake of the London bombings, he also questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and insisted that the country must accept that “Islam is the problem.”
“It will take a huge effort of courage and skill to win round the many thousands of British Muslims who are in a similar state of alienation, and to make them see that their faith must be compatible with British values and with loyalty to Britain,” he wrote.
“That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem.”
He added: “What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s medieval arse?”
The ex-foreign secretary and former London Mayor has long had a questionable attitude towards women, with both the House of Commons speaker John Bercow and female members of the London Assembly accusing him of sexist behaviour.
Evidence of Johnson’s views towards women can be found throughout his career.
In 1996, while a journalist for the Telegraph, Johnson went to the Labour conference and wrote a piece reviewing the quality of “the hot totty” who were present.
“The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the ‘Tottymeter’ reading is higher than at any Labour Party conference in living memory,” he wrote.
He added that: “Time and again the ‘Tottymeter’ has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum.”
In an attempt to explain the trend of women shifting their allegiances to the Labour party, Johnson suggests that it is either due to the party’s “planned erosion of male liberty – such as ending the right to drink in public places,” or because of “Labour’s most bizarre promise, that women will be more promiscuous if Mr Blair comes to power.”
However, he concluded that the real reason women are turning to Labour is because of their natural “fickleness.”
“The real reason why Blackpool is buzzing with glamorous women is surely that they scent victory. It is not the great smell of Brut that makes John Prescott attractive. It is the whiff of power. With the fickleness of their sex, they are following the polls.”
‘Emotional’ women are often ‘blubbing blondes’ or ‘collapsing with emotion’
Johnson also brought his admiration for “hot totty” into the office, pinning a Pirelli calendar to his desk, which featured nude photography, despite complaints from female colleagues.
Boasting of his decision, Johnson told Telegraph readers that the calendar “caused something of a stir.”
“They made women feel embarrassed, I was told,” he wrote.
“I’d hate to stand next to some guy and try to get my point across while May was on display,” said one woman.
‘Just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way’
In a farewell piece in the Spectator marking his exit as editor, Johnson offered the following advice to his successor.
“Once the fire is going well, you may find your eyes drifting to the lovely striped chesterfield across the room. Is it the right size, you wonder, for a snooze. . . ?” he wrote.
“You come round in a panic, to find a lustrous pair of black eyes staring down at you. Relax. It’s only Kimberly [Quinn, who was then the Spectator’s publisher] with some helpful suggestions for boosting circulation.”
He advised his successor to “just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way.”
This attitude towards women was carried over into his writing. As Sonia Purnell, a former colleague of Johnson, notes in her biography of him:
“In his writing women were portrayed as rather feeble ‘blubbing blondes’ or ‘collapsing with emotion …'”
In an article complaining about the reaction to Diana’s death, Johnson lamented: “We live in an age where feminism is a fact, where giving vent to emotion in public wins votes.”
“The Princess is a symbol for every woman who ever felt wronged by a man.”
He once said, ‘Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts’
Johnson’s use of sexual imagery about women was most prominently displayed in his GQ motoring column, in which he reviewed his favourite ‘babe magnet’ cars. As Purnell notes in her biography:
“The reviews relied on words such as ‘filly’, ‘chicks’ and ‘flapping kimonos’ and were garnished with plenty of ‘gearstick’ gags … There is talk of blonde drivers ‘waggling their rumps,’ his own superior horsepower ‘taking them from behind,’ aided by tantalising thoughts of the imaginary ‘ample bosoms’ of the female Sat Nav voice.”
“On driving a Ferrari F340, he wrote: ‘it was as though the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion.”
Boris’s use of “ample bosoms” to promote his wares carried over into his political career.
In 2005, while campaigning to become the Conservative MP for Henley in the general election, he told voters that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts,” apparently forgetting the other 50% of the electorate he needed to appeal to.
And in 2012, while hosting the London Olympics as mayor, Johnson told his readers of the “magnificent” experience of watching “semi-naked women playing beach volleyball … glistening like wet otters.”
Female Malaysian students only want ‘men to marry’
In 2013, Johnson launched the World Islamic Economic Forum at London’s City Hall. The then mayor appeared alongside the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was asked about the role of women in Islamic societies.
Razak told journalists:
“Before coming here my officials have told me that the latest university intake in Malaysia, a Muslim country, 68% will be women entering our universities.”
Boris interrupted with the suggestion that: “They have got to find men to marry.”
You can listen to the recording here:
Writing in the Spectator in 2000, Johnson attacked what he called “Labour’s appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it.”
In his 2001 book “Friends, Voters, Countrymen,” Johnson compared gay marriage to bestiality, writing that “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.”
There was even more explicit homophobia. As Business Insider previously revealed, in a 1998 Telegraph column about Peter Mandelson’s resignation from the Labour government, Johnson said the announcement would lead to the blubbing of “tank-topped bumboys” in “the Ministry of Sound” nightclub, and “the soft-lit Soho drinking clubs frequented by Mandy and his pals.”
He added that Mandelson’s departure would cause the “lipstick” to come away from Blair’s government.
In a separate Telegraph column Johnson also bewailed attempts to increase equality at the BBC for gay people.
“It must be a spoof,” he wrote.
“In my hand was a magazine from something called the BBC Resources Equal Opportunities Unit. There were letters from gays asking about their “partner’s” right to a BBC pension.”