Boris Johnson defends calling black people 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles'

Business Insider US

  • Boris Johnson comes under pressure to explain his long-record of offensive comments.
  • The frontrunner to become Britain's next prime minister is quizzed on his previous articles referring to gay people as "bumboys" and black people as having "watermelon smiles."
  • Johnson tells Sky News that the articles were "wholly satirical" and had been "taken out of context."
  • He was also questioned about his comments referring to Muslim women to "letterboxes."
  • Visit Business Insider's home page for more stories.

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for his previous articles referring to black people as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" and calling gay people "bumboys," claiming his comments were "wholly satirical."

The frontrunner to replace Theresa May as prime minister told Sky News that his comments had been "wrenched out of context."

"I think if you look at each of every one of those articles... the quotations have been wrenched out of context in some cases to mean the opposite of what I intended," Johnson said, adding that they had been made in "a wholly satirical way."

Johnson was asked about Telegraph column from 2002, in which Johnson referred to a visit to Africa by the then prime minister Tony Blair.

"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."

Johnson's record of homophobic comments was also raised by Sky.

As Business Insider previously revealed, in a 1998 Telegraph column about the resignation of the former Labour Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who is gay, 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.

Writing in the Spectator in 2000, Johnson also 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."

In a separate Telegraph column Johnson also bewailed attempts to increase equality at the BBC for gay people.

Johnson was also questioned about his article last year, in which he referred to Muslim women as "letterboxes."

The former Foreign Secretary has previously refused to apologise for the comments and this week dropped a pledge made earlier this month to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.

Labour said that Johnson's comments showed he was unfit to be Britain's next prime minister.

"Boris Johnson's defence of his racist and homophobic comments is despicable and disappointing. At a time when racist and homophobic hate crime is rising in our society, his refusal to apologise for his disgusting remarks legitimises and fuels this prejudice," Dawn Butler MP, Labour's Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, said.

"His words have dangerous consequences. After his comparison between Muslim women and "bank robbers" and "letter boxes" was directly linked to a rise in hate crime targeting Muslim women, there can be no doubt that his words put marginalised people in our country at risk. "And his words today will embolden the Islamophobes who, according to new polling, make up nearly half of Conservative Party members. They have been given a free pass by Boris Johnson breaking his promise to hold an independent inquiry into Tory Islamophobia. "He is not fit to be Prime Minister of our country."

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