Boris Johnson defends calling black people ‘piccaninnies’, gay people ‘bum boys’

 British foreign minister Boris Johnson

British foreign minister Boris Johnson

The front-runner for UK prime minister says controversial statements made in his past columns were ‘wholly satirical’.

Boris Johnson, the man expected to become the United Kingdom’s (UK) next prime minister, was confronted in an interview on Sky News about offensive columns he has written, defending them as being intended as “wholly satirical” pieces of writing.

Johnson’s past columns have earned accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia.

“I think if you look at each and every one of those columns or articles you’ll find that the quotations have been wrenched out of context, in many cases made to mean the opposite of what was intended,” Johnson said.

He went on to say that his record while mayor of London included campaigning for gender equality and to “protect the rights of women and particularly against violence against women”.

Johnson feels there is a “tendency” to “take words out of context rather than to look at” his actions as a politician.

Several of the prime ministerial hopeful’s columns, dating back decades, have caused offence, Business Insider has reported.

The most recent example, which took place last year, saw him taken to the Equalities Commission for writing, of Muslim women, that it is “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes”. He also said if such women go to schools or lectures “looking like a bank robber” they should be requested to remove their headscarves.

Referring to an African visit embarked on a trip to Africa, Johnson wrote in the Telegraph in 2002:

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“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,” continuing to describe African people’s “watermelon smiles”.

In another column, about the resignation of Labour MP Peter Mandelson, who is gay, Johnson wrote that “tank-topped bumboys” would cry over his departure.

Accusations of sexism stem from writing including a piece in The Telegraph on the Labour conference in 1996 when he reviewed the quality of “the hot totty” who were present, and a column on the death of Princess Diana in which he argued that “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 continued.

He once claimed while campaigning to become a conservative MP that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts,” and his colleagues accused him of inappropriate behaviour after he pinned a nude calendar in his office, refusing to take it down when he received complaints.

Johnson, a Brexit figurehead, faces Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt in a run-off vote to decide who takes on the tricky task of piloting Britain’s departure from the EU.

Johnson is the runaway favourite.

(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)

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