openDemocracyUK: Opinion

Will Johnson rein in the racism now Trump has lost?

Boris Johnson brought Trumpism to Britain. Will he change his act?

Anjum Peerbacos
12 November 2020
Boris Johnson and Donald Trump meeting at the UN in New York, 24 September 2019
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Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson has long taken a swift and direct approach in targeting minorities in the UK. Either intentionally or unwittingly. And it has worked. Scapegoating, sneering and vilifying people of a different colour, race, religion and creed was the season’s latest fashion.

Few were exempt, Johnson overtly attacked the working classes calling them ‘drunk... feckless, criminal’, describing single mothers as ‘ill-raised, ignorant… and aggressive’, Muslim women were depicted as ‘bankrobbers and letterboxes’, Africans, described as ‘flag waving picanninies with watermelon smiles’. The list goes on.

The bumbling Boris, as he is sometimes perceived, created a caricature of himself making his indiscretions tolerable to many. The scapegoating and fearmongering which came with the Brexit referendum has continued with the Windrush scandal, Grenfell and the ongoing vindictive treatment of migrants arriving on our shores seeking sanctuary.

Anyone that is not White, affluent and of the establishment has been targeted. The vilification of the ‘swarms’ arriving by David Cameron. The dehumanisation of people, reducing them to ‘cockroaches’ in a notorious column in the Sun.

This extreme rhetoric has regularly been supplemented by the then mayor, and foreign minister and now prime minister and his cabinet. The hostile environment created under Theresa May has flourished under Priti Patel: people are dying as they cross the channel to seek safety.

In the UK, we like to ignore the racism. Be it the overt verbal or physical abuse, the microaggressions or the, ‘It’s not time right now’; ‘Don’t call us we’ll call you’; ‘What do you mean you don’t drink alcohol?’ kinda racism.

We’ve lived through a rise in hate crime against migrants, against Muslims, in particular against Muslim women. And why wouldn’t we? The prime minister himself legitimised this sentiment, the man in the highest office in the land, emboldening and validating animosity against anyone that dared to be different.

Then: ‘I can’t breathe’.

We cannot breathe.

The world stopped.

We opened our eyes and saw the very real and rancid racism that had been allowed to infect, fester and spread into the nooks and crannies and crevices across the United States had been slowly yet surely spreading across to the UK. Boris Johnson and his Vote Leave companions and campaigners have taken the scapegoating and othering directly from Trump’s playbook, the manual, the How-To guide on winning an election, a referendum, the Top Job.

But what have been the consequences for Trump? Four years later people have fought voter suppression and fought hard against the tidal wave of racism. The situation now suggests that there is some hope for the future of the disenfranchised and the often neglected and discarded segments of society.

The horrifying statistic of the US election for me still remains the fact that more than 70 million people voted for Trump. In his words he ‘WON THIS ELECTION BY A LOT!’. That is the entire population of the UK (current population 66 million), and more. These people thought that Trump was doing a ‘great job’ whilst 200,000+ people have died during the current pandemic. Trump’s following has increased in the last four years and that, for me, is terrifying. By being overtly hostile towards Black people, Mexican people, Asian people, Muslim people and women he has managed to breed his cultish populism and reach new heights.

A Biden and Harris team will need to unite their fractured nation before they look to renew relations with countries abroad. How will Boris fair, having placed all his eggs in Trump’s racist basket? Having also alienated himself from the European Union, will he have to rein in his racist attitudes to appeal to Biden as a genuine ally? We seem to have been left out in the cold, as Biden has made it clear that his Irish heritage will ensure his allegiance in the Brexit negotiations.

Brexit ensured that Europe had been well and truly snubbed because Johnson had the assurances of Trump. There would be new deals, greater deals, stronger and bigger deals.

But Trump has – almost – left the building, unfortunately there is no such consequence for Johnson and his cabinet any time soon.

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