It seems that newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has much in common with US President Donald Trump, apart from donning a similar floppy, blonde cut. A new era has dawned in western politics, whereby the winning ticket might now be predicated on how far your racism and hate for women spans. Both Trump and Johnson have not shied away from either, publicly and consistently reinforcing their xenophobic and misogynistic views.
Two weeks ago, Trump published a series of racist tweets against Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), all four women of colour, demeaning their ability to effectively lead their constituencies based on their heritage, urging them to “go back” to their “broken and crime infested places”.
Although unknown for his sophisticated articulation, Trump’s tweets articulated a deeper theme that has defined US politics for a long time. If you are not white, your heritage is in danger of being lumped together into a pile of other non-white countries, regardless of its unique history, culture, and peoples. If you are not white, your patriotism and “Americanness” will constantly be up for contestation.
Days after Trump posted the offensive tweets against the four Congresswomen, crowds at Trump’s 2020 campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina chanted “send her back” referring to Representative Omar, who arrived in the US over 30 years ago as a child refugee from Somalia. The bigoted language used by Trump himself during the rally, referring to the four representatives as “hate filled extremists”, and from his supporters, are representative of what is to be expected during the 2020 presidential campaign. It is time to be unquestioningly clear that “Make America Great Again” means make America white.
It is time to be unquestioningly clear that “Make America Great Again” means make America white.
Johnson, similar to his twin-like orange cousin, has been quoted using racialized language in order to estrange Muslim women from the UK population. In 2018, Johnson likened veiling to “looking like a bank robber”. Johnson himself said that he would like “to go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.
It is no coincidence that both Trump and Johnson use deliberate language to depict certain peoples as “criminal”. Both Trump and Boris continue to use this kind of racist and othering language in order to strategically alienate people of colour within their countries, with real and dangerous consequences. Throughout his presidency, Trump has used this racialized language as a political tool, igniting fear amongst his supporters, to present himself as the saviour, the protector. This has been reflected through Trump’s use of language to describe Mexican and Arab communities. Trump uses language as a political tool in order to rationalize the need for a wall to keep “criminal” Mexicans out, and enables the US to justify its dismal intake of refugees from areas of the Middle East. This strategic use of language is frightening in a sense that offsets the notion that these men are simply “babbling idiots”.
A harrowing dream
During an immigration meeting in 2018, the Post reported that Trump crudely referred to Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries”. He asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Trump’s comments ring eerily reminiscent of statements made by Johnson in 2002 when he referred to the diverse region of Africa as a “blot”. Johnson stated that “The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”
“The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”
Johnson’s colonial comments should come as no surprise seeing that the new prime minister of Britain recited lines from the imperialist poet Rudyard Kipling during a visit to a temple in Myanmar, chanting, “The temple bells they say/ Come you back you English soldier”. This outright celebration of British colonialism fell on resentful ears for many people in the audience. British colonisation garners painful and humiliating memories for many people in Myanmar. But Johnson is unable to hide his imperialist pride, on another occasion choosing to recite Kipling’s poem that refers to Buddha as “Great Gawd Budd” within a sacred Buddhist temple.
It is not difficult to find many more instances of this kind of outright hate and racism among the countless speeches, interviews, commentaries, and writings both Johnson and Trump have made during the length of their political careers. In fact, the regularity of these instances has created a normalized fog in the public sphere, similar to what is experienced during a harrowing dream.
What has become evident, however, is that the leaders of two of the most powerful nations of the world have both racism and sexism in common. They have proven and continue to prove that not only will you find support in your racism and sexism, but enough to win the presidency of the United States and the highest leadership position in Britain.
Of course these two politicians are not anomalies, separated from the bodies and people that they govern. Discussions around the lack of popular support for either politician miss the bigger point. It is during this time, with the current selection of Johnson, and the oncoming 2020 presidential election, that, we, citizens within these great nations, must have challenging and honest dialogues that confront these issues head on. If we are truly so shocked and offended by the outright racism and sexism being perpetrated, we need to talk about the inequities that plague our educational systems, we need to talk about the injustices that define our criminal justice systems, we need to talk about our political systems and their attempt to push out and bully those they define as outliers. It will no longer suffice to be shocked and numbed by the outrageousness of these two men’s words.