LONDON — Boris Johnson’s record on racism has left some Black Brits so afraid for their safety that they are considering leaving the UK should the Conservatives claim victory in Thursday’s election.
Racist comments written or signed off by the prime minister include an article published in The Spectator while he was editor, written by columnist Taki Theodoracopulos, that claimed Black people have lower IQs.
Elsewhere, he penned a column for the Daily Telegraph referring to “watermelon smiles” and “piccaninnies.” He once wrote of Africa: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.” And, in a piece for the Guardian, Johnson said: “When I shamble round the park in my running gear late at night, and I come across that bunch of black kids, shrieking in the spooky corner by the disused gents, I would love to pretend that I don’t turn a hair.”
Comedian Ava Vidal is among those considering packing her bags.
“I totally understand the idea that people are having to leave the UK if the Tories get back in,” she said. “I agree with it and it’s something I’ve looked into myself.
“I’ve also been online giving citizenship advice to other people, with Caribbean parents, some advice about what they have to do.
“I fear a Johnson-led government because we’ve not had such an overtly racist prime minister for years. He doesn’t try to hide what he is. The fact he consistently refuses to apologize to Black people for what he’s done to our communities and the words he’s used is ridiculous.”
Lorna Jackson, 45, agrees. She told HuffPost UK she would leave for New Zealand with her husband and son if the Conservatives win on Thursday.
“As long as the system works as it does in this country,” she said, “Black people are never going to be safe. Johnson is actually making us feel unsafe. If the Conservative Party win, I’m gone.”
The 45-year-old, from Dover, has been assaulted and called the “n” word in her coastal village on numerous occasions. People have even defecated on her doorstep.
She says she’s noticed an increase in the frequency of these incidents since the referendum result and believes Downing Street is at least partly responsible.
Jackson added: “Boris Johnson is not held to account for the vitriol he has been dripping into our system. He gets away with it.
“It’s not just now. Over the last 25 years, Johnson has been putting racist, xenophobic poison out there. Look at his articles – ‘picanninnies.’ Look at the things he’s done and said.”
On Sunday, following a racist incident at the previous day’s Manchester derby, English football coach Gary Neville blamed Boris Johnson for “fuelling” racism in the UK with his comments, including about migration.
Among the prime minister’s most notorious remarks are his description of Papua New Guinea as a place of “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing” and his reference to the entire continent of Africa as “that country.”
In April 2016, during the Brexit referendum campaign, he dismissed former U.S. President Barack Obama’s views on EU membership because of the “part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British.”
And the following year, he appeared to belittle victims of the Libyan civil war at a Conservative Party gathering. Referring to Libya’s potential to be the “next Dubai,” he said: “The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away.”
Racism has ramped up since Brexit and my Black skin instantly identifies me...I wish I could start again somewhere else but I just don’t have the money to take my family out of this country. Nathan Coombes
Nathan Coombes, a sales consultant who lives in London, told HuffPost UK: “If Boris Johnson wins, life in this country will be much harder for Black people.
“Racism has ramped up since Brexit and my Black skin instantly identifies me in the way a burka instantly identifies a Muslim woman.”
He added: “I wish I could start again somewhere else but I just don’t have the money to take my family out of this country.
“A friend of mine at work is going back home to Spain. EU citizens have been treated very badly since the referendum. I wish I could join him but it’s not much better for Black people in Europe either.
“Black people are on the frontline for abuse and after a lifetime of tolerating prejudice, I don’t want my children growing up experiencing the same thing. I look at 2020 and I feel so little optimism.
“My fate, and my family’s fate, is largely in the hands of white people in this country. If they care enough, they will stop Boris Johnson from winning a majority on Thursday. But I don’t have much faith in that happening.”
The concept of Black people leaving in response to the post-Brexit referendum increase in hate crime, the rise of far-right groups, and the Conservatives’ notorious hostile environment policies, has been termed “Blaxit” (Black people’s exit).
Speaking to HuffPost UK, writer and podcaster Marianne Miles revealed she has been looking at land in the Caribbean and making enquiries about citizenship for her and her sons. She plans to leave whether the Conservatives win or not – but says Boris Johnson’s ascent to power was the final straw.
“Truthfully, I’ve never felt comfortable in this country as a Black woman,” she said. “I’ve always known that there’s going to be barriers to what I can achieve because of the colour of my skin.
“Now that we have Boris Johnson being openly racist and the people in his party felt like he’d be a perfectly fine person to lead the country. It felt like a slap in the face to me as a Black British person, as somebody who pays taxes and led an exemplary life in this country.
“Knowing that this is the where we’re going, where we can have someone who’s so racist and homophobic leading this country – I know here never will be home, so it’s time to go.”
Dawn Jones, a retired lawyer, made her own “Blaxit” shortly after the referendum result after becoming increasingly alarmed by the rise in racism. She left the UK and moved to Spain with her husband.
“I felt the need to seek a permanent alternative for myself and my family,” she said. “It became obvious that the results had woken the racism which so many like myself knew still existed but was no longer dormant.
“Brexit appeared to have given the racists carte blanch to say out loud what they are thinking. I just knew I had to leave in order to enjoy my retirement.”
Though she will be voting Labour by proxy on Thursday, the 63-year-old despairs over the state of current affairs.
“When you have a media dominated by Tory sympathisers, the idea of them holding the likes of Johnson, [Jacob] Rees-Mogg and others to account is like believing in fairies,” she told HuffPost UK.
“As the prime minister he ought to be held to a much higher standard, yet he’s allowed to dismiss concerns around his racism, his xenophobic rhetoric, as free speech.”
How can we have a prime minister who calls us piccaninnies? Alex Wheatle
Award-winning author Alex Wheatle says he despairs over the political landscape in the UK and has considered leaving Britain to live in Jamaica, where his parents are from.
The 56-year-old – who participated in the Brixton Riots of 1981 – said he would stay in Britain to fight for his and his children’s right to be treated equally.
“Maybe I’m not throwing bricks any more at the police,” he said, “but I’ve a pen and I’ve got to make use of that pen.
“I was born here, I fought battles here, I’ve got children here. I never thought I’d be fighting this fight again but it seems like we’re gonna have to. I’d like to see my grandchildren grow up in a decent society where their voice is heard and their concerns are addressed. It’s our kids who are being discriminated against in schools, I see many of our people in prison, racist chants at football matches, racism is in the media.
“How can we have a prime minister who calls us piccaninnies? I’m old enough to remember Thatcher’s government and how racist they were; for me this is no different. It’s like for like and I never imagined it would come back so sharply.”
His words were echoed by Samantha Harding, a paediatric ophthalmologist, who also said she felt a return to levels of racism not seen since Thatcher.
She told HuffPost UK she felt Black people had in recent years come to be seen as “unacceptable, beyond the pale” and as though “we cannot be tolerated in anything but the lowest positions.”
She added: “Those who we have appointed our national leaders are saying it’s OK to exclude our kids, to stop and search us, incarcerate us for longer, not give us employment.”
Al-hassan Adam, 48, has grave concerns about a Tory victory as a Black, Muslim man – but says he will not leave Britain because it is his home.
Adam, who works in the charity sector, told HuffPost UK: “If Boris Johnson wins this election, I would want to stand up more for my rights and not just to cower, to let them win.
“Leaving the UK is not an option for a lot of people who are poor. Where are they going to go? I could leave the UK but I’d be leaving people who have nowhere to go; we have to fight for what we believe in. When people are out on the streets and the media take them to task – that is a much better way of dealing with this.
He believes the lack of challenge to Johnson’s comments shows the fight for No.10 is “entrenched in racism.”
“This man has the power to implement whatever he thinks about and that’s the scary bit,” Adam added.
“Here is Boris Johnson who has written, who has said, things that are demeaning and racist. And Justin Welby [the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke out against anti-Semitism within the Labour Party] has no position on that; that tells you the hypocrisy of it.”
Others agree that staying is the lesser of two evils. Lara, a Black Jewish woman, told HuffPost UK that people from minority groups quitting the UK is “what the far-right want.”
“I’ve never considered quitting the UK if the Conservatives win,” she said. “I believe it would be a disservice to those who came before us and enabled some hard-fought for rights so we could live here as a right in the first place.”
But she added: “I may reassess this if they come into power and as things start to unfold.”
Over the weekend, Miles – who has told HuffPost UK she will leave regardless of whether the Tories win as she now feels so unwelcome in Britain – wrote on Twitter: “I’ve spoken to so many Black British people who are seriously considering leaving the country because of this election and the prospect of an openly racist PM and anti Black cabinet members.
“No media are interested in our stories or our voices. No one is taking about this.”
Her words came after Johnson appeared on ITV’s This Morning and presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby posted for a selfie with the prime minister after what viewers described as an “easy” interview.
While the presenters did ask Johnson about Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, prompting an apology, they failed to question him about anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism in his party – or, crucially, to question his own track record of offensive comments.
Following the prime minister’s appearance, some 150 complaints were made to Ofcom.
Wheatle told us: “Journalists seem to be afraid to address blatant racism. They don’t see our concerns about racist language and they don’t take it seriously. At times, it seems like they don’t even care about what offends Black people.”
The lack of diversity in newsrooms creates blind spots in how politicians are scrutinised, he added.
“Sometimes I’m watching Sky and BBC,” he said. “They’re discussing racism and there’s not one Black person involved in that discussion. Is the number of Black people who live in London reflected in the number of journalists in the city?”
Jackson agrees. “Politicians and the media do not care because it doesn’t affect them,” she said.