In theory, everyone has a doppelgänger. And while it may be tough to imagine the existence of a Donald Trump lookalike, it’s arguably much more painful to know for sure that a powerful foreign ally’s political leadership could soon look more like Trump’s administration than not. And that was true in a number of ways.
Boris Johnson, a high-ranking member of Parliament and former mayor of London who was leading polling in the race to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, has mirrored Trump in many ways, including, believe it or not, with his hair. But now Johnson was also making sure the world knew that his stance on race is firmly aligned with the president’s, whether he knew it or not.
When he was recently asked about his racist commentary in 2002 disparaging Black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles,” Johnson stood by his words and refused to apologize in an interview with Sky News published Sunday. Johnson said those words were taken out of context and blamed the media for something he said was intended to be “wholly satirical.”
Johnson wrote an opinion piece in the Telegraph in 2002 reacting to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair visiting Africa.
“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,” Johnson wrote.
Later in the column, Johnson predicted of Blair’s visit to the Congo that “the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.”
While spoke in the context of the U.K., Johnson’s words were decidedly American.
Research conducted by Ferris State University defined the word “pickaninny” as “the dominant racial caricature of black children for most of this country’s history.” Watermelon has been consistently negatively associated with Black people since the Civil War.
And while sarcasm (albeit racist sarcasm) was detected in Johnson’s comments, to associate satire with the use of those words, which he defended — “the quotations have been wrenched out of context in some cases to mean the opposite of what I intended” — came across as a way to excuse his obvious racism against Black people.
The comments seemed to match up with the political and personal ideologies of President Trump, who once famously referred to African and Caribbean nations as “shithole countries.” Aside from political leadership, another unfortunate similarity between the U.K. and the U.S. was the rising levels of racism pervading both countries.
“Seventy-one percent of people from ethnic minorities now report having faced racial discrimination, compared with 58% in January 2016,” the U.K.-based Guardian reported last month. That was in comparison to 75 percent of Black people in America claiming that racism has gotten worse under Trump’s presidency, according to a poll from earlier this year.