After Usain Bolt made history at the 2016 Olympic Games as the first track athlete to win gold three times in the Olympic 100 on Sunday, the Internet exploded with an endless amount of hilarious memes celebrating his winning moment.
But when comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres decided to join in on the fun, the laughing stopped for some.
Despite Ellen’s reputation as a kind-hearted, compassionate and fun-loving comedic personality who has repeatedly welcomed people of all races, backgrounds and social classes onto her show and into her life, some saw her take on the Usain Bolt meme as racist. The photo, shared from Ellen’s Twitter account on Monday evening following Usain’s win, is a photoshopped image of her riding Usain’s back with an accompanying caption that reads, “This is how I’m running errands from now on. #Rio2016.”
While some found Ellen’s Usain Bolt meme offensive, there were also many who came to her defense. Fellow comedian/talk show host Steve Harvey was one of those people.
Speaking on the public reaction to Ellen’s meme during a recent radio segment on The Steve Harvey Morning Show, Steve said anyone who thought Ellen was being racist with her interpretation of the Usain meme was way off. “Let me tell you something. I’ve been around this woman a bunch of times,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a stick of racism in her body. Now, I see where people are trying to go with this, but in her case, don’t do that. ‘Cause that ain’t even how she thinks. She cares on so many levels on so many things, and if she’d have thought for one moment that that’s what anybody would’ve did, she’d have never done it. But it’s not even in her mental psyche. She’s just one of the coolest chicks I’ve ever met, man.”
Steve continued the conversation by adding that although some people felt the photo and caption had intentionally racist undertones, that was the furthest thing from Ellen’s mind. “That ain’t how she was looking at it,” he added. “She’s just got the world’s fastest man…’I’m on his back, this is how I’m running my errands right now. I’mma ride Usain.’ Now, had the caption read differently [like], “I’mma ride this big Black boy around to go grocery shopping, ta da!” [then] I got where you’re coming from. Ellen don’t look at it that way. She really, really don’t. I mean, skip the fact that she’s a comedian. Just as a person and a human being, I would ride off the air with Ellen and her philosophies on life.”
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The veteran comedian rounded out his comments by echoing the sentiment of his co-hosts, who also emphasized that Ellen had no intention other than to make a light-hearted joke and spread a few laughs by sharing the photo. “And that’s all it was,” Steve concluded. “That’s all she intended it for. She wasn’t trying to make a social statement. I’m just not gone let nobody do her like that.” Ellen herself responded to her critics on Tuesday with a single Tweet.
I am highly aware of the racism that exists in our country. It is the furthest thing from who I am.— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) August 16, 2016