Ellen DeGeneres defended herself against allegations of racism after a customized meme was posted to her Twitter account of the now-famous Usain Bolt race photograph, in which she appears to ride “piggyback”-style on the sprinter’s back.
“I an highly aware of the racism that exists in our country,” the 58-year-old talk show host and comedian tweeted Tuesday. “It is the furthest thing from who I am.”
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
The controversy began Monday afternoon when DeGeneres, or a member of her production team, posted the meme to The Ellen Show‘s official Twitter account:
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) August 15, 2016
“This is how I’m running errands from now on,” the photo’s caption read.
The photo was swiftly met with derision on the social media platform, with users accusing DeGeneres of racism, whether intentional or not.
“So riding on his back like a mule, a horse as some form of property is fun to you,” one user tweeted.
“This is so gross. Fire whoever did this,” wrote another.
@TheEllenShow honestly this is offensive.
— Jazz (@JazzleDazzler) August 15, 2016
— Ⓐ #GrumpyCuntSec Ⓐ (@brazenqueer) August 16, 2016
Bolt himself didn’t seem to mind the photo; he re-tweeted it on his own Twitter account Monday night.
Other users came to DeGeneres’s defense:
@BureenuhDuhh you guys are being mad petty over something so damn simple. ellen is a nice and generous person she isn't being racist.
— R (@fourfivehours) August 16, 2016
— Bryan Young (@BryanIsTheKing) August 16, 2016
The photo of the smiling Bolt — taken by a Getty Images photographer as the Jamaican sprinter was on his way to winning the men’s 100-meter semifinal race at the Olympics in Rio on Sunday night — was instantly turned into a meme on social media.
Photographer Cameron Spencer told the Hollywood Reporter he will enter the image for a Pulitzer Prize.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum