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Was Ellen DeGeneres’ Usain Bolt Meme Racist?


Social media is full of relentless commentators who thrive on making mountains out of molehills. Ellen DeGeneres’ meme about riding on the back of Usain Bolt is the latest scandal fallen victim to the wrath of Twitter.

Despite Usain Bolt retweeting the image, which we can conclude to mean he’s okay with it, many social vigilantes responded with disgust about the “racism” included in the tweet.

While the social jury is arguing about whether DeGeneres was in the wrong or ignorant, the media couldn’t decide how to feel about it either. BBC questioned why this meme was viewed as racist and pointed out Degeneres’ past problems with race, such as her 2015 parody of Nicki Minaj and her Gap advertisement that featured a young, black girl’s head being used as an armrest. TIME wrote an opinion piece titled, “Ellen DeGeneres Is Not Racist,” and questions whether if the runner was white, would the public respond the same. Yahoo proved DeGeneres had no ill intent because she had Bolt on her show in the past.

DeGeneres tweeted her response to the claims shortly after the image went viral.

As a woman of colour, I believe the term “racist” is being used too fluidly these days. As a Canadian, I can understand that America’s history of slavery and segregation is different than ours, which has led to people of colour being viewed and treated differently than non-visible minorities. Because of that, I understand why some people are up in arms about Bolt “being used as a mule” by a white woman, but where is that fine line between a joke and being offensive? The short answer? It’s different for everybody.

I and many other black people, including Bolt, shared the image and found it funny. I don’t see anything wrong with it. DeGeneres is positively not a racist. She has people of colour on her show all the time, she has never used a racial slur and works alongside Twitch, a black man, every day. She herself has faced oppressive situations in her life by being an openly gay woman.

DeGeneres has never stood in the way of a black person’s shine. She has never diminished a black star on her show. How can you call this woman a “racist” because of a joke that you didn’t find funny? If the person on the other side of the joke thought it was okay, why is this even an argument?

Maybe I’m on the outside looking in and can’t truly grasp the issues plaguing my brothers and sisters, but we can’t go around calling people who’ve never caused mental, physical or spiritual harm to a person of colour racist. Save it for the bigots that deserve the demeaning term.