US President Donald Trump has denied being “racist” in the wake of wide condemnation triggered by his alleged reference to Haiti and African nations as “shitholes”. Trump reportedly used the term last week during a bipartisan Oval Office meeting on immigration reform.
“I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you,” Trump told White House press pool reporters at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach in Florida on Sunday night.
It is the first time the president has responded directly to the racism accusations.
The row broke out after lawmakers from both parties visited the president on Thursday to work on a proposal for a bipartisan immigration deal.
In recent weeks the Trump administration has been withdrawing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from a number of nationalities currently living in the country.
Reports later emerged in US media that Trump had asked during the meeting: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Trump was said to have told them that instead of granting temporary residency to citizens of countries hit by natural disasters, war or epidemics, the US should be taking in migrants from countries like Norway.
Responding to the alleged remark on Friday, the African Union (AU) said it was “frankly alarmed” by the comment. “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice,” AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”
Individual African countries have also been reacting to the insult, with Botswana releasing a statement that called the comment “highly irresponsible, reprehensible, and racist.” It said the country had summoned the US ambassador to “express its displeasure at the alleged utterances.”
“The government of Botswana is wondering why President Trump must use this descriptor and derogatory word when talking about countries with whom the US has had cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relations for so many years,” the statement reads.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called the alleged remark “extremely offensive,” with the country’s deputy secretary-general pointing out that while the nation has its difficulties, the US “has millions of people out of work or without healthcare.”
The controversy sparked a strong backlash, both in the US and internationally, with Trump’s opponents accusing him of flat-out racism, and countries he allegedly insulted demanding explanation and apologies.