The comedian and daytime talk show host published a tweet Monday evening featuring an image of herself on the back of Jamaican Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt as he sprinted toward the finish line during his historic 100 metre sprint.
“This is how I’m running errands from now,” the caption said.
Social media users quickly fired back, criticising the picture for its racist undertones.
The issue with the image, one user explained, is that it invokes imagery reminiscent of slavery in the US, during which time black people were subjugated by whites.
The criticism was dismissed by other people on Twitter, who argue that DeGeneres was simply trying to say Bolt – a world record-holding track star – is fast.
DeGeneres posted a defence on her page without apology.
“I am highly aware of the racism that exists in our country,” she wrote. “It is the furthest thing from who I am.”
The Ellen Show has previously drawn criticism for alleged racial insensitivity.
Last October, the show was criticised for a depiction of rapper Nicki Minaj’s family in a sketch about her childhood growing up in Queens, New York. The operative joke was that every member of the family had large buttocks – a well known characteristic of the Trinidadian-American pop star.
Critics saw the sketch as “lazy” and “tasteless”, and a reduction of a prominent black woman’s talents to her body parts. Some criticised for toeing the line of minstrelsy.
As the sketch concluded, DeGeneres said, “They have big butts. That’s the joke.”