Byron Allen has branded President Barack Obama ‘a white president in blackface’.
The comedian, who is also black, gave a rambling interview to TMZ about Obama’s description of rioters in Baltimore as ‘thugs’, which he said was unjustified.
He accused the president of not acting ‘like a black man’ and of failing to ‘stand up’ for the African American community, which is being ‘failed by the system’.
Black people, he concluded, have never been worse off, adding: ‘Black America would have done much better with a white president.’
Addressing the president directly, he says: ‘Remember who you are… It’s ok to be the president of the United States and also be a black man. It’s human. And guess what? People will respect you more if you stop acting like you’re not.’
His controversial words are nothing new for Obama, who has shouldered critique for decades.
At 28, after he was elected editor of the Harvard Review in 1990, he was condemned for failing to act as the voice of the school’s black community.
In his book, Dreams Of My Father, Obama addresses the backlash he faced, insisting his job was to represent every student on campus.
Twenty one years later, speaking to the NPR, he echoed that sentiment when asked about his responsibility to the nation’s African American community.
‘I have a special responsibility to look out for the interests of every American,’ he said.
‘That’s my job as president of the United States. And I wake up every morning trying to promote the kinds of policies that are going to make the biggest difference for the most number of people so that they can live out their American dream.’
Allen, who hosts Comics Unleashed and Entertainers With Byron Allen, defended his statement by saying: ‘Look at the numbers.’
Research collated since 2008 shows the disparity between living standards for black Americans and white Americans has grown since Obama took office.
In 2013, black unemployment rose from 12.7 per cent to 13.8 per cent, compared to a drop from 8 to 6.8 per cent for white Americans.
The average white citizen is 22 times better off than the average black citizen.
Homeownership has not been so racially lopsided since 1990.
The figures have been cited by many to condemn Obama’s treatment of the black community.
Nonetheless, searing critiques like Allen’s have been relatively unpopular.
His rant echoed that of Princeton University professor Cornel West, who was widely criticized in 2011 when he said: ‘I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men.’
He added: ‘It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening… He has a certain rootlessness.’
After the 2012 election, West appeared on Democracy Now! to call Obama ‘a Rockefeller Republican in blackface.’
Conversely, Donald Trump famously questioned the authenticity of Obama’s American birth certificate, daring him to prove he wasn’t born in Africa, where he has family.
According to Obama’s aides, his approach to race was an issue that occupied him in the run up to the 2008 election.
Speaking to The Washington Post in 2007, one of his closest allies Massachusetts Gov Deval Patrick, the first black governor of his state, said Obama was reluctant to bring up any race-related issues in meetings.
‘He is very determined to be the president of everybody and very conscious about the efforts of some people to put him in a box,’ he said.
Indeed, University of Pennsylvania professor Daniel Q Gillion studied Obama’s speeches to find that he spoke less about race in his first two years in office than any other Democratic president.
On one notable occasion that he did, addressing the shooting of black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, the issue turned from one of crime to a national discussion of race.
‘If I had a son,’ the president told a press conference, ‘he’d look like Trayvon.’
Newt Gingrich was one of many to rage: ‘Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?’
It is now approaching a year since the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, when unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson. The case did not result in a trial.
Months later, white police officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted for the choking death of black father Eric Garner in Staten Island.
Walter Scott, a black man, was shot dead by a white police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina in April.
And a state of emergency was declared in Baltimore after the death of black man Freddie Gray, who died in police custody.
The issue will likely remain a headline talking point in the coming weeks and months as Obama’s historic term comes to a close.