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Donald Trump rejects allegations of racism

By Kim Hutcherson, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Trump insisted he is "the least racist" when questioned by CNN's Don Lemon
  • He was responding to allegations that racism motivated his questions about Obama's degree, birth certificate
  • African-American academic told CBS program that Trump used "racism by inference"

(CNN) -- An unapologetic Donald Trump insisted Sunday that he is "the least racist" when pressed as to whether racism motivated his recent focus on President Obama's birth certificate and academic qualifications.

The millionaire-turned-television host spoke with CNN's Don Lemon about the White House Correspondents Dinner and whether a presidential bid was in the offing, before the conversation turned to matters of race and comments made earlier in the day by CBS' "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer's comments were in response to Trump's public questions about Obama's academic degree.

"The word is, he wasn't a good student and he ended up getting into Columbia and Harvard," Trump said recently. "I'd like to know: How does he get into Harvard, how does he get into Columbia if he isn't a good student?"

Referencing those comments, Schieffer said on his Sunday program, "that's just code for saying 'he got into law school because he's black.' This is an ugly strain of racism that's running through this whole thing."

Schieffer's statement referenced an internet meme that has grown rapidly in recent weeks, fueled by comments from public personalities, like "The View's" Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, other media personalities and academics.

"Racism by inference" is how African-American professor Michael Eric Dyson, also on "Face the Nation," described it.

"Skepticism about black intelligence and suspicion about black humanity have gone hand in hand throughout the history of this country in feeding the perception that black people don't quite measure up," he said.

"He is standing in for the rest of us as African-Americans," Dyson added. "We are constantly questioned as to our legitimacy - whether we belong or not."

But when Lemon questioned Trump Sunday night about race stereotypes, he insisted, "I am a wonderful person as far as you would be concerned as to race. And I think everybody that knows me knows that."

Trump said repeatedly that people who know him "would laugh" at the suggestion that he is racist.

Lemon also asked Trump about his recent use of the term "the blacks" to refer to black people. But Trump said the issue was a diversion.

"I have many, many black friends who said to me, 'absolutely not a problem.' ... The fact is, I wanna focus on jobs, the economy ... that nations are laughing at us and taking our money and taking our jobs and ripping us off."

But anti-racism activist Tim Wise said Trump's tactic is the latest move in an old game.

"This is part of a long-standing, white conservative narrative that people of color are getting things they don't deserve because of affirmative action or racial handouts," Wise told Lemon after Trump's interview. "So either Donald Trump is either the most uninformed individual in the western world because he doesn't know how his comments fit that narrative; or he knows full well what he's doing and he is deliberately pushing these buttons of racial resentment."

David Buck, of Buck Davis and Company, was more sympathetic to Trump.

"When a white man with privilege questions a black man's intelligence it sounds very racist and sounds very stereotypical," Buck said. "He probably is a wonderful man. He's a very smart man. But it's a prime example of how a wonderful, smart man could make a mistake."