"You know, people say he's a racist, he is not a racist," Housing Secretary Ben Carson said Friday

President Donald Trump is, at least according to Housing Secretary Ben Carson, not a racist.

That’s what the former Republican presidential candidate wanted the crowd at an Opportunity Zone program event in North Carolina on Friday to know when he introduced the president, pausing to defend Trump against his record of making racist comments, Politico reports.

Carson, 68, seemed to go off-script while talking about Trump’s “kindness and compassion” and diverted into a defense against the widespread criticism over how the president, 73, has talked about race and minorities.

“He’s a man who is deeply driven by a sense of kindness and compassion,” Carson said, according to Politico, before diverting into his defense of the president: “People say he’s a racist. He is not a racist.”

“You know, talking to the people who drive the cars and park the cars at Mar-a-Lago, they love him — the people who wash the dishes, because he’s kind and compassionate,” Carson reportedly said, adding, “When he bought Mar-a-Lago, he was the one who fought for Jews and blacks to be included in the clubs that were trying to exclude them. You know, people say he’s a racist, he is not a racist.”

Ben Carson
Housing Secretary Ben Carson
| Credit: Shutterstock
President Trump Speaks At Opportunity Now Summit In North Carolina
Housing Secretary Ben Carson (center) with other guests as President Donald Trump speaks at the Opportunity Now summit at in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday.

Ahead of November’s election, Trump has been working to increase his negligible support from black Americans. He used Friday’s event to criticize Democrats by saying “they want your vote.” He has also touted his work on criminal justice reform, including with a Super Bowl ad.

Despite that argument, the president has his own problematic history with race: In 2018, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman claimed he had used the n-word and a recording later surfaced which seemed to show his team discussing that he had said that and felt “embarrassed.”

In another controversy, Trump reportedly spoke derogatorily about Haiti and Nigeria, two majority-black countries. (The White House denied this.)

He has also repeatedly made unusually soft or hedged statements about white nationalists, including in the wake of a “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia in August 2017 in which a counter-protestor was murdered. He said there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

The president further faced much backlash last year for racist tweets telling a group of Democratic lawmakers who are women of color to “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came” — despite the fact that they are all American.

Those who denounced Trump’s comments at the time included conservative political analyst Meghan McCain, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and actors such as Morgan Freeman, Chris Evans, and Olivia Wilde.

Trump defended himself then, insisting, similar to Carson, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”