New York (AFP) - White House hopeful Joe Biden told an African-American radio host Friday that he "ain't black" if he was unsure who to support in November's election, igniting controversy and accusations of racism from President Donald Trump's camp.
The comments by the presumptive Democratic nominee came during a spirited and sometimes contentious interview with popular syndicated radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, who pressed the former vice president about his record on race issues.
Biden -- Barack Obama's number two in the White House for eight years -- strongly defended his ties to the African-American community, at one point said "I get overwhelming support" from black leaders and voters.
Charlamagne -- real name Lenard Larry McKelvey -- said he hoped Biden could return to his show because "it's a long way until November (and) we've got more questions."
"You've got more questions?" Biden replied from a studio in his home, where he is riding out the coronavirus crisis.
"Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black."
The remarks, which aired Friday morning during the syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club, quickly sparked reaction from Team Trump.
Donald Trump Jr accused Biden in a tweet of a "disgusting & dehumanizing racist mentality."
Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, also had choice words as he noted that 1.3 million black Americans had voted for Trump in 2016.
"I'd say I'm surprised (at Biden's remark), but it's sadly par for the course for Democrats to take the black community for granted and brow beat those that don't agree," Scott tweeted.
Charlamagne challenged Biden on that very issue, saying he is concerned that "Democrats take black voters for granted."
Biden, 77, countered that he had earned black votes by working in black communities for decades.
He pointed out that in South Carolina, where he won February's Democratic primary and turned his lagging campaign around, he had won every single county.
"I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody had -- including Barack," he said.
Biden also noted that institutional racism was "still prevalent in our society" and pointed to how African Americans were dying of the coronavirus at higher rates than whites.
"Those essential workers, a disproportionate amount of them are African Americans. And they're breaking their necks, risking their lives, losing their lives," Biden said.