Politics, Moderate



The 'Dilbert' Dilemma: A Reflection on Race Relations in America

Jessica Johnson on

The contentious fallout from "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams' alarming YouTube tirade encouraging Whites to "get the hell away" from Black people had me yearning for a simpler time, a time long before "cancel culture" infiltrated the news. As a kid of the '80s, I loved reading comic strips that made us laugh about the antics of family life in "The Family Circus" and that took us on the amusing, daily childhood adventures of Charlie Brown in "Peanuts." I even enjoyed reading "Blondie" back then, which would be considered as a comic that was geared more toward adults. I'm sure there was probably some political or cultural opposition to the depiction of gender and work roles, but I was just fascinated with the stacked deli meat and cheese sandwiches that Blondie's husband Dagwood made, which was known as the classic "Dagwood sandwich." I never consistently followed "Dilbert," but I don't remember finding anything offensive in the way the strip depicted the monotonous humor of office life.

In thinking about the situation that Adams currently finds himself, many of his supporters are vehemently arguing that he is a victim of cancel culture due to the swift termination of "Dilbert" by the USA Today Network, the Andrews McMeel Universal syndicate, and major mainstream newspapers The Washington Post and The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Adams' backers also maintain that free speech is under attack in America due to him instantly losing 80% of his income. I believe a better analysis is to look at the context of what Adams said in how it relates to branding nowadays. Aspiring Gen Z entrepreneurs constantly talk about what's good for "their brand" in relation to the image of themselves that they promote. Adams called African American respondents who disagreed with a Rasmussen Reports poll statement -- "It's OK to be White" -- a "hate group." While most would agree that Blacks who feel this way indicates a disturbing finding, Adams urging Whites to segregate themselves from Blacks is what basically killed his brand as far as major newspaper editors are concerned, and they did not accept Adams' explanation on Twitter that he was "advising people to avoid hate." Newspapers are fighting to stay relevant for subscribers in our digital age, and those who cut ties with Adams consider his views as contrary to the values their publications espouse.

Although Adams' rant cost him a significant amount of his livelihood, we do need to weigh the implications of the Rasmussen Reports poll in addition to another survey on race that the media company conducted, both of which were published in February. The sample size was small for both surveys, only 1,000 respondents each, but the viewpoints of the participants do reflect the current and past race narrative in our country. For example, 41% of the respondents in the Feb. 28 survey stated that race relations are "getting worse," and only 9% believed they were "excellent." These findings can be compared to a study published 25 years ago by the Brookings Institution titled "American Racial and Ethnic Politics in the 21st Century: A cautious look ahead." This study revealed greater mistrust of Whites by more affluent Blacks, and it cited a 1995 Washington Post survey that found 84% of middle-class Blacks believed racial discrimination was the primary reason for the economic struggles faced by their communities. Sixty-six percent of working-class and poor Blacks agreed.

It's a rather sad commentary that we find ourselves still grappling with racial mistrust and division in 2023. When a public figure like Adams makes belligerent statements regarding race, I often think about what Scripture teaches us concerning racial rifts in reference to the Jews and Samaritans during Jesus' day. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John perfectly illustrates three primary social barriers that Jesus ignored: race, class and gender. It didn't matter to Jesus that the Jews "had no dealings with the Samaritans," and He did not look down on the woman as a second-class citizen. He ministered to her spiritual needs, which restored her standing among her people. We don't take enough time today to minister to one another's needs and seek a common ground of racial understanding, an understanding that could help us foster better solutions to lessen disparities in critical areas such as poverty and education.


Perhaps the good news for Adams is that he is relaunching his strip as "Dilbert Reborn" on Locals, so he hasn't been completely silenced. However, I would not be surprised if another controversy arises from the new content he creates.


Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate, Inc.




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