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Opinion Dropping the creator of ‘Dilbert’ is free speech at work

Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” in his studio in Dublin, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
4 min

Scott Adams, creator of the once-funny comic strip “Dilbert,” had the right to advise White people to “get the hell away from Black people” — just as the media companies that published Adams’s work had the right to get the hell away from him. That is exactly how free speech is supposed to work.

Adams posted a disgustingly racist rant on YouTube last week, among other things claiming that Black Americans collectively are “a hate group.” By the weekend, hundreds of newspapers (including The Post) announced they were dropping “Dilbert.” And on Sunday, the company that has syndicated the strip, Andrews McMeel Universal, said it was “severing our relationship” with Adams because “we will never support any commentary rooted in discrimination or hate.”

On Monday, Adams tweeted: “My publisher for non-Dilbert books has canceled my upcoming book and the entire backlist. Still no disagreement about my point of view. My book agent canceled me too.”

Fact-check: There is massive disagreement about his “point of view,” which is a noxious stew of anti-Black bias, white nationalism and MAGA grievance-mongering.

Analysis: Scott Adams and the right-wing insistence on White victimhood

One place Adams need not worry about being canceled is Twitter, whose owner, Elon Musk, retweeted a message of support for Adams. Musk added that U.S. media are “racist against whites and Asians” and that the same thing is true of “elite colleges & high schools in America.” Since he bought the social media platform, Musk has made a point of reactivating accounts that had been suspended for racist or white-nationalist speech that violated pre-Musk standards.

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A billionaire who is smart enough to master rocket science should be able to grasp that free speech is not the same thing as consequence-free speech. The former is guaranteed by the Constitution. The latter is not.

Elon Musk defends 'Dilbert' creator Scott Adams, says media is 'racist against whites'

There is no right in this country to say grossly offensive things and expect those who are offended not to react. If Adams failed to understand that before his rhetorical self-immolation, he gets it now. “My reputation for the rest of my life is destroyed,” he said on Saturday, returning his badly burned hand to the red-hot stove that is YouTube. “You can’t come back from this, am I right? There’s no way you can come back from this.”

Not in my book. When I was growing up in South Carolina, there was a segregationist named Maurice Bessinger who adamantly refused to serve African Americans in his chain of barbecue restaurants. He eventually was forced to integrate, but he continued to hand out pro-Confederate and proslavery pamphlets to customers. No one in my family would think of eating his food. It was said to be good barbecue — but we could get good barbecue elsewhere. Why would we give our money to an unrepentant racist?

Actually, it has been a while since I had any reason to think anything Adams drew or wrote was funny. Before last week, he was already well on his way down the “White persecution complex” rabbit hole. Last year, he introduced the “Dilbert” strip’s first Black character, who was hired “to add some diversity to the engineering team.” On his YouTube show, Adams also recently said that “I’ve been identifying as Black” because “I like to be on the winning team.”

This fantasy of Black Americans somehow being a privileged class is hallucinatory — and hilarious, at least to Black folks I know. But it is consequential, too, because it is one of the imagined wrongs that animate the MAGA political movement. There is a direct line between Adams’s rant and the MAGA effort to sanitize and distort the teaching of Black American history, because it is impossible to believe Black people are “the winning team” and at the same time acknowledge the centuries-old fact pattern of slavery, Jim Crow segregation and systemic racism.

Adams, Musk and most ambitious Republican politicians want to pretend that the past is irrelevant to the present, which is absurd. And they grasp at straws to “prove” themselves right. What set off Adams’s tirade about how White Americans should “get the hell away from Black people” was an utterly meaningless Rasmussen “poll” supposedly showing that only a slim majority of Black Americans would agree with the statement, “It’s okay to be white.”

That’s not a finding — it’s a manufactured provocation. “It’s okay to be White” is a phrase known to be used by white-supremacist groups. Even for respondents who were unaware of that, what on Earth does the question mean? Is it okay for anyone to be White? Is it okay for me, as a Black person, to be White? Implicit in the question is having a choice that no one has.

The choice we do have is not to be racist. Buh-bye, Scott Adams.