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CLARENCE PAGE: ‘Dilbert’ artist’s downfall, triggered by a reckless commentary

Ah, Dilbert, we hardly knew ya.

Scott Adams, creator of the popular “Dilbert” comic strip, has faced a backlash of cancellations after a tirade on his YouTube livestream in which he described Black people as members of “a hate group” from which white people should “get away.”

Instead, hundreds of newspapers decided to get away — from “Dilbert,” even though it has ranked as one of the nation’s most popular comic strips.

A devastating blow hit the comic Sunday evening when its distributor, Andrews McMeel Universal, severed ties, citing the company’s policy of rejecting “commentary rooted in discrimination or hate.”

Discrimination? Hate? “Dilbert”? Who would have expected such ugly allegations would rise up around dutiful office drone Dilbert, his faithful pet-pal Dogbert and the other familiar characters in the 34-year-old strip, as well as a bonanza spinoff of Dilbert books, calendars and toys that decorate office cubicles around the globe?

Alas, things turned ugly after Adams posted a YouTube livestream last month in which he riffed on a Rasmussen Reports poll of racial attitudes.

My ears perked up as soon as I heard the name Rasmussen. The firm often has been accused of a pro-conservative, pro-Republican bias, but it also comes up with polling questions too provocative to be ignored by talk shows or sociopolitical columns such as mine.

Or by YouTube livestreams such as “Real Coffee With Scott Adams,” in which Adams flew into a rage over a Rasmussen poll that found only a slim majority of Black Americans agreed with the statement, “It’s OK to be white.”

As a Black American who believes it’s quite OK to be whatever color the Almighty made you, I thought the question was “simple” and “uncontroversial,” as Rasmussen’s head pollster described it to The Washington Post.

But as a news junkie, I knew the phrase “It’s OK to be white” has a loaded history in light of today’s racial politics.

“It’s Okay To Be White” is a slogan popularized in late 2017 as a trolling campaign by members of the controversial discussion board 4chan, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The idea behind the campaign was to choose an innocuous slogan and put it on flyers or websites in public locations and “own the libs,” as the alt-right calls anything that upsets liberals, thus “proving” that liberals don’t think it’s “OK” to be white.

In other words, it’s a trick question — and Adams, who leans quite conservative on such matters, appears to have been a bit too eager to fall for it. “If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people … that’s a hate group,” he fumed in his livestream.

And “the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people,” he continued, adding, “You just have to escape. So that’s what I did. I went to a neighborhood where, y’know, they have a very low Black population.”

In other words, contrary to the Rev. Martin Luther King’s classic quote, Adams prefers to judge Black folks “by the color of their skin, not the content of their character.”

Well, as The Temptations famously sang about that sort of “escape” in the 1960s: “Run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide.”

In fact, the poll’s results were not all that clear. Some 53 percent of Black respondents agreed that it’s OK to be white, and only 26 percent disagreed. To reach his “nearly half of all Blacks,” Adams had to add the 21 percent who were “not sure” to the group that flatly disagreed.

Frankly the question as phrased itself is so unclear — Are you “OK”? Am I “OK”? — that I, too, am unclear and more than a little suspicious about the motives behind it.

Not to be left out of this toxic tiff, Twitter CEO Elon Musk chimed in with an odd defense of Adams, saying the “media is racist” and, without evidence, opined, “for a very long time, U.S. media was racist against nonwhite people, now they’re racist against whites &Asians.”

In other words, it’s all the media’s fault. Got it.

Well, I, for one, prefer to stick with Dr. King’s advice. I’m trying to judge Adams and Musk by the content of their character. So far, it’s not a pretty sight. Good luck, Dilbert.

Contact Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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