I’m utterly amazed by how the creator of Dilbert, in a few short minutes, blew up his career - in effect, canceling himself.
While making a YouTube video that can only be described as a racist rant, Scott Adams made clear he knew exactly what he was doing:
"Most of my income will be gone by next week. My reputation for the rest of my life is destroyed. You can’t come back from this, am I right?"
It looks like he is right. Hundreds of newspapers, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Detroit Free Press and many others, abruptly dropped his strip after the video. Dilbert once ran in 2,000 papers across the country, and Adams told the Post he expected that number to be zero by the beginning of this week.
So why would the controversial cartoonist say the things he did?
Adams called black people a "hate group." His peg was a poll that showed only a slight majority of Blacks agreeing "it’s okay to be White."
He said he wanted nothing to do with Blacks, adding: "The best advice I would give to White people is to get the hell away from Black people … because there is no fixing this."
And he declared, "I’m also really sick of seeing video after video of Black Americans beating up non-Black citizens."
Pretty awful stuff.
And it led to Adams’ agent bailing on him, and Penguin Random House killing plans to publish a non-Dilbert book in the fall. And his distributor cut ties with him, meaning there are no newspapers that can now buy the strip.
So here’s a clue as to why Adams felt compelled to say the inflammatory things he did.
Adams said in videos over the last two days that he lost his animated "Dilbert" series on UPN for "being White," saying that the network had decided to target a Black audience. Adams also said he lost two other corporate jobs because of his race.
He said he left his job at Crocker National Bank in San Francisco after "my boss told me that Whites could not be promoted."
Adams said he then went to Pacific Bell, leaving after "my boss told me directly, you can’t be promoted because you’re White and you’re male."
So he has been furious, convinced that merely being white has hurt him financially. And that simmering anger boiled over in the video in which he slammed Black people – as if all Black folks were responsible for him losing those jobs.
White resentment of minorities is hardly a new phenomenon. The advent of affirmative action made many Whites – including in newsrooms – feel that this was not equality in the Martin Luther King Jr. mode but reverse discrimination based on their skin color.
The urban riots of 2020, after George Floyd’s murder, made some whites feel there was a double standard in justice and crime.
But Adams, who launched Dilbert in 1989, has been fabulously successful. Even if he’s right about what he sees as race-related setbacks, he’s hardly a poster boy for oppressed White people.
Some papers dropped Dilbert last year when Adams introduced a character, Dave the Black Engineer, to mock office diversity and transgender issues.
In videos over the last two days, Adams has contended that what he said was not racist at all.
He said that calling Black Americans a "hate group" was just "hyperbole" - which seems like a pretty weak defense.
He said urging Whites to stay away from Blacks was not really related to race. "Things are so bad in the Black community," he said, that they are "disproportionately likely" to live in poor neighborhoods, where there is "a lot of crime. Is that racist?"
My question is, why didn’t Adams say it that way in the first place?
Adams denied portraying himself as a victim, asking: "Have you heard me say, Oh now I won’t be able to eat?"
The cartoonist blamed the media, saying "it was a bunch of rich White people – newspaper leaders – "who do not live around Black people. And they decided to cancel me."
Adams flatly declared that if he weren’t White, Dilbert would not have been dropped.
"The entire media made it about race…Zero members of the media have reported what I said in context. Could it be that the race-industrial complex is once again finding ways to monetize race?"
Adams is obviously a smart guy, and as a writer he knows that words matter and tone matters.
He could have come off in far less inflammatory ways, and then he wouldn’t be offering complicated explanations about how what he said wasn’t racist.
Instead, as he himself predicted, he is paying a very high price.
Footnote: Elon Musk is drawing flak for weighing in over the Dilbert furor, although the Twitter owner did delete one of his tweets. He said in another post, "The media is racist…For a *very* long time, US media was racist against non-white people, now they’re racist against whites & Asians."