Is it "OK to be white"?
In the span of a few days, Dilbert — a cartoon lampooning workplace culture by Scott Adams — was dropped by hundreds of newspapers. The backlash was in response to a racist rant that Adams posted on YouTube in which he described Black Americans as "a hate group" and advised white people "to get the hell away from Black people."
Adams was reacting to a poll by Rasmussen Reports, Donald Trump's favorite pollster. The survey of 1000 Americans asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “It’s OK to be white.” Overall, 72% of Americans said they agreed with the phrase and 12% said they disagreed. Among Black Americans, 53% agreed and 26% disagreed.
Adams concluded this was evidence that "nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with White people." But it probably reflects a greater familiarity among Black Americans about the origins and use of the phrase used in the poll. "It's OK to be white," or IOTBW, was created by racist trolls and later adopted by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
"It's OK to be white" was popularized in 2017 on the 4chan message board, a popular hangout for online racists and other trolls. The phrase had floated around 4chan for several years, and was used synonymously with another racist rallying cry, "white pride." In October 2017, "an anonymous author suggested printing the saying on flyers and placing them on high school and college campuses." The point of the flyers was to provoke a backlash that can be used to "prove" that the media is "anti-white." This would convince "normies" — a derisive term for non-racist white people — that the media hates white people and ultimately persuade some of them to align themselves with the alt-right or white nationalism.
Brian Friedberg and Joan Donovan, researchers at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, documented how the campaign to inject IOTBW into the national consciousness through fliers was highly organized. The leaders of the campaign "spread instructional images on 4chan" which "acted like a style guide, specifying that the memetic flyers be simple, with black letters on a white background, and must not contain any additional advertisements for white supremacist groups, websites, or communities, should not attribute authorship or include links to 4chan."
That campaign was quite successful. In short order, Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing provocateur who collaborates with white supremacists, began selling IOTBW t-shirts on his Facebook page. The Daily Stormer, a white nationalist website, and former KKK grand wizard David Duke began promoting the campaign.
It eventually generated coverage in mainstream media sources like The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, which noted the slogan's racist origins. Inevitably, Fox News' Tucker Carlson joined in, blasting the media coverage and defending the slogan. "The sentiment 'it’s okay to be white' is now a hate crime. Ok, so what’s the correct position?" Carlson asked. "That it’s not okay to be white?"
The 4chan trolls celebrated:
Musk defends Adams, says the media is "racist against whites"
Adams' rant in response to the Rasmussen poll was so racist, few people were willing to come to his defense. One exception is billionaire and Twitter CEO Elon Musk. After Adams was dropped by a slew of newspapers, Musk said it was evidence that the media is "racist against whites." Musk was responding to — and agreeing with — a tweet that said the media should report that millions of Black Americans who declined to endorse IOTBW are racist.
Notably, Musk offered no criticism of Adams' racist comments. He appears to agree with Adams, at least in part. Musk endorsed another tweet that said Adams' remarks "weren't good" but had "an element of truth."
Musk's comments come shortly after he "reinstated far-right accounts, including those of neo-Nazis and others previously banned for hate speech." Previously, Musk promised a coalition of civil rights groups that "he wouldn’t reinstate banned Twitter accounts until he had established a clear process for doing so," including the creation of a content moderation counsel. But Musk reneged on that commitment and unilaterally restored many white nationalist accounts.
In November 2022, after Musk broke his word, Color of Change and other civil rights groups called for an advertiser boycott until Musk reformed Twitter's practices. Thus far, corporations have largely ignored these concerns. According to Pathmatics data provided to Popular Information by Media Matters, the top ten Twitter advertisers in 2023 include: PepsiCo, Apple, Anheuser-Busch, IBM, NBC Universal, Comcast, and Amazon.
Rashard Robinson, the president of Color of Change, told the Washington Post that "companies that continue to advertise" on Twitter are "making a choice" about what kind of views they are willing to tolerate.