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The New York Times' February 26, 2023 Newspapers Drop ‘Dilbert’ After Creator’s Rant About Black ‘Hate Group’ includes the paragraph:

In the video from Tuesday that led to backlash, Mr. Adams, who is white, said he had “started identifying as Black” years ago and then brought up a poll by Rasmussen Reports that found that 53 percent of Black Americans agreed with the statement “It’s okay to be white.”

The Twitter link provides a video in which "Mark Mitchell, Head Pollster at Rasmussen Reports" explains the poll and a breakdown thereof by various demographics.

I must be missing some context; the negative of the statement "It's not okay to be white." seems quite difficult to agree to, but what either of these statements mean seems to be open to interpretation and could mean different things in different contexts.

I understand that the statement (slogan?) "All lives matter" while sounding innocuous ("who could disagree?") its usage is usually seen as a counter to "Black lives matter" which does not suggest other lives don't.

Is that what's going on behind "It's ok to be white"? If so, then is the poll simply checking to see if people have been informed of the context or not?

Question: Help me understand the context behind the "It's okay to be white" question in a recent Rasmussen Poll, and what if anything at all might these poll results show?

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    I've removed some comments relating to the relevance of including the NYT article at the beginning of the question because they were straying into criticism of the question author rather than criticism of the question itself.
    – CDJB
    Feb 27, 2023 at 9:06
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    The word "okay" is doing a lot of work here. It is too broad and cannot be generalized into a clear consensus. Mar 9, 2023 at 3:01

6 Answers 6

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I am not sure how much "context" you want out of a poll question.

This is the poll:

1* Do you agree or disagree with this statement: “It’s OK to be white.”

2* Do you agree or disagree with this statement: “Black people can be racist, too.”

Letting aside question #2 where answering in the negative would mean no black person, anywhere, is racist, let's go to #1.

On the surface, this is a reasonable question as well. Being white and not particularly self-conscious about it, I would normally respond in the affirmative.

Except... haven't we heard this before? Whose slogan is it?

Ah, ADL to the rescue...

Hate on Display / It's Okay To Be White

Whether the original trollers were white supremacist or not, actual white supremacists quickly began to promote the campaign—often adding Internet links to white supremacist websites to the fliers or combining the phrase with white supremacist language or imagery. This was not a surprise, as white supremacists had themselves used the phrase in the past—including on fliers—long before the 4chan campaign originated.

So, basically you don't know if you are answering that well, yes, being white isn't the mark of the devil. Doh! Or if you are being manipulated into endorsing white supremacist slogans. I'd sit this one out myself, but it's easy to see where people might react different ways depending on their knowledge of the meme's usage (or just thinking it sounds like a white supremacist slogan) and suspecting manipulation. Or just answering the question at face value.

Now, Dilbert's creator - long a Trump supporter - decided that not agreeing with the question meant you hated white people (out of character for him?). Went on quite a rant.

Scott Adams called Black Americans a "hate group" and suggested white Americans "get the hell away from Black people" in response to a conservative organization's poll purporting to show that many African Americans do not think it's OK to be white.

"If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people ... that's a hate group," Adams said on his YouTube channel on Wednesday. "And I don't want to have anything to do with them."

Yahoo News

“I would say, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people,” Adams said in the video. “Just get the fuck away. Wherever you have to go, just get away. Because there’s no fixing this. This can’t be fixed.”

Adams' YouTube starting at 13:28ish. Grab yer popcorn, folk, there's plenty of "opinion" (skip if you are likely to be offended, it is offensive).

While it is unclear what motivation to attribute to people answering in the negative, one would say Mr. Adams' statements are quite clear. And he's presumably politically savvy enough to know a question using this exact wording (rather than an alternative phrasing) might have baggage associated with it.

FWIW, Rassmussen Report is supposedly quite well-liked by US conservatives (hence Reuter's use of conservative organization). While that might have motivated them to carry out this particular poll, the same questions asked by a different polling organization would presumably elicit roughly the same answers, assuming a best-practices statistical sample population. Unless the person answering knew, and reacted to, Rassmussen Report being a "conservative organization" (which seems far fetched).

Here are some details about the poll results, but not broken down by ethnic groups. I was kinda wondering if the question about illegal immigration impact of schools might have muddied the waters some more about these two questions above. But it was apparently a different poll.

Ah, yes, Blacks only:

BLACK AMERICANS ONLY: "It's okay to be white." 53% agree, 26% disagree, 21% not sure

So, the pure "disagree" are 26% if you're a glass half-full kinda person. And that's before you consider the possible taint from the question's background.

p.s. There is some debate about how widely used and known that phrase is. While we can't know how it influenced what percentage of respondents, we can safely assume that both Rassmussen Report and Scott Adams had plenty of opportunity to know about it.

p.p.s. I would also be highly curious to know, if in the actual poll, Q2 (can Blacks be racist?) was known when answering Q1. That seems like it could make Black people more defensive via the priming effect. If the order was reversed then that would be a more definite possibility. Which makes it all the more interesting in knowing whether it was carried out by phone or online.

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    The ADL link provides the claim that white supr. used the slogan long before the 2017 trolling. But they provide zero evidence of it. Additionally, the claim that w.s. uses the phrase is not evidence of anything even if accepted. Yada yada Hitler had a mustache, Hitler painted, Hitler liked dogs, etc. etc.
    – Boba Fit
    Mar 1, 2023 at 20:01
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    @BobaFit: "the claim that w.s. uses the phrase is not evidence of anything even if accepted" - It is, though, because it would make survey responders who are aware of that connection extremely unlikely to say "I agree with this" Mar 1, 2023 at 21:45
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    @BobaFit what exactly is your point there? there are plenty of 2017 and up cases of the slogan. and this is a current event story, not a 2005. nitpicking for the sake of it? Mar 1, 2023 at 23:01
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica 4chan invented this slogan in 2017. People reacted to it as though it were racist out-of-the-box. The very first posting was recorded being put by 4chan, and the response was THATS RACIST! later that day. There's no evidence it was ever associated with white supremacists except in the minds of people who would call Larry Elder a WS.
    – Boba Fit
    Mar 2, 2023 at 0:51
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    @BobaFit No but your comment is a great example of how it can be constructed as a victim narrative even if there was never an aggression to begin with. So idk is it used to affirm a racist post that argues for "white pride" or "fighting back" or is it used to marginalize the problems of minority groups in the sense of "talk about me". Or anything else, that's why I asked about context. Because you illicit a whole lot and I wanted to see for myself what of that is actually there.
    – haxor789
    Mar 2, 2023 at 14:20
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"Its Ok To Be White" is a white supremacist slogan

It has been used as a racist saying going back more than 5 years.

As citations:

They are not hard to find if you want more. I haven't found a citation of it being used by white supremacists before 2000; but its use this way has been well known and reported for 5+ years.

Rasmussen is a right-wing polling firm known for push polling

In its top-line polls, it has a known and consistent right-wing bias, its clients are mainly right-wing media, and its founder in the 2000s was a consultant for right-wing candidates while running the firm.

Wikipedia: Rasmussen Reports

They are known to produce polls whose questions are designed to skew answers. "Agree or Disagree: 'Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party—he says jump and they say how high.'" is an example of such an attempt.

Push polling is when you aren't looking for information with a poll, but rather trying to generate a specific polling result using a poll question specially crafted to get that result.

This matters because it means the question wasn't accidental. The arrangement of the questions in the poll wouldn't be accidental. Even the sampled population shouldn't be presumed to be accidental. Everything about the question and answers and numbers that you don't have hard evidence should be presumed to be part of an intentional message crafted by Rasmussen.

Even their press release was also written not as information, but as a political message. They are not a member of American Association for Public Opinion Research and similar organizations, whose purpose is to produce a code of conduct to avoid dishonest results from poll firms. This involves disclosing methodology, disclosing to participants information they should have, serving the public interest, etc. Most other well known pollsters are members; they are not, quite intentionally.

The US Republican party uses racism as a central plank

It has done so for almost the entire last 50 years.

In the 1970s through the early 1990s the US republican party used a blatantly pro-racism strategy called the Southern Strategy to court racist white citizens of the USA, mostly in the south, turned off by the Democratic party's embrace of civil rights. Much of the southern branch of the Democratic party mostly left the party, sometimes forming a literal splinter party called the "Dixicrats", and migrated to the Republican party.

Even the US war on drugs was aimed at blacks (it also was aimed at hippies) as a matter of design, not accident. Drugs that where used by blacks where intentionally given harsher sentences and more enforcement, while drugs used by whites where given lesser punishment and enforcement.

The 1980s Republicans had a racist president who used terms like "welfare queen", "inner city" and the like to put a thin layer of respectability over their positions.

An attempt was made in the 1990s and early 2000s to remove this racism as a plank of the party, resulting in changes in voting patterns.

The next era of Republican racist policies have mainly been about claiming that racism against black people no longer exists, so any protections to prevent it should be dismantled; and in fact, anything that admits the existence of anti-black racism is itself racist!

In response to the election of Obama, the Republicans nominated and elected an openly racist administration led by Donald Trump. Xenophobic, saying the silent part out loud, and actively dismantling civil rights, including voting rights. His staff openly held white-supremacist positions and advocated for white-nationalist positions without impacting their employment.

Republican voters have negative opinions of racial and ethnic minorities, and they systematically disagree that any substantial racism against black people exists, with 9% of Trump voters think that being a Black person in the USA is significantly more difficult than being a White person; somehow 100,000$ more per year doesn't make things easier for the median white household in Trump voter's view.

Rasmussen Reports sure doesn't mind Racism

They host editorials that are openly partisan, their founder was an active political operative while running the company, and they make money off provoking outrage.

Rasmussen created a push poll that asked people's opinion of a white supremicist slogan in order to directly attack the the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that seeks to oppose racist organizations, according to Mark Mitchell their head pollster.

In recent years, Rasmussen has shifted from serving primarily as a right-leaning polling firm to more actively amplifying conservative causes, with a website featuring commentary from conservative and libertarian pundits.

says the Washington Post.

The organization pushed "vaccines are deadlier than the virus", "January 6th was faked" and "the 2020 election was stolen".

This organization isn't a member of the "rational right wing", it is perfectly willing to drink the kool-aid.

It is possible that Rasmussen is innocently asking questions. It isn't likely.

When you openly support a racist institution it is reasonable to suspect you are in support of that institutions' racism. I am sure there are people who joined the KKK for the barbecues; either they actively supported the KKKs racism, or they didn't consider it important. And then, when you then specifically oppose organizations opposing that problem -- racism -- you increase suspicion above reasonable.

This appears to be Tuesday in America. A right wing organization, which consistently supports racist political parties, asking questions whose purpose is to justify or promote racism.

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    The goal, of course, would be to convince people that white-on-black racism isn't a problem, while also engaging in anti-black racism in an attempt to make black people look bad. – Hold on, that's a bit too much of unfounded extrapolations for an objective answer. To that I can only say: Citation needed! – In fact, one may likewise argue that agreeing with "Black lives matter" equates to agreeing with burning property, rioting and looting, which of course would be considered an outrageous claim. Feb 28, 2023 at 14:35
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    @csstudent1418 politico.com/news/2021/07/28/… fivethirtyeight.com/features/… washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/02/27/… latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-08-01/… pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/04/09/race-in-america-2019 I could go on? It is a plank of the right-wing in USA that black-on-white racism is a real problem, and that anti-black racism is not a problem.
    – Yakk
    Feb 28, 2023 at 14:50
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    I suspect that only a tiny fraction of non-Hispanic white people knew of the phrase "it's okay to be white" before the recent uproar; a non-Hispanic white person had to be a member of (or a monitor of) white supremacist groups to know of the phrase. I also suspect that a significantly larger fraction of people of color had been informed of that phrase as it implicitly threatens them; those in the know might well have chosen "no", not because they disagree with the the question itself but because they disagree with the underlying meaning. This was an extremely loaded push poll question. Mar 1, 2023 at 14:02
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    The specific posters you cited as "white supremacist" are quite likely 4chan trolling. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_okay_to_be_white The original O2BW trolling was as far back as 2017.
    – Boba Fit
    Mar 1, 2023 at 19:52
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    "somehow 100,000$ more per year doesn't make things easier" is a bit misleading; depending on the context "It's a lot more difficult to be a Black person in this country" could imply "all other factors being equal", such as household income. That doesn't change the facts of income disparity across races; I'm just saying the answer to "The average Black person has it harder than the average White person" is different from "Under otherwise identical circumstances, the same person would have it harder if they were Black instead of White" and the original question could go either way.
    – 10762409
    Mar 1, 2023 at 22:09
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The existence, not the result, of the poll is the message

what if anything at all might these poll results show?

It doesn't really matter what percentages were reported in the poll. Adams is offering a hot take on the numbers, but he didn't really need the numbers to be what they are in order to make an argument.

The real point is that the poll was conducted at all. This shows that American political discourse has reached a point where innocuous questions can be used to provoke superficially absurd responses, and that push-pollers (Rasmussen aren't really push-pollers, but they aren't exactly held in the highest possible esteem among pollsters either) can reliably provoke such a response. The question sounds absurd on its face. It's meant to. You're meant to take away the message that claims that should be insignificant are actually highly controversial, purely for the reason that Americans feel a certain compulsion to signal political loyalty. And it's easy to promote this narrative, exactly because it is true.

Political trolling is generally satirical

In the video from Tuesday that led to backlash, Mr. Adams, who is white, said he had “started identifying as Black” years ago

Of course, it would be hard to believe that Mr. Adams is sincere in this identification. There's no sign that he's presented any kind of evidence of such heritage, and some sources I found even state straight out that he's joking about this. There's nothing about his appearance that would register as anything other than "white" to a typical Western person (although I have known Americans to apply the label "black" to people that I cannot possibly imagine as such).

But that absurdity is exactly the point. Adams is satirizing the concept of "identification", implicitly arguing that an individual's "identification" (i.e., personal perception of the self) does not change reality, and that moreover such labelling will be blithely ignored by others in favour of their own perception of that individual. The quote from NYT perfectly illustrates this: by saying "who is white", NYT claims authority to judge Adams' race, and marks his claimed identity as illegitimate.

By pushing the media to commit to that position, Adams exposes the hypocrisy of, for example, those who defended Elizabeth Warren's claim to indigenous status. (As a reminder: while Warren's DNA test - taken at Trump's goading - did technically turn up some indication of indigenous ancestry, it was at a level that is not at all unusual for Americans generally deemed "white", and which convincingly put the lie to the specific details of Warren's claims. I should also note here that caring about that DNA test at all inherently accepts the notion that race is genetic, which runs counter to the narrative that people talking about race as a "social construct" or "not real" seem to be trying to build.)

At the same time, the capitalization in this quote highlights another common talking point for Adams and others with similar politics. We see a stark juxtaposition: in concordance with their style guidelines, NYT here has capitalized "black" but not "white". (We know that this is a deliberate choice on NYT's part because they are quoting from a video, not from Adams' writing.) It's hard not to see this as, at best, a petty attempt to score culture-war points, and at worst a sincere expression of the notion that black people are somehow inherently superior to white people (something that rational, unbiased people would ordinarily call "racism" or "black supremacy", but which increasingly many, increasingly-mainstream sources refuse to label as such).1

Since Adams is an important enough figure in American culture war to expect the article to be written in the first place, and because of his experience with said culture war, it would have been easy for him to predict that NYT would produce a quote along these lines, which would allow him and his supporters to further the narrative of bias.

None of this is unusual or unexpected from Adams; this is his MO and he's quite up-front about it in his own writing. It's also consistent with, for example, his previous comics in which he portrayed a black character who "identifies as white" in the same spirit, to troll the PHB. (Perhaps "Dave" perceives that the PHB has taken him on merely to meet the "diversity" requirement cited in the first comic, and does not see him as a capable worker in his own right.)

The reaction to this was predictable: critical outlets proposed that this is an expression of transphobia (despite that Adams never mentioned anything here about gender, simply critiquing the concept of self-identification is treated as a cryptic attack), and they simultaneously laughed about the comic losing the skin coloration when reproduced in black-and-white newspapers while complaining about him taking so long to include any "people of color" in his comic.

While I haven't checked for a response, I can easily imagine ways in which Adams could continue the act. For example, what if several of his characters have in fact been "of color" all along? Why should he have to disclose which ones? And why should he have to use shading to indicate a character's race (is that term not itself problematic)? As for the comic looking different in colour vs. black-and-white, that could easily be portrayed as a deliberate irony. Adams is well known for his "two movies" framing of culture war (essentially: everything is filtered through the lens of individual experience, thus it is not actually possible for people to have "the same facts"), and the comic appearing with Dave literally appearing clearly different from the other characters in only some renderings (but substantially the same in others) would be an ideal illustration (pun intended) of the concept.

Culture-war slogans are inherently bait, which makes them trolling

The purpose of saying "Black Lives Matter" clearly extends beyond the literal meaning of the words. I don't simply mean that it signals affiliation in the culture war. I mean that saying something that is innocuous on its face, in a political context, carries the implication that some other people must disagree (or it wouldn't need to be said; politics is argument about policy) and therefore that such people constitute The Hated Outgroup. That is, it is not only a claim about oneself, but about others. I've seen any number of video clips and sound bites of activists explicitly charging that some other specific individual "thinks black lives don't matter" (which can also be seen as the ideological continuation of Kanye West's charge that "George (W.) Bush doesn't care about black people", which promptly became a protest song).

A similar analysis argues that "All Lives Matter" carries the implicit claim that certain other people believe that only certain lives matter (with the context implying that "certain other people" = BLM activists and "certain lives" = lives of black people). As you note, this analysis is broadly incorrect; relatively few people - of any race - carry enough racial hatred with them to literally believe that the deaths of certain people might not have any meaning, according to their race.

However, stopping the analysis there would be facile. After all, as I just said, relatively few people would actually agree with such a claim applied to black people. It should be clear that almost everyone in the US sees other people as humans with rights, regardless of their race, and would rank death as among the worst things that can happen to a person, and murder as clearly a serious crime regardless of the race of the victim (or perpetrator).

So, again - that's the point. By introducing a countering slogan, one inherently implies the invalidity of the premise of the first slogan. That is: the implicit argument is that the BLM activists are implying a falsehood. Similarly: by setting up the slogan to be maximally inclusive (they didn't even specify human lives, for that matter, although it's generally understood), those using the ALM slogan (they cannot really be called activists, as they exist to counter existing activism rather than to propose a specific policy change) can portray themselves as morally virtuous (i.e., not discriminatory).

Please stop taking the bait

With this analysis framework in mind, understanding the coinage "it's OK to be white" is trivial. The obvious goal is to insinuate that some people believe the opposite, i.e., that there is somehow something inherently wrong with "being white".

As established in the first section, most Americans would consider the fact of "being white" to be a consequence of one's birth (i.e., genetic, although the categorization admits subjectivity) which is immutable and not the result of the individual's agency. This, of course, stands in stark contrast with academic theories of "whiteness", which generally appear to revolve around considering "white identity" as not a simple observation of the skin tone of individuals but as some inherent motivation to a racist worldview.2

So, when the phrase is put out there, and actually manages to generate any controversy as a result, the implication for third-party observers is clear: that there are, apparently, people lurking around who think that white people are inherently inferior (presumably, morally inferior), as a consequence of something about themselves that they cannot change. Again: rational, unbiased people would normally call this "bigotry", specifically "racism" as it is done on the basis of race.

A mature, rational response to "all lives matter" does not look like what we've seen from BLM activists. (Of course, being activists, they have a vested interest in generating controversy and drawing attention to their cause - not in discussing issues sincerely.) It looks like: "Yes; so you agree that the lives of black people, being lives of people, also matter. We are concerned specifically with XYZ things happening to black Americans, which we believe happens in American society in a racially disproportionate way and further that this disproportion is the result of institutional biases; would you like to discuss this?" (Again, of course, this is far too long for a sound bite.)

Similarly, a mature, rational response to "it's okay to be white" is, more or less, to ignore it. People who do not already believe in the racial supremacy of white people, are not going to start believing it because of the "propaganda" of being told "don't worry, it's not in fact the case that your mere existence is unacceptable". A not-already-racist white person who notices such a sign isn't being convinced to become racist, but simply resonating with a resentment of how the racial discourse in American politics has changed.3

Nobody likes being identified with a group and subsequently demonized on the basis of membership in the group, especially when such membership was not freely chosen. That is, after all, the point of the discourse around racism. Racism is bad particularly because people don't get to choose their race, and thus they are being blamed for something out of their control. It's not bad because of the things racists do while citing their racist beliefs as a justification - just like how crimes committed by activists (of any stripe) don't invalidate their causes.

If a response really is necessary, a mature response looks something like: "of course; we don't assert otherwise", followed by a clear explanation of the actual arguments around "whiteness" that got people to the point where the IOTBW posters could actually draw any attention. (Of course, it would have to be an argument that actually doesn't involve white people being inherently morally inferior. I am not at all convinced that the academics in question don't actually believe that. The more I try to engage with their writing, the harder it becomes to believe that they have an actual non-bigoted point.)

It certainly does not look like "oh, no, to heck with that, You are Not Okay (and there's nothing you can do about it)".


1I feel compelled to include something here about how the media feels entitled to describe the words or actions of individuals as "racist" - which is to say, making it into an objective, factual claim, reported in news rather than analysis or opinion, and simply in passing as if this were not a moral judgment but a simple observation of the natural world. In reality, of course, racism is far more of a "social construct" than race itself.

1From what I can tell, this is entirely disingenuous; I am confident that none of these supposed academics would grant that a white person could in principle "stop being white", and you can see this from the accusations of transphobia lobbed at both Adams and at more serious academics - but I digress.

2I can't let this point pass without highlighting the way that white people who complain about this deluge of negative messaging - the constant association of one's race with Bad Things - will get yet another negative message in return. As I write this, I can already imagine the people who wish to respond to me in such a manner.

I could also say so much here about the actual demonstrated fragility of various marginalized groups; or the hypocrisy of people who promote "implicit association tests as evidence of "implicit bias" but don't think any of this overt messaging should count as evidence of their own bigotry; or the hypocrisy of explicitly engineering biased terminology while closely analyzing organically evolved English for bias - sometimes without heed to actual etymology; or the hypocrisy of academics using their position of power as academics, to promote the memes (in the original sense) that they do about "privilege"... but you get the idea. The short version is, the academics in this field come across to me as profoundly intellectually dishonest - and the people goading them, likely sense that as well.

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    re "although I have known Americans to apply the label "black" to people that I cannot possibly imagine as such," keep in mind that US law in some states codified the one-drop rule, which treated any person with just one Black ancestor as Black for the purpose of laws establishing racial segregation. This history can lead to constructions of race and self-identification in the US that differ from other countries. Of course, I'm not suggesting that this applies to Adams or that his statement should be viewed as anything but trolling. Feb 28, 2023 at 6:32
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    @ZachLipton codified, past tense. Legally struck down in 1967. Feb 28, 2023 at 7:07
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    Yes, of course, but I am saying that nearly a century of such laws being in force is relevant to racial identification in the US. That you/your parents/your grandparents were denied civil rights because the government deemed them to be Black is potentially relevant to how you choose to identify today regardless of your physical appearance. Or to put that another way, until 1967, the law in a number of states applied the label "Black" to people who you might imagine as such. Feb 28, 2023 at 7:38
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    "Indigenous status" is a very specific thing, and Elizabeth Warren never claimed it. She claimed indigenous ancestry, which is very different. May 11, 2023 at 13:31
  • @DJClayworth I can readily find evidence of many different nuanced wordings being used, both by herself and in media coverage. The point is that she likely benefited institutionally from this claim. (The amazing part to me about the story is that the Cherokee apparently reacted with outrage - not because she would call herself Cherokee with such a small blood quantum, but because she would treat such a use of genetic testing as legitimate in the first place. Sucks for them if they don't like the fact that science allows discerning these facts about one's ancestors, but it objectively does.) May 12, 2023 at 2:07
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The context is simple. Currently in the US, there is a political debate that is acting as a proxy for what some call culture war. Radical US conservatives have one particular world view that embodies a white-washed view of history, a drift towards anti-science, white nationalist agenda, and radical US progressives have another world view that moves towards an anti-free speech, pseudo-scientific, pluralist but subtly anti-white agenda in an effort to engineer a better society. Of course, the overwhelming majority of Americans occupy a reasonable middle ground. The language that surrounds the culture war at the moment might best be considered of one that stereotypes people based on wokeness. Since wokeness is so important in characterizing a person's politics in this (IMNSHO ridiculous) climate egged on by the fringe media that represents the views of both sets of extremists, it's important to have a shibboleth:

A shibboleth is any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one's social or regional origin.

Therefore, it's "okay to be white" which is almost an entirely meaningless statement (because it means different things to different people) since whiteness itself is a highly controversial folk and academic theory, and abused by both fringes, is a shibboleth. People who agree with it are asserting that they support more conservative values, and people who disagree with the statement are asserting they support progressive values. This is a form of implicature. Along with white guilt, one's stance on wokeness, critical race theory, and whitewashing make it easy to identify ideological friend or foe.

What do the polls show?

A few things. First, the polls show that there is a schism in the American civil religion. Both sides are vying to be "true" Americans and there is wrestling going on across the country to endorse what the country collectively should be doing and thinking. This happened before during the American Civil War and Gilded Age and this difference arguably goes back to the American Revolution itself. Views on the role of the government, how non-European's should be treated, and how people of different financial means should be treated are subjects of conflict from the very foundations of the disparate colonies that displaced Native Americans. In fact, to this day, some see the US as a collection of different cultures, such as Colin Woodard's book American Nations.

Is the poll meaningful? Well, that depends on your worldview. People on the "Radical Right" will see it as confirmation the world is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket, and people on the "Radical Left" will see as confirming that institutionalized racism needs to be rooted out by Marxist policy, and the vast majority of Americans will mostly go on about their day not paying much heed to the bullhorn that has been given to small, but very vocal minorities. In Europe, where parliaments accommodate multiple political parties, this would just be another day, but in the US, which has only two political parties (a notion frowned on by the Founding Fathers themselves), it's a big deal because the US political system operates generally on first-past-the post voting in primaries. This means, to get elected, politicians generally have an incentive to be more extreme in their partisanship to capture the party vote, and then enter the general race and claim they're moderates. Polls like this become soundbites for campaigns. And in primaries, wooing the extremists of the parties is often an easy route to victory. Rep. George Santos, who has recently become infamous, has done so because he has been caught wooing people all over the spectrum without any regard to truth at all apparently. He may get lambasted, but most politicians play the game of duping voters to get elected in one form or another.

The US is currently undergoing a change in identity that is based on a number of factors such as a change in economics because of globalism (the rich really are getting much richer as the Gini coefficient and other measures reflect), a change in demographics (people of European descent will soon be a minority when compared with others), and technology (robotics and AI like ChatGPT continues to threaten stable, living wages for the vast majority of Americans who struggle to pay their bills). This debate over whiteness is simply all of this complexity rolled in a simple set of slogans which in no way adequately reflect the richness of diversity of people and their views or sufficiently models the complexity of life in the United States. Unfortunately, drama sells, and so the various media and polling organizations will continue to encourage and profit from this (again in my not so humble opinion) inane discourse which raises important issues, but goes about resolving them in all the wrong ways.

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    – JJJ
    Mar 1, 2023 at 20:22
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Julian Sanchez recently described the context behind this situation in a thread on Twitter (I've reformatted it slightly into paragraphs and not tweets):

It seems like a bunch of folks were mercifully unfamiliar with the racist troll meme "it's OK to be white" recently dragged into the spotlight by the Dilbert Guy. It's interesting to examine because it parallels closely some more mainstream rhetorical strategies. Lemme 'splain.

A close analogy is to "white pride": It's supposed to sound innocuously parallel to phrases like "black pride" and "gay pride" which emerged as a reaction to a social context that told people those identities are shameful. But, of course, it means something very different. "It's OK to be white" is similarly supposed to sound innocuous—OBVIOUSLY it's OK to be whatever race you are, right?—but the subtext is that whites are a put upon or oppressed class, because that's the only context in which it would be relevant to say something like that.

It's a sort of rhetorical judo flip that works by willfully misinterpreting critiques of structural white supremacy or racism as an attack on the mere fact of being caucasian. And then stage 2 of the judo flip—which is the real point of the whole maneuver— is that when someone who understands what's going on takes exception, the troll gets to gasp in horror to anyone who doesn't get what's up "Oh, so you think it's NOT OK to be white?"

This is pretty well documented, by the way: The phrase was cooked up by racist trolls on 4chan for the explicit purpose of provoking a reaction and then pulling the judo flip. And it worked, at least with right-wing audiences.

So this crude, dumb version of the move is interesting, not just because of Dilbert Guy, but because we see a slightly more sophisticated version at work in a lot of the moral panic around CRT. The judo flip there is to willfully misread, say, discussions of "structural racism" or "white privilege" as a kind of personal attack designed to make your doe-eyed white child feel guilty and ashamed of being born with a melanin deficit.

Now, asterisk: They're aided somewhat in this by shitty DEI trainings that are designed as a kind of catharsis therapy for the white corporate workers and managers who are the main customers. You excavate your latent racism, have a good cry, and feel morally healed. All of which cuts pretty hard against the spirit of most academic CRT, where a central theme is that individual attitudes and personal psychology are a lot less important than institutional structures. Which is why you'll notice that in a lot of the anti-CRT moral panic literature, the examples are drawn heavily from crappy corporate DEI trainings, and the reader is meant to infer that this is what's being taught in classrooms.

Anyway, tangent aside: The core of the judo flip is the same in both cases, which is to activate a sense of white identity by making you feel personally attacked as a person of pallor, by the culture at large and by discussions of race and privilege in particular.

Context is everything here. US politics not-infrequently involves the use of "dog whistles" and statements with plausible deniability. Just as you understand how the term "all lives matter" cannot be divorced from its context as a response to "Black lives matter," "it's ok to be White?"—and the choice of a conservative pollster to ask the question and publicize the results—cannot be divorced from its origins and context as a message deliberately spread to provoke a reaction.

And the primary purpose of the phrase is to turn it back around on the subject and gasp in mock horror at anyone who doesn't agree with the seemingly innocuous statement. Someone answering "disagree" to this poll question might genuinely believe that it's not ok to be White (and unpacking the actual complex meaning behind such a genuine answer would require more than a simple agree/disagree question), but they might also be refusing to agree with a statement associated with neo-Nazi groups. A poll respondent given this question can only "agree" and endorse not just the phrase but the context that comes with it, "disagree" and be held up as intolerant by those who disingenuously pretend it's a completely innocuous question with no context, or refuse to answer.

It's a dangerous game to try to extract meaning from poll results of a trick question (see also the 21% who answered "not sure." Of course some portion of respondents may just be messing with the pollster, giving bogus answers to get through the poll in the hope of finishing or collecting some reward for participating, or otherwise not providing valid information), which is precisely the intent of the rhetorical strategy behind the phrase.

Finally, Sanchez's last sentence deserves attention. One aim of this rhetorical device is to target White audiences and "activate a sense of white identity by making you feel personally attacked as a person of pallor." This fits into a broader White Identity Movement. One of several ways in which "White identity" is used is by White Nationalists and the Identitarian movement, as fostering a greater sense of "White identity" is a necessary early step toward the path of radicalizing someone to their cause (e.g. alt-right: "a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization.")

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  • This is fundamentally the correct analysis, but it's presented in an obnoxiously partisan way (on Sanchez' part). Feb 28, 2023 at 2:24
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    For example, it justifies not treating every (potentially p-hacked) statistical disparity between races as inherent evidence of racism against black people; not treating Asian-Americans as either white or non-white according to what is politically expedient; ending to explicitly discriminatory "affirmative action" policies; not attempting to blame white people for anti-Asian discrimination perpetrated by black people (or vice-versa); not promoting rhetoric accusing the US of being a "white supremacist nation"; not accusing people who complain about the previous things of "white fragility".... Mar 1, 2023 at 16:43
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The primary context that must be born in mind with this study is that it is completed (online I think, but they want you to pay for details) by people who are willing to answer question for an openly partisan organisation.

How this should be interpreted is not clear, will the effect of non-random participant selection have more of an effect that the provision of inaccurate answers? However, what is clear is that this should not be taken as any sort of description of the true sentiments of the population as a whole. I think we can also exclude a serious philosophical determination in most cases. That leaves us guessing what some unknown subset of the population was thinking while they clicked on an internet poll.

These points, as well as others such the inappropriateness of the question to such a survey (if you troll, you will get trolled), are made by the 538 podcast, a well respected polling aggregator.

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    can you provide source about the online bit? that would give plenty of scope to research the exact phrase. Feb 27, 2023 at 18:18
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    I have never heard of this organization, are you suggesting everyone who responded to the poll knows about it's "open partisanship"? Feb 28, 2023 at 0:02
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I have added a link to the survey page, without paying you can get to "national telephone and online survey" but not the proportions of each.
    – User65535
    Feb 28, 2023 at 11:23
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    @AzorAhai-him- Not everyone, but enough to influence the result.
    – User65535
    Feb 28, 2023 at 11:24
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    @User65535 I would say you haven't convinced me. Mar 1, 2023 at 4:16

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