Scott Adams’ comic strip Dilbert is hugely popular for its quirky depiction of office culture, poking fun at bumbling bureaucracy. Published since 1989, in 2013 it achieved a daily reach of 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries and 25 languages.
As the workplace of the eponymous main character is situated in Silicon Valley, one might rightly expect it to be at the forefront of progressive groupthink. Indeed, Adams told Fox News:
“All of the wokeness and anything that permeated from ESG [environmental, social, and governance] … that stuff made its way into the business world, and then, it became proper content for Dilbert.”
Adams recently introduced a new character, Dave, who enjoys teasing his boss. Dave is the first black character in Dilbert, and named after Adams’ own brother. Every character has a laughable personality flaw, and Adams had hesitated to include a black one, afraid that he would be accused of racism if he had a black character with some lampoonable feature.
After attempting to crowdsource an idea for a suitable black character, Adams finally decided that the character’s flaw would be that he identifies as white – whether in jest or not, is yet to be revealed. This messes up his manager’s diversity targets.
Real life can be stranger than fiction. Dave’s transracialism brings to mind Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identified as black and Native American; she successfully hoodwinked African American members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where she was president of the Spokane chapter from 2014-2015.
Another transracial aspirant is Oli London, a British social media influencer who came out as non-binary and Korean. “This is who I am. It’s in my DNA,” he asserted.
Dave did generate backlash – but not in the way Adams expected. Instead of being accused of racism, he was accused of transphobia. Offended parties interpreted his comic as ridiculing the notion of self-identification.
Dilbert was soon dropped by Lee Enterprises, a chain of 77 newspapers across America, which represented a substantial financial loss for Adams. “It was part of a larger overhaul, I believe, of comics, but why they decided what was in and what was out, that’s not known to anybody except them, I guess,” he said.
Undeterred, Adams hinted “he would, in fact, address transgender issues more directly in an upcoming comic strip, in which a familiar character, Wally the engineer, would claim falsely to be a ‘birthing person’ to obtain greater benefits in the workplace and avoid having to do his job.”
Neurotic people think that all sorts of things are about them, when in reality the speaker or writer may have entirely something else in mind. What does it say about our culture when corporations pander to the neurotic instead of the sane?
The introduction of Dave can be taken as a critique of diversity quotas, the corporatisation of identity politics, or a gentle jab at the fraught issue of race in modern America. Adams says:
“What I do is I talk about how the employees handle the situation. It’s not about the goal of it. But that’s enough to make people think that I must be taking sides politically.”
Perhaps the outrage over this simple comic reveals more about the dysfunction and personal biases of its critics than any possible flaw in Dilbert’s creator.