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The Meaning Behind the Phrase “It’s Okay to Be White”

The ”Dilbert” comic will not appear in newspapers after the long-running satire of office life lost its distributor (MSN). Controversy erupted after cartoonist Scott Adams advised white people to “get the hell away from Black people,” whom he described as a “hate group.” Adams reacted to conservative pollsters reporting that 26% of Black people in the U.S. disagree with the statement “It’s okay to be white,” with another 21% unsure. “If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people, that’s a hate group,” Adams said. “And I don’t want to have anything to do with them” (Yahoo!).

Professing that Black people are generally dangerous is clearly bigoted. Claiming all Black people constitute a “hate group” is absurd. It’s still worthwhile to unpack opposition to “It’s okay to be white.” Since nobody can change their race on a whim, isn’t denying that it’s okay to be white discriminatory, as Adams claims? To understand why that’s not the case, we can look at the phrase’s history. 


• Reject derailment of anti-racism by using the tools in this article and reject white victimization.

• Use the resources in this article to respond when people use “white lives matter” in conversation.

• Support the Black Comic Book Festival.

“It’s okay to be white” was popularized on 4chan’s /pol/ discussion board in 2017 (Press Herald). Participants were encouraged to put out “It’s okay to be white” posters at universities in order to generate a backlash, thereby “proving” anti-white discrimination and driving new members to white supremacist organizations. In other words, 47% of Black respondents had responded negatively or ambivalently to a phrase invented as part of a white supremacist marketing campaign (Washington Post). 

“It’s okay to be white” is similar to “White Lives Matter,” a slogan displayed by Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, at Paris Fashion Week (USA Today). “White Lives Matter” was popularized by neo-Nazis as a rejoinder to #BlackLivesMatter (Al JazeeraSPLC). “All Lives Matter” was similarly deployed to “derail the specific conversation about racism against Black people” (The Conversation). Whenever racial justice advocates objected, the right used it as evidence that Black Lives Matter proponents secretly believe that white lives don’t. 

Even for those unaware of its Nazi origins, hand-wringing over opposition to “It’s okay to be white” is a similar derailment, at best. Not even three years ago, millions of people came together to reject a system under which it is sometimes not okay to be Black and walk to buy candy (CBS Miami), or sit in your home after midnight (USA Today), or jog (BBC). Per its constitution, it was not okay to be Black in the state of Oregon. Racial language in Oregon’s constitution was not removed until a 2002 referendum that almost a third of voters opposed (Oregon EncyclopediaBallotpedia).

White people have never been threatened with death for doing any of these things on the basis of their race. It’s okay to be white and a Fortune 500 CEO: 93% are (UCSC). For all but one of the top 50 wealthiest people in the United States, it’s also been okay to be white (Forbes). Despite claims that white families are under attack, they have managed to retain 89% of household wealth. Black families have less than 3% (Federal Reserve).

There is a narrative that white people are threatened by anti-racism run amok (PBSNPR). This is nonsense. Anti-oppressive language can be used in incorrect or self-serving ways, as can anything (HBR). The existence of immoral driving instructors doesn’t mean we ought to ignore stop signs.

For centuries, white people have imagined that people of color are on the verge of doing away with them entirely. But white people are still here, and white supremacy is, too. What the far right fashions as radical free-thinking and truth-telling is simply rehashing a very old and sad story of imagined white victimhood—one all-too-often adopted to fuel white resentment and terror. 


• The “Dilbert” comic strip has been removed from newspapers after its creator advised white people to stay away from Black people, whom he characterized as a “hate group.” 

• This was in response to a report that 47% of Black people in the U.S. are unsure about or disagree with the statement, “It’s okay to be white.” 

• The slogan was invented as a ruse to drive recruitment for white supremacist organizations.

1920 1280 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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