Bob Neal

You may see that headline as similar to the question that started the whole flap last month over racist comments by “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams.

The fallout, after Adams said white people should “get the hell away from” Black people and called Black Americans “a hate group,” ended his career. Hundreds of newspapers, including the Sun Journal, canceled the cartoon in response. Dilbert, a one-trick pony, long ago lost its edge.

Never mind that 53% of Black folks responding to the poll Adams had referenced said “Yes,” it’s OK to be white. And in polling, 53% is a big margin.

The poll was conducted Feb. 13-15 by Rasmussen Reports, a company whose polls historically tilt to favor Republicans just as Survey Monkey polls tilt toward Democrats.

According to, a polling company that rates other pollsters, Rasmussen overestimated Republican votes in 2022 by 1.4 percentage points. Doesn’t seem a lot, but in tight races, that’s more than the edge between win and lose. Survey Monkey, 538 said, overestimated Democratic votes by 4.7 points, which makes Survey Monkey thoroughly unreliable.

The problem with the Rasmussen poll that ended Scott Adams’s career (unless some back channel such as FOX “News” picks him up as a commentator) was that one of its two questions was biased and the other was meaningless. Those are no-noes for honest pollsters.


Rasmussen asked: “Do you agree or disagree with the statement, ‘It’s OK to be white?’” and, “Do you agree or disagree with the statement that ‘Black people can be racist, too?’”

The first question is a trope (“a common or overused theme,” says Merriam Webster). White “Christian” nationalists use it as a cover for racism. Knowing that, people may react viscerally to it. The second question is a truism (“a statement that is obviously true and says nothing new or interesting”), so it adds nothing to the ultra-important discussion of race in America.

Go a bit deeper into the first question. If you ask a Black person whether it’s OK to be white, she may ask herself, “Does this mean for me to be white? Or for white people to be white? For everyone to be white?” It’s clearly unclear, which makes it not only biased but also unreliable.

When I took survey research in college, we used more time and brainpower to get the questions as neutral as possible than anything else. If the questions are biased, the answers will be biased.

America’s grand experiment in mixology — no, I don’t mean mixing drinks, I mean mixing peoples — has a built-in tension. We have both small identities, whether Irish-American or African-American or Mexican-American, etc. But we also share a large identity as Americans. The small identities are built on conditions of birth, such as the someplace else from which our forebears came. The large identity is our presence and our participation in this place.

Lately, we overstress our small identities, such as the someplace else. Time was, the someplace else for the big majority of us was Europe. In time coming, that someplace else for most of us will be Africa, Asia and Latin America. Already is in Texas, California and maybe Florida.


My mother grew up in the time of “No Irish Need Apply” signs in shop windows. She thought that was just fine. For nearly 80 years, I believed I was of Scottish heritage. Went to several Highland Games. Even ate haggis. Once. Then a genealogist told us that our Neal ancestor came in 1839 from Ireland. That whirring sound is my mother spinning in her grave in Kennebunk.

I blame Democrats for making politics about our condition of birth rather than about getting along in the world. But Republicans have made a weapon of identity, putting their cards on the table of white resentment. So Rasmussen stirs the pot with a bad poll boosting Republicans.

And Scott Adams took the bait. His bent toward self-destruction reminds me of someone. Oh, yeah, the Orange Menace, who never misses an opportunity to undercut himself.

Though this emphasis on our small identities obscures our large identity, we handle the tension quite well in other pursuits.

Example. Farmers get together to sell at farmers markets. I did it for 30 years. We form associations to draw up bylaws, screen and admit new members, manage market days and the like. We cooperate as a market association. Our large identity.

But on market day, in our small identities, we compete. When I sold turkey items at market, I competed with vendors of beef, pork, lamb, goat and, especially, chicken. It may be good for me, say, to vote against admitting a new member who wants to sell chicken, but it is good for the market to have a chicken vendor, who may bring more shoppers. Including to my stand.


Athletes do the same, competing for their teams or schools (small identities) then shaking hands at game’s end to seal the common bond of sweat, practice, aches and sister/brotherhood (large).

While bowing to our small identities can satisfy both our own psyches and the criteria of news, I’d like to see us nod more often to our large identity.

We are, after all, in the same boat, even if we didn’t all come over on it together.

Bob Neal believes it’s fine at a bar, to lift glasses to “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” Lots of us likely did it last night. But at night’s end, we can link arms and sing, “America the Beautiful.” Neal can be reached at [email protected].

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