Technology

Tesla Chief Executive Office Elon Musk speaks at his company’s factory in Fremont, California.
Noah Berger | Reuters

Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, has accused “the media,” and “elite colleges and high schools” of being “racist” against white and Asian people, espousing his views without providing evidence on Sunday.

Musk posted his comments on Twitter, where he boasts nearly 130 million followers, in response to news that media organizations around the country decided to cut the comic strip “Dilbert” from syndication after its creator, Scott Adams, delivered a racist tirade in a video on his YouTube channel last week.

In the video, Adams discussed a poll conducted by right-leaning Rasmussen Reports that said 26% of Black respondents disagreed with the statement “It’s OK to be white.” The phrase referenced in their poll has been labeled a “hate slogan” by the Anti-Defamation League. In his video, Adams called Black people who rejected that phrase as a “hate group.”

Adams also said that he personally chose to live in a community where few or no Black people lived, and then advised his white viewers to “get the hell away from Black people,” saying he didn’t “want to have anything to do with them.”

Adams’ video was published during Black History month in the US, which was established in 1976 by President Gerald Ford as a period during which to honor the struggles and contributions of Black Americans.

Among the news outlets that dropped “Dilbert” were The Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Washington Post and USA Today.

Musk’s track record

Brian Levin, a civil rights attorney and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University said, in response to Musk’s tweets:

“Systemic racism requires not only widespread bigotry to be held within a group but also a structural component that allows discrimination and oppression to be imposed on a minority because of an advantage of access and power. A white billionaire from South Africa who recently lost a high profile racial discrimination case may not be in the best position to offer counsel.”

As CNBC previously reported, a San Francisco federal court ruled that Tesla must pay a former worker, Owen Diaz, for damages after he endured a hostile work environment and racist abuse at the company’s factory where he previously worked as an elevator operator.

Additionally, the EEOC, a federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, has issued a cause finding against Tesla according to a financial filing from the company last year.

Prior to the EEOC finding, the California Civil Rights Department (formerly known as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) sued Tesla after a three year investigation, alleging widespread racist discrimination at Tesla factories and facilities across the state.

The CRD alleged that Tesla has kept Black workers in lower-level roles at the company even when they have the skills and experience to be promoted to more senior roles; assigned Black workers more demanding, dangerous and dirty work in their facilities; and retaliated against Black workers who complained formally about what they endured, including racist slurs used by managers.

Tesla called the CRD’s lawsuit “misguided,” and later counter-sued the agency.

The data on racism

Musk made his claims about “the media” and some higher educational institutions and high schools in the US without presenting any evidence.

Specifically, he wrote, “The media is racist.” He then added, “For a *very* long time, US media was racist against non-white people, now they’re racist against whites & Asians. Same thing happened with elite colleges & high schools in America. Maybe they can try not being racist.” 

According to Pew Research, newsroom employees are much more likely to be white (and male) than U.S. workers overall. In film and TV, according to McKinsey research, “Black talent is underrepresented across the industry, particularly off-screen.” Less than 6% of the writers, directors, and producers of US-produced films are Black, McKinsey found.

According to the most recent available US Census Bureau data, about 29% of non-Hispanic white people in the US have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher levels of education, about 18.4% of Black people in the US have attained that level of education, and about 51.3% of Asian people have attained that level of education.

Despite Asian American educational attainment, Asians are underrepresented in leadership roles in U.S. academic libraries and higher education, according to research by Mihoko Hosoi, published in the Journal of Library Administration in 2022.

Musk also replied to one Twitter account that said unarmed white people impacted by police violence only get a fraction of the media attention paid to Black people injured or killed by police. Musk claimed that the media coverage is “Very disproportionate to promote a false narrative.”

According to research by Brookings Institute, “Black people are 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police when Blacks are not attacking or do not have a weapon,” and “Black teenagers are 21 times more likely than white teenagers to be killed by police.”

Hate speech on Twitter

Imran Ahmed, the CEO and founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate said in response to Musk’s tweets, “Elon Musk seeks to portray himself as some weird, bizarro champion of anti-racism whereas in reality when he took over Twitter, he made a series of disturbing decisions to change its rules to welcome racist hate back onto the platform and, as our research has shown, to profit from the controversy and attention hate generates.”

Ahmed also called on remaining advertisers to re-evaluate whether they want to spend their budgets on Twitter, given Musk’s beliefs and changes he has made to the Twitter platform.

Since leading a $44 billion leveraged buyout of Twitter late last year, and appointing himself “Chief Twit” or CEO, Musk has stirred controversy and lost money at the social media business.

Under Musk’s watch, Twitter has restored the accounts of some previously banned and divisive figures, including neo-Nazi website founder Andrew Anglin. His moves led to an unprecedented rise in hate speech on the platform, the Center found, and drew an immediate outcry from civil rights leaders.

Hundreds of Twitter’s top advertisers have since halted or pulled back on ad spending there. One firm estimated that Twitter’s ad revenue declined as much as 70% in December from the previous year, Reuters reported. Musk acknowledged in a November tweet that the company suffered a “massive drop in revenue” after advertisers paused spending on the social media platform.

Musk and representatives at Twitter, SpaceX, and Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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