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SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter CEO Elon Musk recently accused US media and educational institutions of being “racist” against white and Asian people. In a tweet, Musk argued that “elite colleges and high schools” are just as racist as “the media,” and that they should “try not being racist.” He also claimed that US media organizations have long been racist against non-white people, but are now racist against whites and Asians. Musk did not provide evidence to support these claims. Musk made these statements following the news that various media outlets had cut the syndication of the comic strip Dilbert after its creator, Scott Adams, made racist comments on his YouTube channel. Adams was criticizing a poll that found that 26% of black respondents disagreed with the statement “It’s okay to be white.” Adams had called these respondents a “hate group” and advised white people to avoid them.

Hate speech and racism in media and education

Musk’s accusations are significant because they come from a prominent business leader and a well-known influencer on social media. However, his claims are not well-supported by the evidence. The accusations also risk obscuring the significant problem of systemic racism, especially in the workplace.

For example, in a lawsuit brought by the California Civil Rights Department, Tesla was accused of racist discrimination against black workers. The lawsuit claimed that Tesla assigned black workers to more difficult and dangerous jobs than their white colleagues, kept black employees in lower positions despite their qualifications, and retaliated against workers who complained about racism. The company was later sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and was ordered to pay damages to a former worker who suffered racist abuse at the company’s factory.

Racial disparities in media and education

Studies show that US newsrooms and Hollywood are still predominantly white, and black people remain underrepresented both on and off screen. 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.

According to the most recent 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. However, despite their educational attainment, Asians are underrepresented in leadership roles in US academic libraries and higher education.

Overall, systemic racism continues to be a significant issue in many aspects of American society, including in media, education, and the workplace. Musk’s claims that the media and education institutions are “racist” against white and Asian people are not supported by evidence, and risk distracting from the more significant problem of systemic racism against people of color. It is essential to acknowledge and address the disparities and discrimination that continue to exist in various sectors of society to create a more equitable and just society for all.

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