Being Provocative Isn't the Best Way To Start a Conversation | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Amani Wells-Onyioha and Leslie Marshall during a Newsweek debate about controversial comments made by Dilbert creator Scott Adams about African-Americans. You can listen to the podcast here:

Amani Wells Onyioha:

Scott Adam's comments came off to me as just blatantly racist. There's really no other way to frame the situation, even though I do agree that these are conversations that need to be had. We have congress people who are calling for quite literally a separation of the states and going by and having the division that we had that could reignite quite literally a civil war. So clearly the, um, energy of the country is in a place where there's a lot of dissension. There's a lot of just chaos between a lot of people in differing opinions. So, I do agree that conversations pertaining to race need to be had, but it's all about the intentions when you're going into the conversation. I don't believe that being provocative is the best way to start a conversation around something that's already such a very sensitive and sourced subject for a lot of people. It's one thing to say, "hey guys, race is an issue in this country. Let's talk about it. Let's be honest". You can go into it with an open heart and an open mind and have real dialogue, which is very necessary. But when you go into it with such a negative spin, and you're already ready to say, "let's get rid of the blacks", that's not a good way to start a conversation. So, whether his intentions were pure or not from his commentary, to me, it doesn't seem like they were, but if they were, there's a million other ways to go about having that conversation and go about letting each side be heard.

I think this is a perfect situation puts a spotlight to where we are as a nation as a whole, and that outrage and narratives is really all people have left in order to feel like they can get something done. People are tired of their lives being the same. The laws haven't changed. There's no healthcare. The schools are going away. Our country is quite literally crumbling around us. And I feel like people get caught up in the outrage of something or having to comment, because that's the only way that they can have an outlet. That's the only way that they can feel like they can get direct change is getting somebody canceled because it's the only time they see results. Cause and effect.

Since its launch in 1989, Dilbert went on to appear in thousands of comic strips and spawned a TV show. In this shot from January 1999, the character was invited to ring the New York Stock Exchange opening bell to promote the launch of the new Dilbert TV show. HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images

Leslie Marshall:

I agree with Amani that it was racist, and it was racist toward both whites and blacks, but I would also agree that meaningful dialogue can't be had when we're so hung up on the headline and the sound bite that is put up there for sensationalism. Look, I know the folks at Rasmussen. They're nice people, but there is a reality to different polling groups. And Rasmussen is pretty much a very conservative polling group. Secondly, polls right now really can't be trusted. And I say that as a democratic strategist and political analyst who crunches these numbers all the time, because the methodology has changed so much. And there are different ways to reach so many different segments of the population. So many ways the question is phrased that could make an individual or a group, whether it's whites or blacks, come off sounding much different than their intent based on solely the way the question was posed. What we have here reminds me of shock jock talk radio. But the difference is, this isn't those days, and the demographics of our country have changed. A lot of people are looking to have their name trending in social media and not realizing perhaps, or maybe do realize and don't care, the ramifications and the weight of their comments and how offensive and dangerous those comments can be.

Amani Wells-Onyioha is a political organizer and Director of Operations at Sole Strategies.

Leslie Marshall is a Political Analyst, National Radio Host, and a Fox News Contributor who provides political analysis from a liberal point of view.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.