Flashing the “OK” Sign is Not OK? 

Luis Molinero / shutterstock.com
Luis Molinero / shutterstock.com

For most Americans, the “OK” sign is a harmless way to silently communicate agreement, indicate that something is going well, or signal that someone is doing fine.  

The innocent hand gesture has apparently become a symbol of “white supremacy” somehow, and the only thing standing between the sign and being charged with a hate crime is someone else’s ability to “interpret” what the intention was behind its use. 

When Reade Whitney, head athletic trainer for D.C. United soccer team flashed the “discriminatory” gesture during a photo op, it cost him his job. It would seem he was allegedly stupid enough to use a hate sign in a very public photo.  

But was he? 

The incident parallels many others, including a 2019 firing of a Universal Orlando character actor dressed as Gru, who was caught making the hand gesture.  

The gesture isn’t universally accepted as an innocent one. In France, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, giving the “OK” sign is an insult. For these cultures, flashing the sign indicates the recipient of the gesture is meaningless or worth “zero.” 

But in America, it’s a friendly, widely accepted nonverbal cue to indicate that all is well, everything is going according to plan, or that you agree with an instruction or statement. So how did extremists manage to turn an innocent sign into a symbol for hatred? 

In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report highlighting the use of the “OK” hand sign as a covert “white power” symbol by numerous white nationalists and internet trolls. This innocuous gesture was adopted by groups like the Proud Boys and other white supremacist and right-wing organizations who began employing it during TV broadcasts and photographs as a means of spreading their hateful ideology discreetly. Its rising popularity within these hate groups caught the attention of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, prompting them to add the “OK” hand gesture to their “Hate on Display” database in 2019. This database compiles various symbols used to convey messages of hate or discrimination. 

Oren Segal, Vice President for the Center on Extremism, said that the misappropriation of the “OK” sign started internet chat rooms, like 8chan and 4chan, but has now allegedly spread to white supremacist groups. 

Segal pointed out that the context is always important, noting that most people have no idea of the “double meaning” now hiding in the innocent gesture. “But in those cases where there’s more underlining meaning, I think it’s important for people to understand that it could be used, and is being used, for hate as well.” 

It’s not enough that accidentally using the wrong gender identifier is a hate crime. Now, flashing a hand signal commonly accepted for generations to mean “A-Okay” can get you fired if someone else incorrectly interprets your intentions. 

Throughout Carol Burnett’s TV variety show, she ended each night by bidding the audience good night and tugging on her ear. Many people are unaware that this gesture was a loving communication with her grandmother, who was watching the show. 

“My grandmother raised me out here in Hollywood. When I got my first job back in New York, I called her and I said, ‘Nanny, I’m going to be on television Saturday morning.’ She said, ‘Well, you gotta say hello to me.’ We figured this out — to pull my ear — and that was my signal to her,” she revealed. “It always meant ‘Hi Nanny. I’m fine. I love you.’” 

In 2021, wildly popular Korean Boy Band BTS revealed an entire sequence of personal communications they use in videos, ranging from “We love you” to “Pizza is fantastic.” The progressives would probably enjoy tearing their videos apart, looking for offensive hand gestures. 

For most Americans, the “OK” sign means exactly what it has meant for decades. Letting others add their own interpretations of the sign, such as alleging that Whitney was intentionally flashing a “white supremacist” signal, is dangerous. 

It’s just another example of a crisis that never was a crisis, brought about by progressives desperately searching for new ways to be offended. 

And that’s not “OK.”