Many’s the time we have touched a hand’s index finger to the tip of its thumb and held up the other fingers to indicate to someone that things are “OK.” That’s been the universally understood meaning of the gesture for most of our lives, but lately it’s taken on a more sinister connotation as a symbol of the white supremacy movement.
The latest controversy to arise from this change occurred at Friday’s annual renewal of the longstanding football rivalry between the Army and Naval military academies, where at least two of the West Point cadets on the Annapolis midshipmen were caught on camera flashing the sign behind a sideline reporter. A surprising number of viewers noticed, and they raised enough brouhaha about it that both academies have promised an investigation.
We wouldn’t be surprised if it all turns out to be much ado about nothing, as previous brouhahas about the gesture have been. President Donald Trump frequently uses the gesture, but so did President Donald Trump and President George W. Bush and countless other people less credibly accused of white supremacist sympathies, and we’re quite willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the two women who were photographed making the gesture in the gallery at Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
This time is slightly more suspicious, though, as the cadets and the midship were making the gesture from the hip with the hand down. We’ve always made the gesture with the hand upright above the shoulder, where it looks somewhat like an “o” and a “k,” but it’s become common on the “alt-right” to do it with a downward motion and the thumb at the index fingers first to digit to look like a “w” and a “p,” symbolizing “white power” to those in the know. That’s what the white supremacist who shot up a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, did when he was photographed in a shot seen around the world while wearing a waist chain and handcuffs, and since then a number of prominent white supremacists have adopted it. Enough of the white supremacists leaders around the world have been photographed flashing the sign that the Anti-Defamation League lists it on its long litany of hate symbols, although they caution that someone might just be signaling a happy “OK.”
White supremacists tend to be fascinated with symbology, and have already appropriated everything from ancient Norse tokens to the “Pepe the Frog” cartoon character, and the people who make Tiki torches and the New Balance sneaker company had to sue them for improper use of their brands. We hope don’t they appropriate the Republican party’s brand, although they have already sullied it, and we especially hope they don’t rob our rich American language of the good old “OK” sign.”
We also hope that no one in America’s military academies is flashing a “white power” sign.
— Bud Norman