We should be cautious about the “OKAY” hand gesture—but not jump to conclusions

Katelyn Meza, News Editor

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The “OKAY” hand gesture for centuries has been utilized as a symbol meaning an acknowledgment that something is good. It is a simple gesture where the index finger and thumb curve to touch while the remaining three fingers are pointed in the air. A harmless gesture for a simple response.

In recent years, the hand gesture has been prevalent in modern trends, appearing in photos as a common hand sign, such as the two-finger peace sign, and even commonly in social interactions for innocent laughs. However, on September 26, 2019, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added 36 new symbols to its “Hate on Display” database, including the now-infamous “OKAY” hand gesture. The gesture is now labeled as a hate symbol supporting white supremacy and authorities are taking the symbol very seriously.

To clarify, the gesture itself does similarly spell “W.P.” for “White Power”. The extended three fingers remaining spell out the “W”, and the crook of the index finger and thumb leading into the beholder’s wrist spells out the “P”. Although this gesture began innocently, it developed into an adopted hate symbol based on a hoax, and a majority of us have no idea.

This entire controversy began in 2017 when a website introduced the hoax that the gesture was related to supporting white supremacy. The gesture became more prevalent as a trend, and, consequently, an uncomfortable ambivalence remains of whether or not one is a supporter of white supremacy for utilizing the gesture. It wasn’t until 2019 did white supremacists announce their decision to adopt the symbol as their own and thus, the ADL added the once innocent gesture to its list of hate symbols. 

As a member of today’s modern generation, who has seen the popular trend of the infamous gesture, I believe we must become aware of and understand the seriousness of its new meaning. Now, I am not saying you support white supremacy if you have ever flashed this symbol in your life, which we all have done at least once. However, today, we must be aware of the consequences of openly displaying the symbol since authorities are taking action against those that utilize it. For example, on May 7, 2019, a Chicago Cubs fan flashed the symbol to be visibly seen on a live broadcast reporting on the Cubs baseball game. Authorities swarmed in immediately and the fan is banned for life from attending a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The symbol also caused mass hysteria when the terrorist involved in the New Zealand shooting that killed 51 Muslims flashed the gesture in his courtroom appearance.

It is quite sad how an innocent symbol, one commonly used for American Sign Language or an innocent response, can take a turn for a hateful representation. We must be cautious when it comes to handling the symbol since it holds a serious and horrific meaning. Although we now know of the gesture’s newly established meaning, that does not mean we should accuse others of supporting white supremacy if the symbol is unknowingly displayed. No one truly understands the new meaning of the symbol because of how innocent it had always appeared until 2019. The use of the symbol does not make you a supporter if you have innocent intentions. However, now that there is a newly established meaning, one that causes a horrific uproar and issuing of serious consequences, it is up to you how mindful you want to be when displaying the “OKAY” gesture.

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