radcen is tragically unhip, at times, but the story you are about to read is true.
About three months ago my wife and I were visiting friends and relatives in another state. I was out by myself for the morning and was hungry so I stopped in a fast food drive-thru for some lunch. The line was long and slow, apparently one car had a huge order and it hung everything up. I finally got to the window, paid, and was given my drink. The person working working the window was a young black gentleman. Usually that’s completely irrelevant and I would not mention it, but for this story it is central to the issue.
Anyway, he was friendly, and I was about to be fed so I was in a good mood, so we chatted for a couple moments and everything was fine. I was taking a drink of my soda and could not respond verbally when at one point he apologized for the wait and said the fries would be done shortly. And here’s where it all went awry…
I inadvertently flashed him the “white supremacy” hand symbol… only I didn’t. What I flashed him was the benign “a-ok” symbol. The young man’s face and demeanor changed immediately and once I saw that I realized what he was probably thinking… and I became angry. Very angry.
A Little Background
I went back to my hotel room and did a little research. I had known the a-ok symbol had been co-opted by white supremacists, but it wasn’t on my mind this day. To me I still think of it as “a-ok”. In my research I checked several sources, but the Wikipedia page seemed the best in condensing it into a single place. I also learned a few things I did not know.
- The symbol is known pretty much the world over. Sounds logical.
- The symbol has a wide variety of meanings depending on what country and/or culture is using it. In some places it can be either good or bad. Ok, I can buy that.
- I did know this, but wanted confirmation in my mind: In the US the a-ok symbol had been co-opted by white supremacists in 2017, so that’s relatively recent.
How do you just take over something as common and well known and established as a hand gesture? Well, apparently you just decide to, then do it, and everybody on both sides follows along. That’s all I can figure here. I’ll admit I am still shocked how easy this was to do.
Back to The Incident
So I flash the young man the “a-ok” symbol, thinking, “we’re good”. He saw something else, and not unreasonably. I had known the alternate meaning for about a year, but it’s generally not on my radar and it wasn’t on that day. My anger was palpable. Not at the young man, he was fine. Not at me, I had no insidious intent, though I felt duped into inadvertently supporting people and values I do not support or agree with. I was angry at two groups of people… 1, primarily) the assholes who have done this and in their own small way made society even worse and troubled than it already is, and 2) the rest of society who have so weakly accepted it, effectively endorsing it.
So here we are, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to apologize and explain myself and my innocent intent to the young man, but judging from his new demeanor it seemed it would be a hollow gesture and a waste of time. The damage had been done, and he had turned away. It bothered me the rest of the day… and I have often thought about it since (that’s why I’m up at 4am writing this, my mind was racing about it again).
Can Anything Be Done?
In reading a Los Angeles Times editorial ( Editorial: It’s not OK to let white supremacists take over the OK hand signal ) I found suggests we fight back, we take the a-ok symbol back. And that’s what I want to do, take it back, reclaim it from these a-holes.
“…many people unknowingly make offending gestures; it’s hard to keep up”
~from the LA Times link above.
But can we reclaim it? If you read the link it’s already become almost ubiquitous, accepted. Too many a-holes use it for their insidious purposes and too many “woke” people just sit back and treat it as such and act self-righteously indignant whether the person’s intent was good, bad, or innocent. There is no discussion, it’s assumed the intent was bad. And all because some repugnant schmuck(s) decided to make it so.
I could purposely continue to flash the a-ok symbol, but that would cause a lot of unnecessary anguish and misunderstanding. As much as I like and *want* the LA Times’ point to be valid and work, I’m not seeing it happening at this point. In four short years it’s already become too ingrained in our collective psyche. I could switch to a “thumbs up”. That’s still acceptable, I think. I could do nothing and let the pricks of the world have their way, again. We always seem to default back to that last option. I’m failing to come up with a viable effective option to reclaim the hand sign. It’s done.
The Importance of it All
I know people, friends even, who will read this and think I’m making it all about me… how I am affected by it… over anything else. They’ll even whip the “p-word” on me to justify their conclusion. Way to miss the point. I’m only a bit player in this.
And yes, it does annoy me, but not so much in those ways. What I am really concerned about is people like this young man. Was he threatened by this? No, not right then, right there, directly. Nobody was going to jump through the drive-thru window and slaughter the crew… well, probably not, things like do happen on occasion. But he would be justified in interpreting it as a veiled threat, kind of a “You better watch out, we’re coming for you and will get you eventually.”, kind of thing. He didn’t know me, I’m just some random white guy at the window. That’s some serious shit, and is something he has to think about every day. It’s real and it’s dark and it’s poisonous. That’s how small things like this event over a maliciously appropriated innocent hand gesture runs deeper into our entire society.
OK sign is under siege: How the squeaky-clean hand gesture was twisted by trolls and acquired racist undertones – Chicago Tribune (This one is especially interesting.)