Thursday, 11 March 2021 16:49

FAMILY: Hand signal in photo misinterpreted as hate symbol

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To some, this means "okay." However, others interpret it as a hate symbol. To some, this means "okay." However, others interpret it as a hate symbol. Photo Illustration by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — An innocent family prank involving a hand symbol in a Senior Night photo has generated concern from some Richmond County residents.


Tom and Lisa Luckey flashed the “O.K.” sign upside down Monday evening while posing for a photo with their son Cale during the Raiders soccer team Senior Night.

Several people who saw the photo, which was posted to the Richmond Observer’s Facebook page, perceived the hand signal as a gesture of white supremacy.

As the New York Times reported in 2019, while touching the index finger and thumb together with the other fingers outstretched has several traditional meanings — including being used in sign language and as a sign of approval — it reportedly became a “white power” symbol following a hoax on the social media site 4chan.

On its page regarding the sign as a “hate symbol,” the Anti-Defamation League says, “... the hoax was so successful the symbol became a popular trolling tactic on the part of right-leaning individuals, who would often post photos to social media of themselves posing while making the ‘okay’ gesture.

“Ironically, some white supremacists themselves soon also participated in such trolling tactics, lending an actual credence to those who labeled the trolling gesture as racist in nature. By 2019, at least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy …”

However, the ADL also acknowledges the symbol’s other known uses and urges people not to jump to conclusions, even including a note at the top of the page saying, “...particular caution must be used when evaluating this symbol.”

“Since 2017, many people have been falsely accused of being racist or white supremacist for using the ‘okay’ gesture in its traditional and innocuous sense.

“Other, similar-seeming hand gestures have also been mistakenly assumed to have white supremacist connotations as a result of the “okay” hoax. One of these is the so-called “Circle Game,” in which people attempt to trick each other into looking at an okay-like hand gesture made somewhere below the waist.”

That game is sometimes also referred to as the “Gotcha” game.

The Luckeys tell the Richmond Observer their son has been flashing that symbol in photos since middle school, years before it entered the national consciousness as a symbol of hate.

“This game has been played since adults were kids. It’s the ‘Circle Game’ where if you get someone to look below the waist, you punch them in the shoulder,” Tom Luckey said in a statement to the RO. 

“No harm, no foul. It wasn’t until recently, the last five or six years, that Cale would make (the circle) in serious photographs with team sports photos. We’d get the photo and Cale’s there with his stinking finger up and it ruined the photo.”

“This time (on Senior Night) we were going to take a serious photo and take one with our fingers up to get him back,” Tom Luckey explained. “I had to actually investigate why people said that it was racist.”

In the photo, the Luckeys are holding their hands around waist level with the circle at the top and their free fingers pointing toward the ground, the way the “Circle Game” is generally played. However, the ADL’s demonstration has the outstretched fingers pointing up to seemingly form the letters “W” and “P” for "white power."

Courtesy Anti-Defamation League

Some have perceived the sign as a hate symbol and expressed their thoughts on social media and in phone calls to RO staff. 

Others have commented that it’s just a game and was interpreted inaccurately without taking the context into consideration.

“I’m not a racist person, my family aren’t white supremacists and we had to Google what it meant. It apparently started in 2017,” Tom Luckey said. “This wasn’t something we did in a purposeful form.”

When RO staff were made aware of the racial connotation, the photos were removed from Facebook.

“The Richmond Observer strongly condemns any and all hate groups and their associated signs, symbols and actions,” co-publisher Charlie Melvin said in a statement. “Further, The Richmond Observer strives to keep its content free of prejudicial material and will continue to do so.”