Analysis on “okay” hand gesture

[Transcript] The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish-based group that tracks and fights against anti-Semitism and hate groups, added the “okay” hand gesture to their “Hate on Display ™ Hate Symbols Database.”

The hand gesture has been used by hateful people to display a “white power” symbol.

Naturally there was a reaction from some in the Deaf community who felt like this was something that threatened our ASL signs that have either the “F” or the “9” handshapes.

I will admit I had that initial reaction as well, I thought the ADL was inconsiderate of deaf people and ASL users, that it felt like an infringement on our language.

But after reading the ADL’s explanation on the gesture, it’s clear that they acknowledge that the gesture is an important part of ASL, as well as Hindu and Buddhist worlds, and yoga.

The ADL said the okay symbol in “most contexts is entirely innocuous and harmless.”

The ADL explained that in 2017, members of the website 4chan tried to start a hoax by promoting the “okay” hand gesture as a representation of “wp,” short for “white power.” They were successful because actual white supremacists or far-right individuals would flash the “okay” gesture, possibly to troll people or to actually express their views.

The symbol gained worldwide attention after the New Zealand terrorism suspect flashed the “okay” gesture in a court appearance in March. There were enough instances of people using the “okay” gesture in a hateful way that prompted the ADL to add it to their database.

The ADL said the overwhelming usage of the ‘okay’ hand gesture today is still its traditional purpose as a gesture of approval, so if there’s someone using the symbol, they cannot be assumed as trying to troll or showing support for white supremacy. The ADL encouraged people to not jump to conclusions.

I reached out to Dr. Julie A. Hochgesang, who is an Associate Professor at Gallaudet’s Department of Linguistics, to give some perspectives. She said context is key and explained that forms themselves — the written shape, the sound, or the part of a sign — have no meaning. The symbolic meaning comes from the people and their intentions. She said the Deaf community should feel confident with using the “okay” gesture because we have never viewed it as something hateful. Of course, if a Deaf person purposefully used the “okay” gesture in a hateful way, then the meaning of the gesture changes.

Thank you, Dr. Hochgesang for the analysis. So we see that the usage of the “okay” handshape is fine as long as the intent is within its normal use and not hateful.

Now, in related news, an actor at Universal Orlando who was dressed as a character from “Despicable Me” was fired on Wednesday because he made the “okay” gesture and placed it on the shoulder of a biracial girl during a photo opportunity. A video shows the actor asking the girl to stand near him, then purposefully placing the “okay” gesture on her shoulder.

[Video clip]

A Universal spokesman said what the actor did is unacceptable. The photo was taken in March but the family did not realize it until recently.


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