The Symbol and the Arguement: Is Ok No Longer Ok?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

An essay on debating controversial issues on social media.

The Symbol and the Argument: Is Ok No Longer Ok?

In Australia, three types of football are played. These cumulate in September with two major grand finals. The Coronavirus made playing football matches difficult. Yet in October 2020, two major grand finals with large crowds were played in the major cities of Brisbane and Sydney. Normally, the AFL football code is played yearly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, as Melbourne is established as the home of the AFL. Two teams named after Melbourne suburbs, Geelong and Richmond, played the Grand Final in Brisbane on October 24, with Richmond winning the game.

This essay discusses a Facebook post that questioned the use of a hand gesture shown in photographs posted on social media. The Richmond team was photographed using the gesture during their team victory photo. In the photo the players are showing what looks like an OK symbol with three fingers visible while the fourth and fifth form a round symbol. The reason behind this is that the Richmond team won the AFL premiership in 2017, 2019 and 2020. Those three were represented by the players holding up three fingers in a team photo.

The problem my Facebook friend highlighted was that this gesture is in 2020 known as a symbol of White Power. In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) considers this gesture as an extremist meme used by racist groups. The changing meaning of the OK hand gesture began in 2017. The message board 4Chan, that has had a notorious reputation for racist comments, devised Operation O-KKK, and flooded social media with the symbol using fake accounts. As such, the ADL made the OK hand gesture as a symbol of hate.

My Facebook friend stimulated a discussion about the Richmond team’s use of the gesture. He asked, was this just a lack of awareness by the players and should the club’s public relations make a statement about the team’s use of the gesture? Social media has a habit of provoking emotional fighting rather than informed debate between people. While it is to be expected social media does not always function as a platform for debate, part of its role is, in my view, to stimulate discussions. I have seen for a long-time sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia exist in programs such as Usenet and message boards.

I will protect my Facebook friend and his friends’ responses by not disclosing its location on the platform, even though the post is set to public as at October 2020. The post though invokes interesting points to consider about how we discuss controversial issues. While there were a couple of attacks on my friend’s views, generally there was a defense of the Richmond team. They were unlikely to have deliberately used the OK symbol as a gesture of White Power. Some expressed about the gesture that people just read into things too much or get offended at anything.

This contrasted with other views including one where the responder thought the team were ignorant of the struggles of others. What was suggested was the team had no idea that their gesture was offensive. As my Facebook friend stated, should Richmond’s public relations team had been aware that the hand gesture would cause potential offense? Did they know about the ADL’s labelling of the gesture as being a symbol of hate? Did the coaching staff and management know they were even going to make that gesture in their team victory photo? The suggestion is that it was only a symbolic gesture of how many grand final wins they had. As one poster pointed out, Richmond have culturally and ethnically diverse players who were making the gesture. It was unlikely a deliberate attempt to show White Power.

The issue that this debate raises is, can we really discuss such issues that do question, even at face value, words and gestures that are interpreted as discriminatory? People will use the ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ argument often in response to such controversies. They may feel that they are being dictated to on what to say. Online the lack of inhibition can be a motivator to say anything even if it is discriminatory. Trolls and genuine race hate groups are of concern. Social media gives space to people who are openly hostile and unapologetic for their views. Debating respectfully is difficult.

Some people disagree with the ADL classifying the OK hand gesture as a hate symbol. It has not stopped people making the gesture. But clearly, people are motivated by social justice issues and argueing passionately over issues. If we are to remain democratic, even if just in thought, considering all issues in any debate is part of the constitution of giving one’s views and defending them.

It was a lesson to read my Facebook friend’s posts and its responses. That the Richmond team made the OK gesture and its intention was questioned is good to debate. That is though the main point. Debate. Not launch into a hateful comeback where name calling is indulged in. The validity of views posted in the responses to my friend’s post were mostly reasonable. The underlying reading of the posts was that people felt the team’s gesture was being read into inaccurately.

We have the ability to question things, but perhaps do not appreciate that others do too. That’s the problem on social media. If you think the football team did use White Power symbols deliberately, you do have a right to put forward that view. But the lesson from this post and debate is, the sense that ‘here we go again’ adds to the fatigue of using social media. We have a duty to address discrimination, but also a duty to check facts about intentions behind peoples’ behaviours so we obtain a valid argument that their behaviour is, in fact, discriminatory and needs to change.

If ok is no longer ok, you can say why. But part of that is accepting others will say ok is still ok.

Submitted: October 26, 2020

© Copyright 2020 michaeln. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Serge Wlodarski

I'm ok with the ok hand gesture. It's the intent behind the gesture that may or may not have relevance.

Mon, October 26th, 2020 1:01pm

88 fingers

OK is just a hand gesture meaning, "ok". To many people wanting to make something out of nothing.

Tue, October 27th, 2020 12:36am


Thank you both for your comments. It is important to discuss this issue, and overall, I really found it difficult to see that the OK gesture was used in that way, but part of social media is we have to be critical of what we read, and many seem not to.

Tue, October 27th, 2020 1:15am

Back in Black

Look, media comes up with made up no nos constantly...I don't buy it.

Fri, October 30th, 2020 8:22pm

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