A high school in the Chicago suburbs is reprinting its 2018-2019 yearbooks at a cost of more than $50,000 after school officials spotted photos of students making “OK” hand gestures.
The use of the “OK” sign has been tied to white supremacist movements in recent years, though the relevance of the connection is often unclear.
Oak Park River Forest High School, located in the prototypically “limousine liberal” town of Oak Park, will shell out $53,794, negotiated down from $85,000, for the new mementos. According to a letter seen by INSIDER, the yearbook contained 18 photos in which an “upside-down OK sign” was performed by students.
Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams suggested that the Oak Park River Forest students had not meant for the gesture to signal support for white supremacy.
She said in the letter that the offending photos had featured “students of various races, ethnicities, genders, and grades.” Additionally, the photos were taken and approved “before the gesture was widely known to have any association with white nationalism,” she said.
Pruitt-Adams noted noted that the “OK” sign is performed as part of the “circle game,” a relatively innocuous, if slightly painful, competition played by boys. But she said it was still “not acceptable” because it could cause “trauma” to some students.
“I want to be clear that we are not making any presumptions about students’ intent in using the gesture. Regardless of intent, however, there is a real and negative impact,” she said. “Many students, not only our students of color, experience this gesture as a symbol of White supremacy. Potentially subjecting our students to this trauma is simply not acceptable.”
Pruitt-Adams cited the school’s desire to be on the “leading edge” of the issue as a reason for the reprint of the yearbooks. She also warned that the photos “subject students to potentially a lifetime of questions or penalty from colleges, employers, etc.”
The OK sign: innocent gesture or white power symbol?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white nationalists adopted the gesture prior to a 2017 hoax campaign by users of the 4chan imageboard site. That effort sought to troll the left by popularizing the association of the sign with the white power movement.
The progressive “hate groups” watchdog cited the early use of the gesture by alt-right figures, such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos. Mudding the waters further was the use of the hand sign by the white supremacist who was charged with massacring 49 people at two New Zealand mosques in March.
The Anti-Defamation League initially rejected equating the “OK” symbol with white supremacy However, the organization has since updated a blog post on their site with a more expanded discussion of the issue. According to the ADL, only “if the gesture occurs in context with other clear indicators of white supremacy can one” conclude that “such a gesture is intending or exhibiting an association with white supremacy.”
The organization noted “that the ‘OK’ gesture is a nearly universal hand gesture and most usage of it is completely innocuous.”