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Why can't we stop feeding the trolls? Latest frenzy over 'it's OK to be white' proves society desperately wants to be offended

Helen Buyniski
Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

Why can't we stop feeding the trolls? Latest frenzy over 'it's OK to be white' proves society desperately wants to be offended
A plague of “it’s OK to be white” stickers has struck Perth, Scotland, “sickening” local authorities. The slogan’s origins in an internet prank are known, yet it’s still taken seriously – nor is it the sole case of self-trolling.

The stickers’ arrival in Perth catapulted the town into a state of shock, to hear the BBC tell it on Tuesday. “It’s sickening and disgusting to know that people think like this,” an anonymous resident told the outlet, while local group Perth Against Racism claimed to have been contacted by multiple people who “felt unsafe” upon seeing the stickers.

Such a reaction – starkly out of proportion to the rather meek message presented by the stickers, and coming off somewhat racist in its own right for implying it is not, in fact, OK to be white, was exactly what the campaign’s creators were aiming for when they put out a call two years ago on the anonymous imageboard 4chan’s notorious /pol/ section to post signs featuring the slogan on college campuses and watch “the media and leftists frothing at the mouth.

It’s the same reaction the slogan has got ever since those early campus days in November 2017, though back then, one administrator actually defended the sign on free-expression grounds (“Sure, it’s OK to be white. It’s OK to be African-American. It’s OK to be Latino. It’s OK to be gay”). The frothing has only intensified since then.

Last month, when a banner featuring the slogan was dropped from a highway overpass outside Boston, Massachusetts, a local father who got out of his car to rip down the offending sign (“Being white is such an advantage in this society and to suggest otherwise is just straight-out racism”) was rewarded with his 30 seconds of fame on the local news as the state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warned viewers against sympathizing with the seemingly-innocuous slogan.
The prank’s origins aren’t exactly shrouded in mystery – it even has its own Wikipedia entry, which like most Wikipedia entries mixes fact and fiction – but it’s nevertheless treated as a shocking hate crime wherever it appears. “It’s important for people not to be persuaded or attracted to a message like this, because behind the words is bigotry,” a representative from the Massachusetts ADL told WHDH-Boston.

Also on rt.com What’s scarier than racists and Russian trolls on Instagram? Why, ‘Russian-influenced racist trolls,’ of course!

It’s OK to be white” isn’t even the only 4chan prank to take on a life of its own. In September, the ADL added the ‘OK’ hand gesture to its database of “hate signs,” declaring the innocent symbol actually meant ‘white power’. The gesture’s metamorphosis from a wholesome signal meaning ‘all’s well’ to a racist threat was masterminded by the board in ‘Operation O-KKK’, which saw members flood social media, message boards, and other forums starting in February 2017 with warnings that the seemingly-benign hand symbol actually hid the letters W and P – for ‘white power’, of course. Including a helpful diagram tracing the letters in the gesture was recommended. Less than a month after the operation began, liberal media watchdog Media Matters took the bait, accusing the owner of a right-wing news site of flashing a “hate symbol” during a White House press briefing.

The first time the ADL issued a statement to alert the world that ‘OK’ was no longer OK, it was just a few months after the prank launched, essentially explaining the joke and advising readers not to fall for it. The group even quoted the original 4chan post: “Leftists have dug so deep down into their lunacy… We must force [them] to dig more, until the rest of society ain’t going anywhere near that s***.” Mission accomplished! What caused the ADL to lose the last shred of its sense of humor in the intervening years and declare the trolling gesture a threat to racial harmony, playing right into the 4channers’ hands?

Also on rt.com Not OK? ADL adds 'OK' hand symbol to online database of 'hate symbols'

More troublingly, why are even people who aren’t paid to see hate in everyday phenomena crying wolf about racist symbols? At an Army-Navy football game, unaware that military cadets make a gesture similar to the dreaded ‘OK’ while playing the ‘circle game’? After a shooting in Jersey City earlier this month, when murders committed by a black couple were nevertheless blamed on “white supremacy”? In the lab with Google’s ultra-fast new supercomputer, chiding scientists for their use of the term ‘quantum supremacy’, because it calls to mind ‘white supremacy’?

Or rather, it evokes white supremacy in a mind that’s already primed to think of race – one of the many downsides of living in a culture saturated with political correctness. One must be always on guard against unintentionally uttering a word or phrase that someone, somewhere could interpret as a racist ‘dog whistle’. As a result, one spends an inordinate amount of time dwelling on interpersonal and intergroup differences in such a way that is as likely (if not more) to exacerbate racism as combat it. Only in the moment of taking offense can one be sure – well, nearly sure – one isn't offending someone else.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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