In today’s rush to condemn anyone for even the perception of thinking incorrectly, sometimes the simplest gesture can be radically misconstrued into monstrosity.
The latest example comes from Jeopardy! Winner Kelly Donohue, who was publicly blasted by people who insisted he had flashed a white power hand gesture on television. Hundreds of former contestants even demanded he apologize, The Hollywood Reporter wrote.
But Donohue isn’t some closet white supremacist who won three episodes of Jeopardy and was just waiting for his moment to send a signal to fellow white supremacists. The answer is much simpler and more obvious: he was holding up three fingers to signify how many games he had won.
But in today’s society, the simplest answer isn’t the one people immediately consider. Now, everything must somehow be a dark signal to right-wing extremism. One can clearly see in video of Donohue’s introduction that he is holding his thumb and index finger down while his middle, ring, and pinky fingers are extended. A small number of white supremacists started making the “OK” hand gesture, and the media and Democrats immediately branded the common gesture a symbol of white supremacy.
On Facebook, Donohue explained what he was actually doing with his hand.
“I’m truly horrified with what has been posted about me on social media. I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind. People who know me personally know that I am not a racist, but for the public at large it bears repeating: I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are. It’s shameful to me to think anyone would try to use the stage of Jeopardy! to advance or promote such a disgusting agenda. During the taping of my fourth episode, I was simply raising three fingers to mark my 3rd win. There was nothing more I was trying to indicate. I deeply regret this terrible misunderstanding. I never meant to hurt a soul and I assure you I am no friend of racists or white supremacists,” he wrote.
Those who rushed to condemn Donohue without a moment’s thought wrote in their letter that the hand “gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three,” despite him clearly holding three fingers against his chest.
“Regardless of [Donohue’s] stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle. Some of the first people to notice this were not affiliated with Jeopardy! in any way — they were viewers who couldn’t believe what they’d seen, captured it on video, and shared it to Twitter. Among them were people of color who, needless to say, are attuned to racist messaging and not appreciative that the show allowed this symbol to be broadcast. … It was perceived by people across demographic boundaries as a wink and a nod by white men about their superiority. …. Leaving this messaging unchecked will encourage others to attempt similar things in the future. Is the production team of Jeopardy! prepared for more of this? Prepared for more attempts to disguise contempt as innocent gesturing? Prepared for the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence?” a group of 467 people claiming to be former Jeopardy contestants wrote in an open letter.
To reiterate, the “OK” hand gesture has been used for as long as anyone can remember to signify that someone agrees with something. It has only been connected to white supremacy for the past few years. The idea that everyone in the country knows this is absurd, yet these situations continue to persist.