Amid heightened racial tensions across the country, a Mexican-American former employee of San Diego Gas and Electric says he was fired after a stranger accused him on Twitter of making a “white supremacist” hand gesture. The employee, Emmanuel Cafferty, who describes himself as coming from a racially diverse family, expressed dismay at the sequence of events leading to his termination and bafflement over the accusation, explaining that he was simply cracking his knuckles while sitting in his company vehicle and was not even aware that the racially charged symbol existed.
According to NBC 7 San Diego, which first reported on the termination of Cafferty on Monday, the incident all started roughly two weeks earlier at a Black Lives Matter rally held in Poway, a city about 20 miles northeast of San Diego.
Cafferty reportedly encountered a stranger on the roadway who followed the Mexican-American SDG&E employee and took a photo of him with his arm hanging out of the window.
One of Cafferty’s fingers was curled back under his thumb, while the other fingers hung loose, making what appeared to be an “okay” symbol.
The person who followed and photographed Cafferty then posted the image on Twitter and accused the Mexican-American man of making a “white power” hand gesture, NBC 7 reports (screenshot below).
The “white supremacist” gesture is generally made by forming a circle with the thumb and the index finger, creating a “W” and a “P” when the hand is held upright. As NBC notes, the Anti-Defamation League provides an illustration of the gesture and summary of it context, concluding that in “most contexts” it is simply used as the “okay” symbol and thus “entirely innocuous and harmless” (see excerpt from ADL’s explanation below).
The image began to make the rounds online, and soon after, a supervisor informed Cafferty that he was suspended and an investigation into the photo was being conducted. After what the company maintains was a “good faith and thorough” investigation, Cafferty was fired a few days later.
Cafferty told the outlet Monday that he is “baffled” by the whole thing and lamented having lost his “dream job” over supposedly making a racially charged gesture that he says he did not even know existed.
“When my supervisor said that I was being accused of doing a white supremacist gesture, that was baffling,” said Cafferty.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get over this, but to lose your dream job for playing with your fingers, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said.
The power company issued a statement defending their decision to terminate Cafferty. “We hold all SDG&E employees to a high standard and expect them to live up to our values every day,” the statement reads. “We conducted a good faith and thorough investigation that included gathering relevant information and multiple interviews, and took appropriate action.”
In his comments to NBC, Cafferty made a point of praising his former employer for taking racism seriously, but asked that he might have his “dream job” back.
As for the guy who posted the picture on Twitter that ultimately got Cafferty fired, he told NBC 7 that he did not intend to get Cafferty fired and suggested that the whole thing might come down to a misunderstanding. The man says he has since deleted his account and said that he might have misinterpreted and “spun up” his interactions with Cafferty.
Below is an excerpt from the ADL’s discussion of the “Okay Hand Gesture“:
The “okay” hand gesture—in which the thumb and index finger touch while the other fingers of the hand are held outstretched—is an obvious and ancient gesture that has arisen in many cultures over the years with different meanings.
Today, in a usage that dates to at least as early as 17th century Great Britain, it most commonly signals understanding, consent, approval or well-being. Since the early 1800s, the gesture increasingly became associated with the word “okay” and its abbreviation “ok.” The gesture is also important in the Hindu and Buddhist worlds, as well as in yoga, where it is known as mudra or vitarka mudra, a symbol of inner perfection. The “okay” hand gesture also forms part of the basis for a number of words or concepts in American Sign Language. It appears in many other contexts as well.
Use of the okay symbol in most contexts is entirely innocuous and harmless.
In 2017, the “okay” hand gesture acquired a new and different significance thanks to a hoax by members of the website 4chan to falsely promote the gesture as a hate symbol, claiming that the gesture represented the letters “wp,” for “white power.” The “okay” gesture hoax was merely the latest in a series of similar 4chan hoaxes using various innocuous symbols; in each case, the hoaxers hoped that the media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist.
In the case of the “okay” gesture, the hoax was so successful the symbol became a popular trolling tactic on the part of right-leaning individuals, who would often post photos to social media of themselves posing while making the “okay” gesture.
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