The advertisement flyer by Men in Kilts, a North Vancouver Island cleaning franchise, that received criticism for supposedly portraying white supremacy.

Vancouver Island business ad unintentionally features OK gesture linked to white supremacy

Innocuous ‘OK’ gesture in cleaning franchise advertisement gets flak on social media for ‘supposedly’ promoting white supremacy

When a North Vancouver Island cleaning franchise Men in Kilts, created a local advertisement, little did they know that an OK gesture made by an employee in the picture would be the subject of a ‘white supremacist’ controversy.

In the picture, the individual is seen posing along with his colleagues, atop a van making the upside-down OK gesture.

Until that morning, neither the employee nor Men in Kilt’s general manager, Chris Strong, knew that among all other meanings that the OK gesture carried, white supremacy was an interpretation.

The advertisement flyer was distributed along with local newspapers on the Island, including the Campbell River Mirror. Neither Black Press nor the Mirror was involved in any step of creating the advertisement which Men in Kilts distributed through the papers.

The picture was criticized on social media for propagating a white supremacy agenda with certain people even demanding the advertisement be pulled out. Residents even called up the Campbell River Mirror to protest about the advertisement and demanded a retraction.

In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish civil rights organization added the gesture along with 36 other symbols to its ‘Hate on Display’ database which tracks hate groups to spot potential warning signs of antisemitism and extremism.

However, given the long history of usage and multiple associations of the OK gesture, ADL had stressed the fact that context is always key to determine if the gesture is “hateful” or “harmless.”

In this case, when the Mirror spoke with the employee, he said that the gesture was an inside joke involving the once-popular ‘circle game’ that he played with his childhood friends while growing up on a reserve in Prince Rupert.

The ‘circle game,’ has been around as a school prank since the 70s and was made popular through an episode of the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle in 2000.

As per the game, if the person makes the gesture, palm-inward below their own waistline, and gets an opponent to look at it, he gets to punch the opponent in the arm.

“This is a millennial game and I’ve been at it for over 18 years now and it has been a huge part of my childhood,” said the 30-year-old individual who was excited to be featured in an advertisement and used the sign to signal to his friends when they saw it.

He also told the Mirror that it was upsetting to be labelled a “white supremacist” and that people had jumped to conclusions and “ruined things.”

The individual also identified himself to be Indigenous and said that he would never even think of propagating racism or any form of white supremacy.

He has been vocal about his support for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media and ironically he received the call about him being called a white supremacist when he was typing a comment on social media calling out people on racism.

“It makes me mad,” he said about the fact that his circle game gesture was being pushed as an extremely negative act. “It’s not fair.”

Strong also came out in support of his employee and said that the gesture was an innocent expression and far from what it was interpreted as.

“The kid had some game going on with his friend,” said Strong and added that people were blowing things out of proportion.

“I’m disappointed in people who are looking at things that are wrong with the world instead of looking at things that are right with the world,” said Strong.

Strong also said that Men in Kilts is a “multi-ethnic employer” and pointed out that most people in the picture come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. With all those mixed-race people in the advertisement, white supremacy was hardly the message that they were looking to communicate.

Strong also said that they would be cautious about the gesture in the future.

The once innocent ‘OK’ gesture, more commonly used to simply describe ‘all is well’, ‘good’, or ‘superb’ has multiple cultural connotations across the globe.

The gesture first came to be associated with “white power” in 2017 as a hoax. Certain users of an online message board – 4chan – began ‘Operation O-KKK’ to see if they could trick mainstream media and liberals into believing that the gesture was a symbol of white power.

It ceased being a hoax when Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and other white nationalist started using the gesture as a signal. For these groups, the letters formed by the hand were W and P which stood for “white power.”

The gesture gained more traction in mainstream media after Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist accused of killing 50 people in a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand flashed the sign to reporters at his court hearing.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Campbell River

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rod Peters resigns as mayor of Lake Cowichan

Byelection expected in the fall

Cowichan RCMP looking for someone who shone laser at aircraft

Several instances reported over Cowichan Valley

Cowichan’s Waldon Park ready for Gord Closson Classic

the Gord Closson Fall Classic will kick off its second half-century this August 21-23

B.C. records 146 new COVID-19 cases through long weekend

More that 28 people tested positive for the virus each day since Friday

Canucks tame Minnesota Wild 4-3 to even NHL qualifying series

J.T. Miller leads Vancouver with goal and an assist

Cyclist in hospital after being hit by load of lumber hanging from truck on B.C. highway

A man is in hospital with broken ribs, punctured lung and a broken clavicle and scapula

COVID-19 vaccine efforts provide hope but no silver bullet to stop pandemic: Tam

There are more than two dozen vaccines for COVID-19 in clinical trials around the world

Two people die in propane heated outdoor shower near Princeton

Couple was attending a long weekend gathering

Racism in B.C. healthcare: Deadline for First Nations survey coming up on Aug. 6

Survey comes after hospital staff allegedly played a blood alcohol guessing game

‘We want to help’: As overdose deaths spike, beds lay empty at long-term Surrey rehab centre

John Volken Academy searching for ‘students’ to enlist in two-year residential treatment program

Study shines light on what makes LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in a community

The study goes beyond looking at school or family supports

Most Read