It’s Time to Abolish The OW Hand Gesture

Emily Harter, Writer

As winter sports approach and students begin to attend events and join in on cheers and chants, it is time to discuss the OW symbol that is popular amongst the Olathe West student body. Whether they know it or not, the symbol is also commonly associated with Proud Boys and far right organizations. 

The symbol originally appeared on an unrestricted online message board as an “OK” hand sign that also represented “WP” for white power. 

Member of the far right group, The Proud Boys, flashes the OK hand gesture at a “End Domestic Terrorism” rally in 2019.

Some users of 4chan began what they called ‘Operation O-KKK,’ to see if they could trick the wider world — and especially liberals and the mainstream media — into believing that the innocuous gesture was actually a clandestine symbol of white power,” said The New York Times article, When the OK Sign Is No Longer OK

What started as a heinous joke slowly turned into a symbol of hate and was officially added to the Anti-Defamation League’s “Hate on Display,” a catalogue of hate symbols, in Sept. 2019. 

Segal said that while many of those images were misconstrued by users on the online message boards, the number of people espousing hate while using the gesture has grown so widespread that it can no longer be considered a prank,” said NPR article,  The ‘OK’ Hand Gesture Is Now Listed As A Symbol Of Hate

Women coyly puts her hand in the OK hand gesture at the Brett Kavanaugh hearing.

When Olathe West first opened in 2017 they chose their colors, their mascot, but other school traditions were adopted by the community as the school began to open. The OW hand symbol has been displayed by students, faculty, and fans at various events since the opening. At the time, the hand symbol was not prevalent yet, so the OW hand symbol was purely a sign of school spirit. However now that the symbol is a sign of hate, it might not be such an innocent act anymore. 

While most who wave the OW hand symbol at games and events can plead ignorance, some people might hide behind the hand gesture for more intolerant motives. Similar to the “Let’s go Brandon” fad of 2021 where far right conservatives display the saying with the deeper meaning of the disdain of President Joe Biden, the OW hand symbol could be displayed by conservative students and faculty for an act of hate disguised as school pride. 

Group of far right supporters all sport the OK hand gesture while wearing shirts with far right propaganda.

“Context is always key,” Segal said. “More people than not will use the OK symbol as just ‘OK.’ But in those cases where there’s more underlying meaning,” said NPR. 

While some may argue that the hand gesture is clearly OW and not a white supremicist symbol, you have to ask yourself, do you even want to be adjacent to something that is such a vile sign of hatred and discrminaton? As a school, Olathe West can do better and it would be a manageable switch to adopt a new hand gesture to represent our school spirit. Here are a few simple alternatives that could be implemented in schools instead.