It was a special day on a family vacation at Universal Orlando for the Zinger family back in March. The Loews Royal Pacific Resort was doing a character breakfast, and Tiffiney Zinger’s six-year-old daughter was excited to have her picture taken with Gru and a minion from Despicable Me.
But when the family went through the photos in August in preparation for their daughter to use the vacation photos for a class project, they discovered something truly despicable.
Standing with his hands on Zinger’s daughter, who is biracial and has autism, the actor portraying Gru had flashed a White power hand signal.
After USA TODAY contacted Universal Orlando, the company said the employee playing the "Despicable Me" character had been fired.— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) October 1, 2019
For most in the United States, the hand signal in question—thumb and forefinger tips joined, with the other three fingers held in the air—meant “OK.”
But the symbol has been commodified by White nationalists in recent years to stand for “White Power”: The three aloft fingers form a W that stands for “White,” and the thumb and forefinger form a P, for “power.”
The gesture has become so common amongst various far-right, White nationalist groups that the Anti-Defamation League has recently added it to its hate symbols database.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at Southern Poverty Law Center, told USA Today that incidents like the Zingers’ are common amongst far-right groups as a trolling tactic, a sort of White nationalist “photobomb.”
As she explained to USA Today:
“It’s a game for them to slip their hate symbols in contexts that don’t belong.”
And, unsurprisingly, the Zingers are deeply disturbed by the incident.
In a video interview with USA Today, Mrs. Zinger called it “heartbreaking.”
Mrs. Zinger went on to say:
“I’ve been emotionally distraught about it. I’m still pretty upset that, you know, somebody felt that they needed to do this to children.”
Many White people online, though, disagreed with the Zingers’.
How the hell is this associated with white supremacism? The world has become a joke. Unbelievable.— 🤞 (@maisoumenz) October 1, 2019
Things are getting out of control. So because someone whoever “they” is decides it’s a hate symbol it’s all the sudden a hate symbol. Give me a break...the whole freaking world has lost their minds!— ShannonRyals (@Shannon_Ryals) October 1, 2019
This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard— ariel jones 🕊 (@arieljones411) October 1, 2019
But as some were quick to point out, the plausible deniability of the symbol is part of the point.
For anyone complaining this is all in the parents' imagination, the history of how the gesture was spread, starting on 4chan, is very well documented. Its supposed plausible deniability is all part of the trolling. https://t.co/qOg1i3bN6a— G. Gordon Liddle' (Doktor Zoom) (@DoktorZoom) October 2, 2019
And the story left many shocked that such a formerly innocuous symbol has now become sinister.
being honest here - never once heard this was a racist thing. we used to always do this and if your buddy looked you punched them in the arm. there are lots of pictures of us doing this as a joke. when did this become a thing?— Mike (@mikejtexas) October 2, 2019
It Is now, thanks to Donny the nationalist— Aun'Austi-Bangz2019 (@AunAusti) October 2, 2019
He is definitely making the symbol with his hand. He is clearly doing it for some reason. Nobody would place their hand this way by accident in this situation. It would be natural to have an open hand and hold the child by the shoulder.— M.C. (@DonaldRetard) October 2, 2019
And it left many others sharing the Zingers’ outrage.
They better give that family a free stay and admission to universal studios Hollywood.— skylinegtr (@DannieFuentes87) October 1, 2019
Despicable alright.— kathleen (@centerholder) October 2, 2019
Universal Orlando said it fired an actor dressed as Gru from ‘Despicable Me’ after he was shown making the upside-down “OK” sign, on the shoulder of a 6-year-old biracial, autistic girl during a recent breakfast event in March. https://t.co/CXIN9OgrVk
We need to acknowledge & stop racism in this country!That poor girl's family vacation was ruined due to racism!— Shawn Clark 🏳️🌈🇺🇸❤✌🌎 (@ShawnCl66134576) October 1, 2019
After USA TODAY contacted Universal Orlando,the company said the employee playing the "Despicable Me"character had been fired for hate symbol
To do that to a child and their family is deeply disturbing.— SunflowerState (@jfraserfan) October 2, 2019
These RACIST MF's are EVERYWHERE. Pay attention!! He tried to slide that shot in. USA TODAY: Universal Orlando Resort fires 'Despicable Me' actor after 'OK' symbol.https://t.co/cIoAHElFsB— ProudBlackQueen (@SunnShynne78) October 1, 2019
What the hell is wrong with people? It’s almost 2020, grow up— Woo-Tee-Dee (@Wooteedee) October 2, 2019
As for Universal Orlando’s response, a spokesman told USA Today:
“We never want our guests to experience what this family did. This is not acceptable and we are sorry – and we are taking steps to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
“We can’t discuss specifics about this incident, but we can confirm that the actor no longer works here. We remain in contact with the family and will work with them privately to make this right.”
As of this week, the Zingers have been told that the details of the internal proceedings at Universal are “proprietary information.” The park has offered them free tickets and a gift card.
The book Passive Aggressive Racism In The System of White Supremacy is available here and explores such “joking” or “prank” displays.
Listen to the first season of George Takei’s podcast, ‘Oh Myyy Pod!‘ where we explore the racially charged videos that have taken the internet by storm.
Be sure to subscribe here and never miss an episode.