Students Flashing Racist Hand Signs In School Yearbook Cost School $53,000 For Reprint

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A high school in Illinois is shelling out over $50,000 to reprint its yearbook after several students were photographed deliberately flashing a hand symbol with potentially racist implications.

The board of the Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois decided to scrap the first print of its 2018-2019 yearbook after pictures of more than a dozen students were found to include the hand gesture which has been linked to white supremacists.

A similar gesture when placed against the upper thigh, which is an upside down version of the traditional symbol for “OK,” has long been associated with the “made-you-look” circle game played by many students—the point of which is to trick the unsuspecting into looking below the waist of the person making the gesture.

Administrators became alarmed though after finding more than a dozen students in the yearbook making the symbol, and not always in the circle game way, which has been tied to white supremacists. Whether it was a student prank or serious is immaterial.

The adaption of the symbol for racist purposes is thought to have began on the infamous message board 4-Chan, a frequent safe-haven for white supremacists and other extremist groups.

Members of the website are said to have begun associating the gesture with white supremacy jokingly at first as a way of making people believe “white power” symbols were everywhere.

But eventually white supremacists began to really adopt the gesture just like the Nazi salute.

Although school administrators were reluctant to draw conclusions about whether or not students photographed making the gesture did so with racist intent, the decision was made to withhold the printed copies and reprint the yearbook.

In an email to parents school district Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams explained the decision. Their email read:

“We’ve been made aware that this year’s ‘Tabula’ yearbook, which has not yet been distributed, contains several photos of students making a hand gesture that has different meanings. In some cases it’s used in what is known as the circle game.”

“However, the gesture has more recently become associated with white nationalism. Regardless of intent, the potential negative impact of this gesture has led us to decide that we cannot distribute the yearbook as is.” 

“We are looking at alternative options, and in the coming days we will share further details about distribution plans. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience and support as we work through this situation.”

The will pay memorabilia and yearbook publishing company Jostens $53,794 to reprint the book which administrators expect to be delivered to students by mid-June.

The funds for the unexpected expense will come from the district’s furniture budget.

Despite the gesture’s recent ties to white supremacy many are considering the school’s response an overreaction.

In an already cash strapped school system many felt the truly unforgivable consequence was the wasting of resources that could have been put to much better use.

However recent history has shown how high school yearbook hijinks have come back to haunt people in their future careers. Who knows if one of these yearbook “jokers” would be asked to resign from a prominent position in a company or government because of this?

Something to think about for sure.


Written by Dennis Matthew Livesey

Matt is a writer, designer, and native New Yorker. He has worked in film, where he enjoyed a brief career as a stand-in for Ian Holm; finance, where he pretended to understand his job, and real estate, where nothing remarkable happened. He writes about science, technology, and media. His work includes magazine articles, one published book, and the looming inevitability of the second.