The Op-Ed Page
Editor’s note: What, Paul again already! Well, yeah. He actually sent me this one before I’d actually posted the one on the statues. I didn’t read this one until after I’d done that. I should have posted this one first, because it’s more perishable. The statue one was pretty evergreen. Oh, well. I’m making up for it by going ahead and posting this now.
By Paul V. DeMarco
And the answer is: the Daily Double! It was bound to happen; now even “Jeopardy!,” perhaps the least offensive television show on the market (in a tie with “Bubble Guppies”) is in the crosshairs of our ever-expanding culture wars.
At the beginning of the show that aired April 27, three-day champion Kelly Donohue did something heinous. He (get ready) held up three fingers and tapped his chest. Scandalous. In the usually awkward opening montage, most contestants stare directly into the camera with a stale smile as they are introduced. Donohue did a little business after each of his three wins, holding up one, then two, then three fingers on successive nights. (I know, can you believe this guy?)
The position of his hand (commonly known as the “OK” sign) has until recently had positive connotations. In 2017, some white supremacists began using the gesture as a white power symbol – the three extended fingers are the “W” and the middle finger plus the index finger/thumb circle are the “P.” It would be interesting to know how widely known the malevolent interpretation of the “OK” symbol is. I suspect it would be less than the majority. I first learned about it in December 2019, when several Naval Academy midshipmen and West Point cadets were falsely accused of flashing the sign during ESPN’s broadcast of the Army-Navy football game (turns out they were playing the circle game).
In response to Donohue’s gesture, a harshly critical letter was posted the next day (the next day!) on Medium that has now been signed by almost 600 former “Jeopardy!” contestants. I have reprinted parts of the letter with my comments in italics. It reads in part, “(His) gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three (only if you wanted to see something different)… This, whether intentional or not (your intent, no matter how benign, matters less than my thin-skinned interpretation), resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups… People of color, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups already live in a United States and a Canada that have structural and institutional racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia embedded into their history and function (you have mistaken his gesture for a white power symbol. But don’t miss a chance to connect him with multiple OTHER forms of discrimination)… These people deal with microaggressions nearly every day of their lives (So let’s fight a perceived microaggression with an 1,176-word macroaggression to make ourselves feel superior)… We cannot stand up for hate… Is the production team of Jeopardy! prepared for… the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence? (I’m envisioning an army of white supremacists hitting the books so they too can qualify for “Jeopardy!” and influence the masses with coded symbols. And when you play the tape backwards, you can faintly hear the “14 Words.”)… We would like to know whether a sensitivity and diversity auditor is involved in the show’s writing (Sigh…).”
Listen my “Jeopardy!” friends, I’m on your team. America is engaging in a long-awaited racial reckoning. So much good is happening. Faces long ignored are being seen and celebrated; voices long silenced are being amplified and uplifted. Black women and men are finally coming to center stage, to full citizenship. It is, in my view, an unequivocally marvelous development. I am nothing but grateful for and supportive of honoring the achievements of people of color as well as an unflinching look at our history and the obligations that history engenders.
But many white Americans are not yet comfortable with this new consciousness. They want to marginalize the participants in this movement as a “woke leftist mob.” My sense as a white ally is that most people, black and white, who support the new Civil Rights movement are even-tempered and sensible. But the untethered assumptions, anger, and lack of charity conveyed in this letter do not reflect well on them and do not help our effort.
If you, “Jeopardy!” letter writers, were concerned about Donohue’s gesture, why not just reach out to him quietly and personally. His story is certainly believable. He was making the number “3” with his fingers after having made “1” and “2” on previous days. He has the zeitgeist on his side; the iPhone still includes an “OK” hand emoji. It takes a conspiratorial mind to assume that his motive for appearing on “Jeopardy!” was to win three games and flash a white power symbol.
We who want to advance racial justice should understand that it’s a hearts-and-minds effort. Think of how much more effective you would have been if you had reached out to Donohue and he had written a Facebook post beginning “It’s been pointed out to me that….” What if he didn’t say anything? Then you don’t say anything. You let this one go, because an objective observer would tell you he didn’t mean anything by it.
We would do well to exercise a little restraint. If you want to be a civil rights advocate, pattern yourself after the young John Lewis. He and other students underwent rigorous training in non-violence to prepare for lunch counter sit-ins. They knew they were right so they sat down and said nothing. That silence was more important than anything they could have spoken.
Remaining silent is, of course, not always the most effective option. We must speak when real injustice is being done. But you are playing a self-righteous game of “Gotcha,” and hurting our cause.
Your letter has convinced no one to come over to the movement. You have only given fodder to the conservative media outlets such as Fox and the Wall Street Journal to rightly lampoon you. The WSJ’s May 2 editorial defending Donohue and castigating your “manic search for racial guilt” is entitled “Jeopardy: Mass Hysteria for $2,000.” Hey, you say, you plagiarized your headline from them. Nope, as Brad is my witness, I titled my piece the day before the WSJ piece. The response to this kind of foolishness is deservedly predictable.
More dishearteningly, you have alienated some of those who were leaning our way. You have humiliated Donohue, who based on his Facebook post was an ally. Cudgeling Donohue has no effect on true racists. They are usually unreachable. Ignore them. Focus on the fair-minded who are feeling threatened but could be convinced that America still has much work to do before we reach the Promised Land.
Our fair-minded opponents must be respected and not treated as enemies. When they see you treating an ally in this manner, they have no reason to come over to our side.