University of Wisconsin–Madison
No Hate

Avoid Hate Symbols

Student, faculty or staff, we all have occasion to pick icons or acronyms for new projects, initiatives or groups. When doing so, please consider vetting your short list against the Anti Defamation League’s (ADL) database of hate symbols, an exhaustive list of visual symbols, numbers, phrases and acronyms used by hatemongers. The database “provides an overview of many of the symbols most frequently used by a variety of white supremacist groups and movements, as well as some other types of hate groups.”

For example, did you know that the okay hand gesture, formed by holding thumb and forefinger in a circle while extending the remaining fingers vertically, was used by 4Chan users in a trolling campaign only to later be appropriated as a symbol meaning “white power?” Of course, it is appears in other contexts too, where it used to:

  • Comprise word parts in American Sign Language
  • Indicates that all is well when used by scuba divers
  • Symbolize the “mundra” or inner perfection, in yoga

As the ADL points out in their database entry, context is key. While the symbol is often “entirely innocuous and harmless… some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy.”

Another example, a symbol well known to players of the classic Zelda video game series, the Triforce, a triangle containing a smaller inverted triangle, bears an unfortunate similarity to a symbol now associated with the KKK.

The database includes more than just visual symbols, but also many acronyms and sequences of numbers that are used as hate symbols. Otherwise innocent names such as ORION have become acronyms for racist slogans. Random initials such as “ROA” and “RAC” are now similarly used in hateful fashion.

We all are fond of our acronyms, just as we also want those seeing and hearing them to feel safe and respected. The ADL database is a tool to help us make thoughtful and inclusive choices.