When Wokeness Goes Off the Rails, People Suffer, America Suffers

If I hadn’t read it, I would not believe it. I have read it, and am wondering if I was in a daze. Last week, 467 former Jeopardy! contestants collaborated on a letter that was signed and sent to the producers of Jeopardy! regarding recent contestant Kelly Donohue’s alleged racist behavior, demanding that he apologize for it and disavow white supremacy. The letter was published on Medium.

What did Donohue do that was so egregious that it compelled the former Jeopardy! contestants to team up to pen this letter? When he was introduced on day four of his three-day winning streak, he held up three fingers and tapped his chest, signifying the three wins. The two previous days he had held up one and two fingers to signify his wins.

But some Jeopardy! viewers saw it, took to social media, and claimed Donohue may have been flashing the same sign that the far-right, anti-government group, The Three Percenters, use. As things tend to do on social media these days, particularly in regards to racism, the story got around to the right people ~ people who have the clout to make the story go viral ~ people who have the clout to demand something be done about it.

Sadly, there were no voices of reason and dissent amongst the former Jeopardy! contestants who signed off on the letter. If there were, they were drowned out by the sheer volume, both numerically and audibly, of the other former contestants.

In the letter, before getting to Donohue’s three-finger flash, they first criticized him for responding to a clue by using the word gypsy, stating that current diversity guides suggest that the term Roma or Romani be used instead. Gypsies (Roma), a nomadic people, originated in the Punjab region of northern India between the 8th and 10th centuries, A.D. They were called Gypsies by Europeans who mistakenly believed they had migrated from Egypt. The former contestants went on to ask the writers of the show to “remove this word from their vocabulary when it’s not being used in the context of a title of an artwork or a direct quotation.”

However, the impetus for the letter, the “more widely felt misstep” ~ their words, was the three-finger gesture that Donohue made during his introduction. The former contestants conceded that he had held up one and two fingers to signify his wins on the previous two days, saying, “no reasonable person would have interpreted those gestures differently,”

But then, their reasonableness vanished when Donahue signified his third win. Instead of believing Donohue was merely signifying his third win, they believed that he had also, intentionally or unintentionally, flashed a white power sign. The letter stated that the way in which he fashioned his fingers “was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three.” To paraphrase, holding up three fingers after winning three times is not a clear-cut symbol for the number three. They said the fashion in which he held his fingers is akin to a widely-known symbol commonly used by The Three Percenters, which is believed by many to be a symbol of white supremacy. The Anti-Defamation League lists this particular three-finger sign, also commonly known as the okay sign, as a symbol of white supremacy on their website.

After originally responding to the backlash from the incident by stating on his Facebook page that “three means three,” Donohue deleted the comment and a black and white photograph he had shared of Frank Sinatra holding up three fingers to someone in a restaurant umpteen years ago, he appeased the former Jeopardy! contestants by publicly apologizing for the misunderstanding and condemning white supremacy.

This is where we are in America in 2021. I hate racism. I stand opposed to it. I’ve written numerous articles on the subject, and will write many more. But this has to stop. As I mentioned in my previous article, I believe looking for racism under every rock is as unhelpful and divisive as ignoring its existence. There is enough in our world to be offended by without manufacturing a story where there is no story ~ manufacturing racism where there is no racism.

The term woke gets a bad rap by those who don’t know or care to know its true meaning. It means “alert to societal injustice, especially racism.” That’s it.

It’s one thing to be woke, but this letter and the attitude behind it is something altogether different. It’s not woke at all. This is defamation. This is libel. Kelly Donohue held up three fingers on Jeopardy! to signify his three wins. Nothing more. Nothing should have been more clear-cut. Not today. Not in 2021.

Few desire civil discourse as much as they desire public and figurative flogging. Although I’m afraid many wouldn’t mind, if in some cases, it’s literal. This goes for the left and the right.

None of the 467 co-signers (of which there are now nearly 600) of the letter know Kelly Donohue. They merely got wind that he held up three fingers, on a national television show that they were once on, in a way that may be construed as racist. Apparently, if you’ve been a Jeopardy! contestant, you have the ability to gain access to all the other contestants. But did any of the co-signers make an attempt to reach out to Donohue before jumping to an unwarranted conclusion and publishing an article that was sure to heap mountains of unnecessary distress on his life and the lives of his family? It doesn’t appear so, but perhaps some did. Couldn’t they have privately reached out to the producers of Jeopardy!? Of course they could have.

I don’t blame Donohue for caving to the pressure to make a public apology and admonition of white supremacy, even though he did nothing wrong ~ even though he knows it is he who is owed an apology. He knew what was at stake. He knew he could lose his job, marriage, family and friends if he didn’t. Being a pariah for a few days was enough for him. He knows the climate in which we now live. It’s bow or get canceled. Whether you did anything wrong or not does not matter.

Protesting and speaking out against the evils of racism and oppression of any people group is a good thing. Defamation is also evil. It’s criminal. Not today. In most instances, if there are enough of the right people doing the defaming, no one is off limits. Anyone is a candidate to be defamed. And no one will be punished for it. In fact, people will be praised for it.

Sadly, there are people looking for any hint of injustice because they know they’ll be praised for it. They know nothing will happen to them. They don’t care if they don’t have a shred of proof to back up their claim. They don’t care if they defame or destroy a life of someone they have never met. Many, unbeknownst to them, live every second of their lives looking through an ideological filter, dismissing what fits their ideology, condemning what does not.

This happens on the the left and the right. I recently watched a video of LeBron James on Facebook holding up three fingers (fashioning his fingers the same way Donohue did) and making other gestures during the pre-game happenings. The poster of the video and several commenters, who have likely never met James, were convinced he used signs of the satanic Illuminati.

The great divide in our country is not due to any one person; it’s due to the people of this country who are hellbent on proving how self-righteous and right they are at every turn ~ perpetually on the lookout for ways to exalt themselves and condemn others. God can certainly help us but I fear he is leaving us to our own devices. Please, put down your weapons.

Christian writer and historian, called to shine light on issues of race and reconciliation.

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