“It’s okay to be white,” stated the flier posted on the door of a high school in Silver Spring, Maryland. The flier, consisting of nothing but that phrase in large type on an otherwise blank sheet of paper, also appeared in numerous other places around the U.S. on Halloween, including Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington, and Illinois, as well as Alberta in Canada. More instances appeared over the weekend of November 4-5.
These fliers, which received attention on social and traditional media alike where they appeared, are the product of the latest trolling campaign created by users of 4chan, a popular Internet discussion forum (of a type known as an “imageboard”) infamous for its trolling attempts—as well as for the studied offensiveness of many of its members and its association with the white supremacist alt right movement.
The concept of the “It’s okay to be white” fliers—a slogan often abbreviated as IOTBW—originated in discussions on 4chan and Discord in October. The idea was to create a flier that had an (ostensibly) inoffensive phrase on it that would nevertheless be treated as racist by people who viewed it, particularly liberals or members of the media. Their subsequent “overreactions” would in turn ostensibly make those people lose credibility in the eyes of others and seem like hypocrites.
“The point of IOTBW,” explained one Twitter user, “is to bait shitlibs into showing their ass to normies. The beauty is in the simplicity.” One 4channer successfully promoted the idea of putting out the fliers on Halloween, especially on campuses. Describing what would happen, he declared that “The next morning, the media goes completely berserk.” People would realize “that leftists & journalists hate white people, so they turn on them.” This would “nuke” their credibility and would be a “massive victory for the right in the culture war.” In addition, it would cause “many more /ourguys/ [to be] spawned overnight.”
After the fliers appeared, 4channers eagerly tracked mentions of them on traditional and social media. The “constant attacks” on the fliers, explained one 4channer, “is evidence that they are working and considered by leftists to be serious threats.”
Unfortunately for the trolling 4channers, their strategy depends on the “It’s okay to be white” slogan being separated from racism and white supremacy—otherwise, anybody who interpreted the fliers as having a racist intention behind them would be correct and justified.
Some 4channers themselves pointed out this flaw. “Don’t you guys see how this affects those who are non white?” asked one. “Non whites see this as racist because the message basically says it’s only okay to be white…This is why people think it is racist.”
Moreover, 4chan’s racists and anti-Semites could not contain themselves. Discussion threads on IOTBW contained racist comments. An IOTBW Twitter account also featured the popular white supremacist slogan “Say NO to White Genocide!” Twitter users who promoted the IOTBW campaign included people with anti-Semitic screen names such as “Schlomo Shekelnose.” Prominent white supremacists such as David Duke also promoted the campaign—causing one 4channer to lament, “I wish he’d stayed out of this.”
On top of everything else, the phrase “It’s okay to be white” actually has a fairly long history in the white supremacist movement. While far from the most common white supremacist slogan, it was in use enough that white power music band Aggressive Force even used the phrase as the title of one of its songs—a song that dates back at least to 2001, if not earlier. ADL has tracked white supremacist fliers featuring the phrase “It’s okay to be white” as long ago as 2005. In 2012, a member of Ku Klux Klan group United Klans of America actually even used the hashtag #IOTBW on Twitter.
Consequently, anybody who did come across “It’s okay to be white” fliers would be fully justified in thinking that a racist motive probably lurked behind them.