Kanoa Lloyd turns tables on racists by wearing 'It's Okay To Be White' T-shirt

The provocative T-shirt features an inflammatory racial slogan.
The provocative T-shirt features an inflammatory racial slogan. Photo credit: Twitter/Kanoa Lloyd

Kanoa Lloyd has found a way to neutralise the power of a racially provocative T-shirt: wearing it herself.

The Project host posted a picture of her in an 'It's Okay To Be White' shirt to Twitter on Wednesday. Earlier in the day Newshub broke the story that the garments were being sold on Trade Me along with stickers featuring the slogan.

The phrase was born on 4chan, created by trolls wanting to trigger a left-wing backlash through an ostensibly inoffensive message and increase awareness of white supremacist beliefs among the public.

"The intent of the flyer's author is not to state the obvious. It is to find sympathisers to the white nationalists' cause," Richard A Baker, president of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, told insidehighered.com in 2018 after posters bearing the slogan appeared on US campuses.

"What is interesting is that a position is being inferred by some on the national stage that whites are a marginalised group and are being made to feel 'not OK' in their whiteness. This flyer's purpose is to attract persons who may be sympathetic to that position but may not respond to a swastika or other traditional symbols of white nationalism or direct recruitment."

The shirt was further popularised by Canadian alt-right icon Lauren Southern, who was photographed wearing one at Brisbane airport in 2018.

TradeMe will allow the Nelson listing to remain on the website but the Human Rights Commission says there's "no place for that in New Zealand".

Lloyd has taken a different approach - printing her own T-shirt with the slogan.

"When I learned these tees are for sale in New Zealand I felt sad," she told Twitter.

"But I realised that's the point of them - to shock & hurt. Obviously it's okay to be white! It's ok to be any colour at all! It's not okay to be racist, violent or hateful. So I'm wearing this tee with love #givenothingtoracism."

Her fashion statement was praised by other Kiwis who said they "liked her attitude".

"We need to own the bad and the hurt instead of gliding past it because it's 'too hard' to address," social researcher Dr Rebekah Graham said.

However some took issue with Lloyd's decision to share the photo.

"I get what you are trying to do and kudos to you, but I am not sure if wearing it is the right message," one woman said. "It's more than okay to be any colour, but it's not okay to promote racism and especially from an ethnicity that benefits from privilege and uses that to oppress others."

"Bloody hell Pauline Hanson has crossed the ditch," said another. "Be careful with this rhetoric please."

Hanson, leader of Australia's anti-immigration One Nation party, attempted to pass a motion in 2018 which used the phrase "it is okay to be white".

In response, Lloyd said she wasn't trying to promote the shirt's message but rather to "shine a light on the dark corners that are easy to ignore and leave to fester".