Why Hawaiian Shirts are the new Media Conspiracy Theory.

LARPers wearing festive team uniforms in a theme airsoft game.

Jonathan Evans and Samantha Sutton wrote that Hawaiian shirts have become a symbol of White Supremacy. This should be a laughable article in The Onion or Babylon Bee, but it’s not satire. These were articles written for ‘In-Style Magazine’ and ‘Esquire’ (granted hardly an exemplar of investigative journalism). Instead, they are examples of ironic-fashion and media fear-mongering.

Hawaiian or Aloha shirts are an icon of casual menswear for over a half-century. Created by in the 1920s by Japanese-Americans in Honolulu, HI these shirts were brought back to the mainland by returning tourists and military servicemen stationed there. In the 1950’s they gained widespread popularity in American culture swinging between mainstream and kitsch.

In the early 2000s, private military contractors and state-department security details adopted casual shirts in their attempts to draw less attention to themselves, while working overseas. First-person-shooter game designers incorporated this shirt into games like MaxPayne 3.

Flash forward to tumultuous spring of 2020, after two months of COVID-19 lockdown. Peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned into riots and looting in many cities throughout the country. A handful of armed individuals in tactical gear showed up to defend both small businesses from looters, and to protect peaceful protesters from violent rioters. The journalists provide no photos of any of them wearing Hawaiian shirts.

There are photos of a handful of men (3 in the articles) wearing Hawaiian shirts at the earlier ReOpen ‘protests’ in New Hampshire and Texas. Which given the more relaxed context of these events and a wide range of attire, the shirt choice seems more festive juxtaposition than a political statement. Yet some journalists insist on portraying the shirt as a symbol of some nefarious agenda. 

Jonathan Evans admits, “I am no scholar of the alt-right or the anti-government fringe” yet feels justified in making definitive assertions about their chosen uniform. He and Samantha made labored connections between Hawaiian shirts, lockdown protesters, 2A supporters, preppers/survivalists, and white nationalists. In the minute overlap of those different circles, they have created a new bugbear: the racist Hawaiian Shirt.

There is much to be afraid of today with a wave of riots and looting that we haven’t seen since the 1990s L.A. riots. The news media has a vested interest in making people alarmed, like the hoax of the ‘ok’ hand symbol. Fear drives clicks and clicks drive ad payments.

Hawaiian shirts are and should always mean only one thing: aloha. If the media chooses to portray symbols of love and welcome as racist, then it’s not improbable to see this rumor next…







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