Some of you may have seen the whole “safety pin” movement. It actually started in WWII, as a way to show solidarity against the Nazis; then, in the U.K., when they began the competition for most clueless democratic group by voting in “Brexit.” The anti-immigration rhetoric turned into action almost immediately, with a sharp rise in harassment and persecution of anyone perceived to be “other” (i.e., the color of their skin or the overt practice of their religion).
The safety pin was used to signal people who were “safe” (get it?). It meant “I’m not one of those people who thinks you’re bad; I will talk with you, walk with you, stand with you, and do my best to make you feel safer.”
Even before Trump appointed a White Nationalist to his cabinet as “White House Strategist”, there was a similar upsurge in harassment here in the U.S. after the election. It’s not hard to find evidence of it; it went from being second-hand news to first-hand news among my friends and family within 48 hours. And again, people thought of the safety pin as a measure of solidarity; to let marginalized people know that while we may look like the people that brought Trump to power – and maybe we were one of the “protest voters” who didn’t think we were doing it even as we did – we were not bigots. We were not people who would harass the Other. We would be “safe.”
It’s Not That Easy.
Predictably, the entire concept was met with a huge amount of side-eye from those very same marginalized communities. Quite a few very vocal critics basically said “too little, too late.” It was seen as a band-aid, a way for white folks to make themselves feel like they are doing something, and therefore excuse them from doing anything more.
As one op-ed put it:
…that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.
It’s a very passionate and reasoned piece. I only had one problem with it: it was written by a cisgendered white male, who was purporting to speak for the marginalized people, rather than leveraging his own privilege to elevate their voices. Meanwhile, while there is some skepticism, there are also some communities who welcome it. For myself, I asked people who I knew, and for the most part, they echoed the statements of Crystal Lewis:
if you must wear the safety pins because you believe in the message behind it, go ahead. But that cannot be where your role as an ally stops. When you see your gay or immigrant or Muslim friend being bullied, you intervene. Stand up for them. Go to protests against Trump or people who condone his rhetoric about Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and women. Taking action is the main step that actually matters to us, because it can make a difference. Because a symbol of solidarity is just that: a symbol.
Another fantastic essay about the fact that the safety pin needs to be a beginning rather than an end of action is from What a Witch:
…don’t do it without a plan. Because the very last thing a tense situation needs is someone full of good intentions but with no knowledge of de-escalation tactics or self-defense. Your intentions are not a tangible shield. If you don’t make a plan, you will get yourself or the person you are trying to defend very killed.
Let’s avoid that.
Me? I’m Wearing One.
It’s for two main reasons, and neither of them have to do with me letting other marginalized people think I’m safe to be with. I’m a cis het-presenting middle-aged white guy; I’m beefy and burly and hairy and loud and outspoken. I’m pretty much the definition of unsafe, even though I’ve stopped wearing fedoras.
But. My daughter – my biracial, queer, and young daughter – said that seeing people wearing safety pins makes her feel safer. Honestly, the argument stops there, for me: I’m her Dad, she’s my daughter, I’ll wear a safety pin for her.
And yeah, I will likely get side-eye from people. I’ll have even friends sneer at it, as a hollow gesture. That’s fine; that is the price I pay for being a member of the group that brought incompetent bigots (sorry: overtly incompetent avowed bigots) to power in this country. I’ll take that shame as a reminder that I can’t stop with the safety pin.
But there’s a silver lining.
I also will wear it, not for the marginalized, but for those in power. For them to see me – in my former-marine shoulder-holster wearing leather-jacketed persona – wearing that pin, and let them know Oh. He might not be one of us. Maybe it will draw their ire onto me; that’s cool, that’s part of the plan. Maybe it will just make them hesitate for a moment. Maybe it will just be a reminder that the majority of the voters in this country did not elect that man and his cronies, and do not support his policies.
In short: I get it. The safety pin won’t make anyone with any real experience of harassment feel more secure. But if it makes anyone a little more insecure about whether it’s ok to act with intolerance…then that makes it all worth it.