I have been seeing a lot of commentary on the safety pin movement. If somehow you haven’t heard, it is a movement encouraging allies to wear a safety pin in order to tell people in communities facing harassment, intimidation and violence that you are a safe person. This was,for many, a well-intentioned attempt to do *something* after the election of Donald Trump in the face of the grief it caused for many and the rapid increase in violence against marginalized groups of people across the United States. It is based on a movement in England after the Brexit vote, where Brits hoped to show solidarity with communities there that faced violence after the vote to leave the E.U.
Doing something like this makes us (and by us I mean white people) feel better in the face of chaos. It is soul soothing to take symbolic action when it seems (note I said seems) like there is nothing to be done. I have seen commentary by people in the communities that these safety pins are an attempt to make feel safe that the sight of someone wearing a safety pin does, in fact, make them feel a bit more safe. There is also plenty of commentary from people that this is a way for white people (especially those who voted for Trump) to make themselves feel better, that no one facing violence is going to look at the safety pin and automatically makes a person assume they are safe (this is my favorite commentary in this vein), and I have seen reports that some not-safe people are wearing them to appear safe while they wreak havoc. Some people probably are doing this simply a a way to feel better and don’t understand the real, physical costs of being an ally. Some people probably really do mean that they are a safe person and are willing to face the consequences of being that safe person (which can mean ending up in a physical altercation). There’s a lot of noise about whether a person should wear one or not. I don’t know how much weight my opinion holds: as a queer white Christian woman who generally presents as female in a straight relationship, I do not remotely face the level of risk as people of color, immigrants, other members of the LGBTQ community and Muslims (to name a few). But here it is:
Fine, wear a safety pin. If you’re going to wear a safety pin, make sure you are ready to really defend someone who is being harassed. I have seen a lot of white people talk about, “I just want people to know I’m not hateful/racist/whatever,” or, “I won’t step in, but I will call the cops!” You know what makes a lot of people of color feel really unsafe? Cops. When you wear a safety pin, don’t assume anyone is going to think you are safe or that you are an ally. Those things require trust and trust requires proof of solidarity beyond an article of clothing. A safety pin is a symbolic gesture at best. It is literally the least you could do. We need way more than symbolism right now, so…
DON’T JUST WEAR A SAFETY PIN!! EDUCATE YOURSELF! ACT!
Join an anti-racism group, take trainings, get your church or other community group involved in anti-racism work. Showing Up for Racial Justice is an awesome group and they are asking people to organize and engage. Support the ACLU, the NAACP, look for organizations in your community that are working to fight racism. Learn about how you can help defend the rights of immigrants (also here and here) — if you belong to a faith community, learn about how your community can become a sanctuary community. Go to the local Mosque for prayer, see what you can do to combat Islamaphobia. Support your local LGBTQ organization. Learn about what it means to be a member of a marginalized community. Get educated. Read books like The New Jim Crow, God is Red, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and check out lists like this and this. Find podcasts that address issues of race. Some of my favorites are NPR’s Code Switch, The Race and Wealth Podcast, Tapestry, Kamau Right Now, & Politically Reactive. If you’re into social media, get on Twitter and follow people from marginalized communities to hear their voices and learn from them. It is not the job of oppressed people to teach us, it is our job to learn from the many resources that are already available to us.
As God’s people are told through the prophet Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
This doesn’t say jack about solidarity through clothing. It’s about action.