Safety Pin Movement Point-Counterpoint: Painfully (Pun Intended) Complicated

safetypinOk, I admit it. I’m a straight, white male and I’ve been wearing a safety pin, not just on my shirt, but I have another one on my coat, so that when I have my coat on, which covers up the safety pin on my shirt, a safety pin can still be seen by women, people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, and my fellow Jews, namely all who have been threatened by Trumpism, a signal to my brothers and sisters and transters that I am on their side, that I am safe.

If you are unfamiliar with the safety pin movement, read this.

Ironically, my wearing of pins angers some of the very people to whom I’m pledging my support, and I TOTALLY understand their justifiable anger, distrust, skepticism, and the demand for more than just fucking safety pins.

For now, I’m keeping my safety pins on, but let’s take a look at some of the voices for and against.

Here’s Ijeoma Oluo, writing at The Establishment:

I took a little bit of hope in the thought that maybe now more people were paying attention to the racist, sexist, Islamophobic, ableist society that we live in. Maybe we could mobilize this grief, anger, and fear into action.

But what I got were safety pins. Suddenly everywhere I looked, (mostly) white people were talking about safety pins. What a great idea! Something we can all do! I couldn’t tell people on social media apart anymore as their pictures were all replaced with pins. All that energy that I had hoped would go toward real-life action in support of marginalized populations who have been fighting this system alone for far too long was diverted to a symbol that most people wouldn’t even notice.

Fair points indeed, and it was disturbing reading, further in her post, how she was attacked by readers who disagreed with her about the safety pins:

Within hours, hundreds of white people had flooded my Facebook page and Twitter feed in defense of their safety pins. I was told that I was part of the problem. I was told that I was being divisive. I was told that my skepticism was making people sad. None of the commenters seemed to be aware that telling a black woman that she was wrong to question white people is kind of the opposite of racial solidarity in a country where the majority of white voters just elected Trump.

Then, I was called racist. A few times. I was called an asshole. I was called an idiot. I was told I had no brain. Multiple people vomited all their “social justice credentials” on my page and demanded that I acknowledge that they were good white people. Some accused me of censoring them with my critique. Others accused me of shaming them. One white woman demanded an apology and then told me that she deserved respect because her ancestors fought for the North in the civil war.

Then, a white woman emailed a radio show that I frequently appear on, demanding that they cancel my appearances. I know this, because she then wrote a post bragging that she had done this. This woman was trying to take away a source of my income. All because I questioned her safety pins.

My friend Syreeta also questioned the effectiveness of the pins and a white woman demanded that she prove she’s actually a citizen who could vote.

That’s textbook white privilege and microaggression, right there, people!

at Vox, in a post titled The backlash over safety pins and allies, explained, included this nugget:

Wearing a safety pin began as a gesture of kindness. But some people also see it as a performative, bullshit type of “slacktivism,” arguing that it allows people to pat themselves on the back without actually trying to fix the problems they say are important…

“We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies,” Christopher Keelty wrote for the Huffington Post. “And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better.”

The claims of “slacktivism” resonate with me, because it only took one day on Facebook after the election to convince me that, while social media and the internet can be tools for raising awareness, opposing Trumpism and building a grassroots movement to rescue the country from the madness that accompanies the Trump presidency will take WAY more than posting and sharing things online. It will take boots on the ground.

And yet, where did I get my first safety pin?

It was handed to me while I was participating in boots-on-the-ground action, by a fellow protester at a demonstration that I wrote about on Monday. Present were members of a number of groups threatened by Trumpism, there were two menacing Trump supporters weaving through the crowd, waving a giant Trump: Make America Great Again flag in a provocative manner, and I was totally committed and ready to help protect someone if need be.

While it might seem like semantic nitpicking, I guess I respectfully disagree with Ijeoma Oluo that wearing a safety pin isn’t “real-life action in support of marginalized populations”, but I say this with a MAJOR qualification.

The best expression I’ve read of that qualification comes courtesy of Isobel DeBrujah, author of the blog What a Witch, in a post titled So You Want To Wear a Safety Pin, and here are some highlights:

Know What The Pin Means

It is a sign that you are a safe person. A marginalized person who is being harassed will look to you to help keep them safe. By wearing the safety pin you make a public pledge to be a walking, talking safe space for the marginalized. All of the marginalized. You don’t get to pick and choose. You can’t protect GSM people but ignore the Muslim woman who needs help. You can’t stand for Black people who are dealing with racial slurs but ignore the disabled person who is dealing with a physical attack.

This is all or nothing. If you aren’t willing or able to stand up for everyone, don’t wear the pin…

How Much Are You Willing to Risk?

This is the most important question. Before you get involved, you have to decide how much you are willing to risk in the interaction. Depending on how privileged and/or sheltered you are, you may be unaware that these kind of interactions can get violent and they can get that way fast.

Are you willing to have violence in your life? Are you willing to be violent in defense of the marginalized? If you’re not willing, that’s fine. Not everyone is. But you need to be realistic. If you wear the safety pin, you are telling people you are willing to confront violence on their behalf. And if you’re not willing to do that, don’t wear the pin…

DeBrujah goes on to provide some excellent guidance on intervention tactics and de-escalation that I highly recommend for consumption, whether or not you choose to wear a safety pin.

On the humorous, pro-safety-pin side of things, John Trowbridge writes at Huffington Post:

Grab some hot cocoa and sit on your Grampy’s lap, children! I want to tell you about the year 2016. It seems like a long time ago, as this is 2075, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

Do you whippersnappers know Donald Trump? Why, he was the Daddy of our current emperor, Barron Trump!

I tell ya, I was furious when he was elected. He posed a serious threat to every freedom we held dear. I knew it was going to take everybody in our great country working together to defeat him. So I took to the internet and attacked my fellow liberals for wearing safety pins on their clothes.

While I got a chuckle from this, I felt he overly simplified the matter, and I hope he takes the time to listen to the voices of the marginalized people who aren’t so sure about the safety pins, starting with Ijeoma Oluo.

So, for now, I’ve decided to continue wearing my safety pin, with the MAJOR qualification mentioned above, because at the very least there’s a chance that it might facilitate badly-needed discussion on this topic, that I might be able to share my thinking about what being an ally to marginalized people REALLY involves, discussions that could be contentious, that could make me and others VERY uncomfortable.

For, as I wrote in a post from December 2015, after a disturbing racist incident happened at my place of employment, Western Washington University, spawning a series campus events:

Of the very first of these sessions, a town hall, the Bellingham Herald wrote:

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

So, here I am, feeling gloomy but still writing, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to be honest, even at the risk of being morose, choosing to be uncomfortable so that denial doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate that which I could choose to deny.

 

 

 

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