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November 16, 2016

Let Go of Perfect and Wear the Safety Pins Already

safety pins

A week has passed since the election, and there’s been lively debate among progressives about whether or not to wear safety pins.  Initiated by an American living in the UK, the safety pin spread there as a protest against the BREXIT vote and the xenophobia it represented.  On this side of the pond, liberals have advocated for its wearing as a similar protest of the Trump win and its accompanying racism, sexism and xenophobia.

However, some people of color, LGBT advocates and White allies discourage safety pin wearing.  This discouragement ranges from mocking the pin as a superficial way to alleviate white guilt to frustration about pin wearing not being accompanied by meaningful action to warnings about not wearing the pin unless the wearer is skilled in deescalation techniques and physical self-defense.   In turn, some White people have reinforced white privilege by belittling and dismissing feedback from people of color about the impact of pin wearing.

As a lifelong White ally who’s made her living doing anti-racism and diversity work, I’ve been unsure of my stand on the issue.  Now that the dust has settled, here it is:

Wear the damn safety pins already.   Here’s why:

  • We need a broad, visible presence for majority dissent and allyship to call out the real danger Trump poses to all There’s nothing like isolation to break a person’s spirit and weaken their resolve.  Being able to quickly and easily identify kindred spirits everywhere builds community and keeps people strong.  Also, White males wearing pins disrupt the illusion of White male unity around white supremacy and misogyny.
  • White people need to start taking more risks. Wearing a removable safety pin is nothing like walking around black, brown, trans* or undocumented every day.  But it’s a start. White people need to begin outing ourselves, even in small ways, and taking risks – at our workplace, gym, place of worship, grocery store and Thanksgiving table.
  • White people must be accountable. Once I wear a pin or change my facebook profile picture to a safety pin, I’ve invited you to hold me accountable for my actions and give me feedback for how I’m behaving in integrity with my professed allyship or anti-racist stand.
  • White people must face our own consequences. Wearing a safety pin may open people up to some life changing experiences.  It may not be comfortable, but it is necessary.
  • There’s no clear consensus about what the safety pin means, nor consistent expectations of pin wearers. So far, most people of color say they don’t expect anything specific from pin wearers.  Also, I’ve yet to hear any reports of someone being harmed because a safety pin wearer was unable to de-escalate a situation or intervene physically.  (However, there are cases, like #iwalkwithnatasha, where people are showing up as fierce allies without pins.)

So, wear the damn safety pins already.  But don’t stop there.  If you choose to wear a pin, consider this: Read more!

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