Yeah, it’s a safety pin.
I’ve got a new piece of jewelry. On my bedside table, next to the earring I wear every day, I now keep a safety pin. In the morning, when I get dressed, I pin it on where it can be seen. I do this to let people who see it know that if they feel threatened, scared, sad, or displaced, I will do what I can to help.
It’s an action that was taken in the U.K. after Brexit, when immigrants and others suddenly found themselves unsettled in their own communities. It took hold here after the election.
A lot of people have taken umbrage at these safety pins. At first the election “winners” called it a symbol of hate. They said it was divisive. They said that it supports a culture of perpetual fear. Soon after, some on this side decried it as a bland, feel-good gesture that is ineffective, insincere, and fleeting. A nicety meant for white people to assuage their guilt.
I gently say to them, bullshit.
I’m not doing this out of shame. I’m not putting it on to look good to my friends. I’m not wearing it to claim some higher moral ground. I’m not belittling the fears of white people. I’m not pretending a safety pin will magically make black lives matter. This isn’t a symbol.
It’s an action.
It’s an offer of rescue, solidarity, and solace.
If you feel unsafe, or alone, or afraid, because you’re white, black, brown or another shade of humanity, because you have an accent or a drawl, because you wear certain clothes, because you work with your hands, or you despair over numbers at the dinner table, because you dare not walk alone at night, or you lie awake worrying about what will happen tomorrow… you deserve better. You deserve safety, community, and security.
I will work to meet people where their needs are. I will engage in my community to recognize these inequalities and make some difference. But I can’t always be doing that. I have a family, kids, the million things we all have that take away our best intentions in favor of just getting through the day.
So I wear the pin because I want you to know, even if I’m just out getting groceries, or going back to my car in a parking lot, or waiting in some line with you, that you’re safe with me.
I may not look like you. Or maybe I do. But you’ll know me by the safety pin. And by the way I won’t turn my back if you need me.
Added: There’s a lot of backlash to the safety pins, and a lot of backlash to that backlash. The article that started it, “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing,” has been reposted to Medium and Huffpost, which means it’s mostly click bait now. (His original story at his own site is swamped, and he has a second, more constructive post up now.) The comments, and I’ve read a couple hundred, mostly constitute a backlash of their own. Here are the important points:
- Some marginalized people are grateful for the safety pins.
- Many marginalized people are not giving it much thought, one way or the other.
- No, the white nationalist movement is not co-opting it en masse, whatever one trolling graphic pretends to imply.
- Yes, you definitely need to do more than put on a safety pin and pretend you fixed it.
For me, wearing it yesterday, it made me think. It made me uncomfortable, probably in the right ways. More present in the world I was walking through. Aware of what the black woman at the radio station might be thinking.
Finally, my bit above was not meant to encourage anyone else to wear a safety pin. It was explaining why I am.
I am eager to hear why you might wear one, or won’t wear one, or what you think about it.