You’re safe with me (now with added thoughts)

Earring and safety pin

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.