(If ever there was an occurrence calling for a blog category called “Effed-Up Shit,” it is the 2016 Election season and fallout.)
Also, I know we’re tailing off on the safety pin thing, but the conversation about what it means to be an ally to marginalized people is far from over. The same kinds of performance vs. substance issues are coming up again in the context of a proposed national registry for Muslims (“We will all register!”) so although I was going to discard this post, here it is.
(Also also, I AM NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. If you want to wear a safety pin, wear a safety pin. If you appreciate the safety pin thing, yay.)
* * * * *
A lot of white folks are wearing safety pins on our shirts and jackets, a gesture taken from a movement that started in the UK after the Brexit vote:
In a big city like London, or even in someplace smaller like a grocery store, or a coffee shop, we’re all just strangers to one another. It can be difficult for all of us to either reach out for help or offer help. A symbol as simple as a safety pin can be an important first step in showing solidarity and support for people who are scared and upset at this time.
Many of us are wearing (and Instagramming, and avatar-ing) our safety pins. Many marginalized people have started saying, “FYI, we don’t really find the pins useful or helpful.” And many of the be-pinned white folks have responded to that feedback by
listening to the marginalized voices and examining our motivations and actions getting really mad.
(If you would like to hear it from a white person, you can read this, and then go sit in a corner and think about why you needed to hear it from a white person. Then think about why you’re still reading my post instead of the people I just linked you to. Marginalized voices are telling you what they think about something. Listen to them. If it makes you angry, stop and think about why. Do so privately, instead of in pissy Facebook comments.)
For my be-pinned white friends and family members who might find their Ally Panties in a bunch over this, I offer these Fellow White Person thoughts:
Note: from this point on, you can pretty much swap “marginalized voices” with “marginalized voices, especially Muslims” and “wearing a safety pin” with “offering to sign up for a registry in solidarity.” And you should also be following Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura.
Consider that marginalized voices have been crying out for help this whole time, and have heard a lot of lip service without seeing a lot of material improvement in the attitudes, behaviors, and policies that harm them. Consider that many of us have long done nothing ever but contribute to the lip service, and what seems like a crisis point to us — feeling betrayed by your country, being scared, fearing violence — is life as usual for many folks.
Consider that perhaps responding to this by wearing a small, oblique symbol, the donning of which takes no effort at all on our part, is cold comfort at best.
Can you wear a safety pin AND engage in other, proactive ways? Sure! Yes! Please! But let’s also be honest with ourselves: the majority of us never really make it past the “symbolic gesture” stage, so we can’t be all that surprised to hear that the folks we’re claiming to support are not holding their breath waiting for us to act. They don’t believe us because our good intentions do not change their lived experiences. Which is, like so many other things, on us white folks. You can’t pack a gunshot wound with safety-pin selfies, y’know?
(On a purely practical level, it’s also unlikely that someone in the middle of an uncomfortable or threatening interaction with a bigot will spot your little pin, and you’re not going to be targeted by or allowed to sign up for a Muslim registry. If you see someone who needs help, just act.)
TL;DR: to many folks, the pin (or your announcement that you’ll sign up for a registry targeting Muslims) is just a performance. Which means: nothing actually happens, but we get to feel good about ourselves for having done something despite not having done anything at all. And the reaction to hearing this should be, “Okay, how can I really be useful?” and not “UGH ungrateful brown people can’t you see I am HELPING.”
* * * * *
And to repeat, I AM NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. If you want to wear a safety pin, wear a safety pin. If you appreciate the safety pin thing, yay. If you want to announce your solidarity with Muslims, yay. If you appreciate those announcements, yay.
* * * * *
I don’t want to leave you in the activist lurch — I know many of us are trapped in the “oh god, someone just please tell me something helpful I can do” stage — so in the interest of being constructive: if you want to engage in accessory-based activism, consider a pin that explicitly says what you mean, like “Black Lives Matter” or “Hooray for trans persons!” or “Muslims are marvelous!” or just “I didn’t vote for Trump.” That’d be much more visible, people would more easily know where you actually stand, and your pin couldn’t be co-opted by white nationalists. Plus, your obvious statement might draw the attention of bigots in your vicinity who might then choose to confront you rather than, say, the nearest person of color, giving you the opportunity to absorb and deal with the hate while a person of color gets to avoid doing it for once, and then you’d have done an actual service for someone.
The sentiment behind your safety pin is not at issue. But it’s too little, it’s very late — in the case of a Muslim registry, we kind of already have one — and many of us will end up doing nothing beyond the performance despite claiming that we’re just making one small gesture among many we plan to perform. And energy spent getting angry with people of color or queer folks or Muslims or queer Muslims of color or any other oppressed group over this is energy not spent protesting, volunteering, or offering material or proactive support, or working to understand the deep roots of inequality and how white Americans contribute to and benefit from them.
Okay, end White Person Thoughts.