In the wake of this year’s Presidential election, a number of people have circulated a plan to wear safety pins on a jacket or shirt. The idea is to show that the wearer doesn’t support bigotry, racism, homophobia, misogyny, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant rhetoric, violence, or policies. It also announces a willingness to intervene if a person is being attacked by bigots.
Almost immediately, a number of leaders and intellectuals from various minority groups attacked those wanting to wear the pins. They said it was an act of white privilege, an attempt for whites to act contrite over President-elect Trump’s victory when using a racially charged campaign platform. Critics also said that if they’re being attacked, they don’t have time to look for a safety-pin wearer when ducking blows.
Perhaps some white voters will wear the pins as an act of contrition. I agree, if that’s all the person is doing to protest this election, then it’s not enough. I also agree that wearing a pin means making a commitment to call out bigoted language and actions, to defend a person physically if necessary. Not everyone can or will do that, but I hope people will give those of us wearing pins the benefit of the doubt. Let us show what we can and will do before criticizing our pins.
More importantly, I think we need to reconsider how we view those wearing pins. Instead of skepticism, look at it as a recruiting opportunity. Someone wearing a pin says they want to be a part of the solution. Rather than sneer, take a few moments and talk with them about it. You may learn that the person is already active in fighting the bigotry that Trump’s election unveiled. Perhaps they’re a member of an organization that you can partner with to effect greater change.
If they aren’t already in the fight, wearing the pin says they might be a new ally in the battle. I know it gets exhausting for people of color to constantly answer white Americans’ questions and try to show us where we’re going wrong. I know too few of us really try to understand what a person of color faces in America each day. I’m not a person of color in America, so I don’t fully understand that burden.
I am, however, a butch lesbian married to another butch lesbian. Many people in America hate women almost as much as they hate people of color. They also fear and despise anyone who doesn’t fit gender norms. I have answered my share of personal, poorly worded, and offensive questions over the years. (And don’t get me started on the prurient ones that people feel it’s okay to ask.) So I understand a bit about the exhaustion that comes from constantly teaching, being a good example, and dealing with ignorance. And I also know my struggles aren’t anything compared to the daily life of a POC in Trump’s America.
With that said, do we really want to alienate possible allies at a time when the prudent, safe thing to do is hide? If someone is wearing a safety pin, it tells me they want to help, that they have some measure of courage because wearing it could make them targets of hoodlums and bigots. We need the people who are signaling that they want to be better friends, neighbors, and citizens.
If that doesn’t convince you to give safety-pin wearers a second chance, then I doubt I can change your mind on anything.
I will say this in closing. Sneer at my safety pin if it makes you feel superior to me. That’s fine. Frankly, I’m not wearing it for you. I’m wearing it for me.
I have a big one pinned to my coat, which is visible to anyone. It will stay there until it falls off or I replace the coat. That’s not really the one that matters to me. The one I focus on is the small one I pin to the underside of my shirt collar each morning.
I put it on the in mirror and think of it as a piece of armor in a battle for my country’s future. It’s my way of telling myself that I want to be a warrior for what’s right. It’s my promise to myself that I will think about the needs of others each day and try my best to be a good ally. That may mean writing letters, calling elected officials, telling someone to stop telling sexist jokes in my presence, or physically intervening in a racial attack.
When I take it off my collar each night, I will ask myself, “Did you try to live the values and ideals that pin symbolizes today?” If I did, perhaps it will help me sleep a bit better (something I haven’t done since November 8th). If I failed myself, then I know I need to try harder the next day.
After all, I’m not wearing this pin so you will like me or trust me. I’m not wearing it for you at all. I’m wearing it for me.