The KKK-endorsed president-elect of the United States just appointed a white nationalist to his cabinet and has promised to deport or incarcerate two to three million undocumented immigrants as soon as he’s inaugurated, but here’s what the left is arguing about: safety pins.
After Trump was elected president last week and hate crimes began to spike, some began to wear safety pins to signal that people facing violence could reach out to them. It was a well-intentioned, simple gesture but over the weekend, some liberals and lefties began to furiously debate whether safety pins caused more damage than they prevented.
On Saturday, Christopher Keelty over at The Huffington Post published an article that’s since been liked over 140,000 times shares called, “Dear White People, your safety pins are embarrassing.” In it, Keelty argues that white people who wear safety pins are doing little more than showing off their allyship, and doing absolutely nothing to help:
“And make no mistake, thats what the safety pins are for. Making white people feel better,” Keelty writes. “Theyll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.”
Lucky Tran (@luckytran) November 10, 2016
The author then goes onto even compare people who wear safety pins to 18th century slave-owners, who were also motivated by notions of freedom and inequality:
“Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if thats the spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin,” Keelty explains.
It is truly mind-blowing to imagine that a piece that compares people who wear safety pins to people who owned slaves, was published on a mainstream media publication, forget liked 140,000 times.
Alas, here we are in Trump’s America and this is what we’re fighting about.
Keelty’s argument is based on multiple flawed premises that make for an even faultier though highly sharable analysis. First, he founds his entire argument on the idea that the only people wearing safety pins are white people. I, for one, would love to hear where he is getting this data, and who is even bothering to collect it. Both the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center, which documents hate crimes, changed their profile pictures to include safety pins are they just performative allies as well?
The author further argues white people wearing the safety pins will do nothing to help “immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people and others who were targeted and persecuted and (further) marginalized by the Trump Campaign” while seemingly unaware that white people include people with disabilities, trans people, queer people and immigrants. Are there only certain kinds of white people who should be allowed to wear safety pins? Are trans and queer white people allowed to wear safety pins, but not cis? Should white people with disabilities stop wearing pins? What is this argument? And how are we actually having it at this historical moment in time?
I can’t speak for the experiences of others. I’m white, and I certainly can’t speak for the experiences of people of color though the reaction on social media from activists in the community appear to be mixed. But as a queer person who is frequently mistaken for a boy, and a journalist who has spent the last 48 hours reading about recent hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, I know I’d be happy to see someone with a safety pin traveling the subway or riding the Greyhound with me regardless of how effective they’d be at intervening. Other queer people might disagree with me, and that’s totally okay too.
For Keelty, wearing safety pins is the ultimate symbol of apathy branding your allyship, instead of doing anything to actually change systems and structures. It’s a very fair point, but it again resides on an enormous assumption: that the people wearing these safety pins aren’t actually doing anything outside of them to enact social change. Who is to say that the people who are wearing pins or posting post-it notes aren’t also donating to Planned Parenthood, attending a Black Lives Matter protest, and trying to organize to get progressives elected at a state level?
Of course, everyone needs to do more than wear a pin or post a note of hope. I strongly implore people currently wearing their safety pins to do more, if they aren’t already donate more, make more calls, attend more organizing meetings, something. But that doesn’t mean we should shame and attack people who are trying to do something within the first week of a crisis, especially when millions of Americans didn’t even bother to show up at the polls this election, and millions more want a very different kind of “something” for their country.
When I was an organizer and social worker, we were taught to invite people in to activism, then encourage them to do more. Want to wear a safety pin? That’s awesome, also consider donating to these organizations. Interested in sharing a hopeful post-it note on a subway wall? That’s wonderful! We’d love to see you at this organizing meeting, too.
There are several good, understandable reasons not to wear safety pins: if, for example, the pins are adopted by white nationalists and hate groups on the right, and used to deceive people. Or if some people choose to misuse their pins to express their silent support instead of their out-loud advocacy.
Of course, everyone needs to do more than wear a pin or post a note of hope but that doesn’t mean we should shame and attack people who are trying to do something
So if people want to wear safety pins, great! If they don’t, that’s also fine. Let’s be honest: who cares. What’s important to remember is this is such a small part of a terrifyingly large conversation. When I visited my Facebook this weekend, I saw so many people sharing links to Keelty’s post and debating the value of the safety pins but not actually sharing resources about where to volunteer, donate and organize (like this one).
However you feel about safety pins and there are very legitimate reasons to dislike them extensive dialogues about them are a depleting, predictably Facebook-esque waste of time and energy energy we need to preserve if we have any hope of moving forward.
I understand that by writing an anti-anti-safety-pins post, I’ve invited backlash, continued the conversation and possibly, the problem. Consider this a desperate plea, then, for those opposed to the Trump regime to not try and ignore these concerns but instead focus on bigger issues and larger problems, so that pieces like the one I just wrote won’t have to be written anymore.