To Pin or Not To Pin . . . that is not the question.
Some context: a couple days ago, a friend of color, also queer and disabled and a member of a much-maligned ethnic group, altogether a visible target for white supremacists, put out a request that her friends wear a safety pin. So I did. It is one small things, along with other small things, that I am doing to try to build a better, kinder world in the face of hate. Also, I adore my friend.
Few days later, I come across a blog entry on Huffington Post saying “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing.” (Link below.) It’s by a white man, shaming white people into not wearing the pin. His tone is condescending. It’s the worst kind of identity politics imaginable. Between him and my friend? I’m going with my friend.
I started a facebook conversation on my wall, and it’s gone all over the map, with people of many colors and genders putting forward various opinions. (And there’s actually a pretty compelling reason not to wear a pin – apparently it’s being co-opted by white supremacists – so I’ll provide a link at the bottom.) Probably this conversation is happening all over the Internet and the dust will settle, one way or another. I’ll wear the pin or not wear the pin. If I don’t wear the pin, I will wear something different, to show solidarity.
But I sure am pissed off with that guy. His assumption that the only reason a white person would wear a pin is to feel better about themself? Arrogant. His failure to notice that queer people, disabled people, and women are all justifiably afraid right now? Oops. His choosing sides between different people of color, without noticing — well, actually, that’s an easy mistake to make. I’ve done it. But there’s more than that.
When I was first confronted with the job of raising a baby, there were a lot of decisions to make. They were the kind of choices you make at one a.m. when you’re at the end of your rope. Do I let my baby cry themself to sleep right now, or not? As kids get older, there are questions of discipline. People saying “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” My takeaway was:
If you’re going to tell people not to use a tool, you damn well better have an equal tool to offer them.
The author of this post didn’t. He suggested that people wear “Black Lives Matter” instead. But what he apparently didn’t realize is that the safety pin does some things that a “Black Lives Matter” pin wouldn’t.
See, some people are ready to wear “Black Lives Matter” and some are not. Others aren’t ready, but who would wear a safety pin. Now what’s going to happen when you tell them not to wear the pin? They’re going to take off the safety pin and wear nothing. (It’s easy to say, oh, well, we don’t need allies like that. But I disagree. I feel like I need all the allies I can get.) And then vulnerable people will be looking around and thinking, “Oh, I guess nobody cares about me.”
In other words, there’s a need for a visible symbol that everyone can wear to show solidarity. And somebody thought up the idea for one and started spreading it around, and then somebody said no. And now instead of moving forward, people are arguing about whether to wear it or not.
Right now, we need everybody to stretch a little. The actual do’s and don’ts and hows and wherefores don’t matter as much to me, but two general principles, which I learned as a young mother, need to be remembered.
- Don’t tell someone not to use a tool unless you’re prepared to offer an equivalent one that works for the same purpose.
- For every no, offer two yeses.
For context, here are a couple of links about the safety pin:
“Here’s the Heartwarming Reason Safety Pins are a Trend Now”
“Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing”
“NeoNazis are trying to co-opt the Safety Pin” (trigger warning: NeoNazi symbols)
Okay, off my soapbox and on to more productive organizing work.