Wearing a safety pin does absolutely nothing to help vulnerable groups
After devoting the past 1.5 years or so to spewing hateful, divisive rhetoric and equally concerning policy plans, the election of Donald Trump has left just about every marginalized group terrified of what’s to come. To show solidarity and support, protests of Trump have erupted across the nation, and millions are donating to organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, and other groups that will stand with America’s most vulnerable now that it appears our president-elect will not. But more privileged, passive Americans are being told it’s enough for them to sit back and watch the nation go up in flames for marginalized groups, so long as they’re wearing a safety pins. Let’s examine why wearing a safety pin does absolutely nothing, shall we?
For starters, I’m not saying it’s an “extra” or unnecessary concept for white allies to offer anxious, marginalized people at a loss for who they can and can’t trust some indication of solidarity. A safety pin supposedly symbolizes safety to all the vulnerable groups out there, doesn’t it? Roughly half of American voters chose Trump, a man who has vilified and threatened minorities and women through his language and what he’s either condoned or outright encouraged his supporters to do. It’s scary to think that so many people you see in your day-to-day could have been complicit in electing Trump, either supporting his bigotry or (just as awful) choosing to look the other way.
But we have to stop sending the message that wearing a pin alone is enough, or that a mere symbol of support is all it takes to help those who could lose their citizenship, access to reproductive freedom, civil liberties, and feelings of safety.
Sixty-three percent of white men and 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, while every minority will suffer the consequences of this. Whether or not this was the intent of predominantly white Trump supporters, they’ve legitimized notions of their supremacy; at worst, they will be safe and exempt of the racially charged threats and microaggressions that all people of color can now expect to face routinely, and at best, they’ll benefit from living in a society that blames every group but them for its problems.
For the next four years and perhaps beyond, marginalized groups will have to shoulder the burden of fighting for themselves and their civil rights; in addition to this, they shouldn’t be burdened with scoping out the streets for a white person with a safety pin to get help. Marginalized people do not get to choose to dodge this daily persecution; in contrast, the ultimate mark of white privilege in this new America is the choice to help or to do nothing. As Brittany Packnett at Vox notes, “You [white people] don’t get to just talk while the rest of us fear for our lives because discrimination, rape culture, and xenophobia just won the White House.”
If you will never have to experience being yelled at to “go back to their country,” fearing losing your family to deportation, or losing your job for being gay, you need to do a hell of a lot more than put a pin on your shirt. Donate to organizations that help immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and women. Volunteer to escort people who feel unsafe in Trump’s America. Actually help protect those most affected rather than participate in a trend that only makes you feel better.
Additionally, over at Vox, Packnett raises these questions:
“I can walk past you and see your safety pin, but will you stop, film, and intervene if you see me being pulled over or assaulted? … [A]re you protecting Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose? … will you show me my life matters when I need you to wait a day asking me for data because the election results have made me physically ill? Or that my queer co-worker matters when their colleagues misgender them? Or that my undocumented students matter when they need real protection?”
And in case you needed one more reason to maybe trade the safety pin for some real consequential action, look no further than evidence that the alt-right has already co-opted the safety pin movement and weaponized it against the marginalized peoples it was meant to comfort and protect. Alt-right media, such as Mad World News, has spun the safety pin movement to advance its long-standing narrative casting progressives and activists as weak and unnecessarily sensitive, and responded by wearing pins from their gun cartridges.
So, in addition to encouraging complacency among “allies,” the safety pin movement could actually be having the opposite effect. It might be time for us to fundamentally rethink what it means and how to effectively be an ally.