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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On empty gestures and impotent guilt

Within a day of Trump's election, articles and social media posts went up urging people to wear safety pins as a show of solidarity and to demonstrate that marginalized people can feel safe around you.
And about fifteen minutes later, articles and social media posts went up telling people that their safety pins are empty gestures that make them look like idiots. The Huffington Post published an article called "Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing" by Chris "More-Woke-Than-Thou" Keelty. Keelty, who is white, points out that white people are responsible for Trump's election. He says "You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us."
You know what? Screw you, buddy, and the sanctimonious, condescending horse you rode in on. Safety pins are not an embarrassment, and here's why. 
Following Brexit, reports of racist and anti-immigrant hate crimes soared in England, making many folks feel scared and helpless. A Twitter user who goes by @cheeahs, an immigrant herself, suggested that people who oppose the hatred wear safety pins to let members of marginalized groups know "you're safe with me." She picked safety pins because she wanted something that most people already had on hand, something simple. She didn't men the safety pin as an end unto itself; without actions, the pin alone means "jack shit." The pin is a way to reach out, to bridge gaps, start a conversation - and serve as a reminder for people to listen to each other and speak out together.
Now, since the whole pin thing started, I've seen a number of blog posts and editorials from people, both Black and white, making really good points about the hollowness of the gesture. And I've seen a bunch of white people get super self-congratulatory about their decision to put a pin on it, like that in itself made them freedom fighters. I read one article, which I unfortunately can't find now, from a woman of color who questioned the sincerity of pin wearers on Facebook and faced a tidal wave of hatred from offended white people. White people telling her she was part of the problem, white people telling her she should be grateful; one white lady even tried to get the writer fired from her job for her comment and then bragged about doing so on social media. So obviously, there are a lot of people running around with safety pins who wouldn't know a real ally if one pinned them in the ass. 
But it simply isn't fair to paint everybody who finds the symbol meaningful the same way. Especially since this isn't just about Black and white. I've noticed a lot of folks in the queer community have really taken to the symbol. Our current administration is the first to ever fully recognize gay rights. Our incoming Vice President doesn't even believe that gay people have the right to exist. Members of the queer community are feeling super scared and marginalized too. 
So here's my take. People shouldn't wear a pin unless they're willing to earn it. If you haven't done a single other thing to stamp out hatred or oppression, then you're not a real ally and have no business proclaiming yourself one. If you expect people to be impressed, be grateful that you're wearing a pin, then you've got no business wearing it. And, this one is really important, if you think all Black people should feel the same way about your gesture, you need to put that pin back in the drawer until you figure out exactly why that's a terrible thing for you to think. I've got a hint for you: you're going to kick yourself once you've figured it out.

And on that note, guys, let's try to be nice to each other. It has been a shitty year and a shittier month, and we're all angry and scared and grieving and exhausted. I know I haven't been my best self for the past week, and I think a lot of others would say the same. But we who are standing on the side of love need to stick together now more than ever. We need to listen to each other more and talk at each other less. We (I'm looking at you, fellow white people) need to not unleash a tsunami of righteous indignation whenever someone tells us we could be doing better. And we (I'm looking at you, Chris "I'm-a-better-helper-whitey-than-you-are" Keelty) can tell other people to do better without being sanctimonious assholes about it. 
Behold! The 10,000th stock image of a safety pin you've seen this week.

1 comment:

Trender National said...

Some crazy stuff going on over this election. I tuned it out after a while because it's just too crazy. The funny part is that a lot of black people actually voted for Trump. Shouldn't be any white vs. black stuff going on at all. Not at all.

Personally, I like--no wait--I LOVE the new VP. Just saying.