I’m Not Down With the Safety Pin Backlash
Anoosh Jorjorian

Show your mettle, not your metal

Yvonne’s Metiche’s reply critiquing the safety-pin phenomenon is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, and I do not get not getting it. I’m not attempting to recreate those arguments here — she did better, go read it. I just want to check in with privileged people and see what we’re not getting here, once you’ve already read Yvonne’s case. Tell me if I have this wrong:

  1. Basically nobody is expressing any trouble with the idea of privileged folks taking action to support marginalized people when threatened (assuming the intervenors know what they’re doing and won’t make it worse, which is almost certainly too much to assume, but we can tackle that question elsewhere).
  2. Meanwhile, some marginalized folks are concerned about safety pins and such symbols actually sending the wrong message or having the wrong affect on the wearers, among other arguments I don’t need to restate here.
  3. Not a whole lot of members of the most-threatened groups have expressed support for these symbols, that I’ve seen — mostly eye-rolling at best, if not solid critique like Yvonne’s.
  4. And yet it is still somehow not obvious that the mission for us more-privileged and so-called “woke” folks who don’t stand out as members of marginalized groups, is just to put that stance into action IRL, instead of barking online about how we plan to do it or wearing something to show everyone that we will do it.

Why is this hard to get? Adopt the stance, drop the pin, shut up when asked, and show up when asked. Somehow I’ve been a vigilant, consistent white cis male antifascist for 25 years without needing a signifier.

If you have the skill and ability to intervene without making the situation worse, do it. No safety pin necessary. No contract required.

What am I missing?

And for the record, I totally get the impulse to wear a signifier. I felt it last Tuesday night. But then I listened all week. And my selfish need to identify as the unusual 43-year-old white male who is genuinely opposed to hate, somehow did not win out over critique from the very people I’m most interested in supporting. If you are truly interested in aiding the marginalized and threatened — instead of stroking your ego or making sure members of marginalized groups on the sidewalk know you are a leftist for your own reasons — this should not be a problem.

Alternatively, I will look such folks in the eye, smile warmly when appropriate, and always treat them with immediate respect. That does not promise them solidarity (only I know they have it from me, which knowledge I’ll just have to live alone with somehow — maybe my massive, unsheddable privilege will help). Yet the gestures do no harm, and for anyone out there looking for signs of goodwill from strangers, actual gestures are more universally perceived than this safety pin business.

At school, this would be even easier. Your daughter can make her stance known to a consistent group of people over time and earn trust through action. The safety pin is almost immediately meaningless without that anyway. She’ll have countless opportunities in school to stand on the right side, and her classmates can see her mettle, not her metal.

There are lots of ways to get better, more confident, and more effective at being an ally. Lots of resources about it, too. The safety pin has never been required.

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