What’s up with the Safety Pin?

I started wearing a safety pin shortly after the most recent election cycle was completed. I started doing so out of a sense of frustration. I understand the criticisms of this form of symbolism, and wouldn’t want to do anything to diminish or dismiss it. By the same token, however, although I appear to be just another middle-aged, white, privileged male, the fact is that my blood is 100% Jewish. And despite the fact that I self-identify as a Christian, the blood in my veins makes me a target for many of the intolerant groups which have become so much more vocal since the election of Donald Trump.

I’ve thought about whether I should continue to wear this emblem. I rarely see anyone else wearing one, and I’m often asked what its meaning is, which is a question that’s not easy to answer in a short sound bite. I usually state that it symbolizes opposition to hatred and bigotry, and then encourage people to do a Google search, which will reveal a wealth of information, and opinions, about this practice.

The original meaning of this symbol — which was intended to send a signal to those who are being discriminated against that the wearer is ready to step in and come to their aid, if and when necessary — has come under a storm of criticism. It has even been co-opted by the very forces which it is meant to stand against.

I don’t choose to wear mine, however, as an impotent symbol of passive activism, or to mark myself as a white savior. I’m not trying to send a signal to those who are being oppressed. I am trying to send a signal to the oppressors. I’m trying to tell the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, homophobes, xenophobes, jingoistic nationalists, and misogynists of the world that I stand against them. I mark myself as their target. I offer myself up to their abuse. Soup’s on, kids! Come and get it!

I have toyed with the idea of giving up wearing my safety pin. Because it has become so controversial. Because it has accrued so many meanings, good, bad, and everything in between. Because it can cause outrage among those whom it was never meant to offend. Because it can amuse those whom it was meant to offend. Because it has become such a… a thing, such an unclear, muddled mess of a symbol. The thought has even occurred to me to replace my safety pin with a yellow Star of David in order to make my own intended symbolism clearer. (One can only imagine the intense outrage that would provoke from all sides!) For the moment, however, I think I’ll keep the safety pin. We’ll see where we head over the next few years. Maybe it will become superfluous. It could happen. But more likely it will become essential.

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