RE: White Folks, Safety Pins and Trust

Beneath the entire discussion of safety pins is an interesting phenomenon: liberal White folks find themselves in a situation where it’s possible that assumptions are being made about them based on their race. In public spaces, it’s difficult to distinguish White Trump supporters from White folks willing to fight against his racist, xenophobic, and sexist ideas and policies. Safety pins are a simple fix — wearing one, you can nonverbally declare #NotAllWhitePeople.

For one — this reeks of White privilege. People of color have always had to combat assumptions based on race. White supremacist society has always tied race to criminality, intelligence, disposability, etc. etc etc. There is no safety pin for Black folks to wear that says — don’t shoot me I’m a good Black person.

Building and maintaining trust in communities of color as a White ally is more than half the work — as it should be. There is no reason for anyone to assume our intentions are pure and, in the end, our intentions are irrelevant. Trust is built through action, consistency and reliability: through our ability to show up without undermining the self-determination of people of color and through our ability to provide support and capacity when the time is right.

The idea that you can declare with a safety pin that oppressed people should trust you is silly. You don’t get to award yourself that prize because there is no prize, only a constant process of wrestling with our own Whiteness. As a White ally, you’re going to fuck up. I fuck up every day. When that happens, we have to keep building and learning. It’s our responsibility as a White people who care about anti-racist struggle to constantly be aware of how we show up and the impact of our actions.

Wearing a safety pin as a way to demonstrate that we’re a ‘good White people’ who can offer safe space to POC is not enough. Safety pins are risky. They have the potential to do more for White feelings than to actually address the situation our country faces.

If a safety pin is a starting point that works for you, fine. But remember that’s all it is: a starting point.

We cannot afford to risk complacency. Let’s stop talking about safety pins and get to work.

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