Here is how the safety pin battle reads to me:
Allies: [wears safety pin] “This means I support your rights and will step in if someone harasses you in public.”
Critics: “You say that, but you don’t mean it. I know what you’re really thinking, and you’re lazy and selfish and you’re not doing enough for us.”
Allies: “How do you know what I’m thinking? I really mean it.”
Critics: “You have no right to speak to me about what your intentions are, I know how I feel about them, and by arguing, you’re using your [white/straight/mail] privilege to discredit my experiences.”
— — — — — -
If the critic’s line was something like, “I’m scared you don’t mean it. Are you sure you mean it? I need reassurances.” Or “Thank you for doing that. If you want to keep being an ally, here are some even bigger ways to make a difference.” Or even, “I know you mean well, but I’ve had too many experiences where people with good intentions let me down. I’m going to ask you to stop wearing the pin, because I just can’t trust it sorry*,” then I think this conversation would go pretty differently. When people feel attacked, they get defensive, and they don’t listen very well. We can decry that, but human nature isn’t changing any time soon. Some allies rise above those defensive feelings as a gift to minorities, but I think it’s a mistake to see that as an obligation and not the gift that it is. We seem to have crossed into this weird mirror world where it’s acceptable for minorities to say pretty rude things to allies because of their own traumatizing experiences. I’m not denying those traumatic experiences, and I’m not begrudging anyone’s right to make mistakes — I sure make them — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a mistake to attack people as selfish or lazy or whatever without evidence. That’s just basic respect.
If I’m missing something, I’m happy to consider other perspectives.
*There’s still the issue of minorities that appreciate and like the pin, or want to encourage it as a first step in activism, like this essay.