Ouch, That Safety Pin Hurts So Good
Happy Black History Month! What? Isn’t February supposed to be Black History Month? March is Women’s History Month! Yeah, well, around here, EVERY month is Black History Month. EVERY month is Women’s History Month. It’s EVERYBODY’s history. EVERYBODY should be studying it all year. For a combo platter of Black and women’s history served up with a side of side eye, I highly recommend Safety Pin Box founded by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson.
The Safety Pin Box isn’t a box meant for storing safety pins. It’s a response to the Safety Pin Movement that exploded in response to the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist (the list goes on) rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election. Mac and Johnson were unimpressed by those who would “wear a safety pin to show you’re a safe friend of vulnerable people.” I was all about the safety pin until I started thinking how hollow that gesture must seem to the people it’s meant to comfort.
I mean, how does wearing a safety pin dismantle the white supremacy built into American life? How does it put money into Black businesses, hire, train, promote and champion Black employees? Even worse, wearing a safety pin lets white people think they’re doing their part. (Disclosure: I sometimes wear a big safety pin anyway so people will ask me and I can talk about Safety Pin Box.)
See, that’s part of the genius of Safety Pin Box — white people educating other white people. “How can I be a better ally?” is a beautiful question, but usually asked of the people who have the least amount of time and patience to do the schooling. It’s not up to Black people to teach Black history and current events to earnest white seekers of truth and justice — that’s called “unpaid labor,” and the emotionally-charged burden of “helping” members of the oppressor class to do right is called “emotional labor.”
Safety Pin Box was born because Mac and Johnson were tired of doing unpaid labor and emotional labor. They and some of their friends were still willing to believe there are white people who are sincere about wanting to learn more and do better, although it was hard when the majority of white women voted for the Republican nominee. After the election, sorrowful white women who were shocked by the results and ashamed of their complacency (or worse, regretted their vote) wanted to, uh, get woke. Johnson and Mac had the wisdom to share and knowledge to drop, so they decided to continue helping to educate. They offered their expert guidance and tough love to anyone willing to meet their conditions and pay the price.
My monthly subscription to Safety Pin Box means the Post Office delivers a little box every few weeks (think Birchbox but for a racial consciousness makeover). The box is filled with assignments guaranteed to get me out of my comfort zone and into…I’ll admit it…deep discomfort. I am surprised and sad to discover how much I don’t know about Black history despite what I thought was a good grounding in the subject. I’m mortified to see how many easy ways to be inclusive have never occurred to me despite my stated intentions.
The monthly membership fee also enables the founders to write checks to organizations working to advance Black people. They are creating a righteous livelihood for themselves by doing important work that’s patriotic, loving, and bold.
If you’re willing to spend time doing actual school-type work researching the people who have been forgotten by “History,” if you’re willing to use your social capital to help advance people of color, if you’re willing to feel uncomfortable and maybe even embarrassed, I invite you to join me as a subscriber to Safety Pin Box.
Originally published on The Harnisch Foundation website, http://thehf.org