Being an Ally in the Trump Era — Do Not Take the Easy Way Out

I wish this were a parody. It is not. $300+ that could go towards nonprofits fighting for our rights.

The safety pin is a symbol of unity against hatred post-election of he-who-must-not-be-named. It is a small, metal object one can affix to one’s clothing as a way to say “I didn’t support this, I’ll support you.” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be something in the face of fear and the dread creeping up on us all. It could be a comforting symbol to see my librarian, barista, or teacher wearing.

But it is not enough. It is nowhere near enough. And maybe you are not one of the people who are unwilling to hear that, but they are out there:

Ijeoma Oluo wrote a great piece (read it here) over at The Establishment, and I think it’s worth noting that after she wrote it she got criticism for it — a lot of it from white, liberal women who call themselves allies. Way to disprove your point through actions, y’all.

It is not enough.

Some of these safety pin pieces and jewelry are now costing upwards of $300. Your statement pieces and t-shirts do not save lives. Wear them if you want, buy them if you want, but they are ancillary when directly connected to organizations helping the people you want to protect and a pretty thought when they are not. No hearts have been changed by a t-shirt, but it feels good to wear them. I get it. I do it, too. I have a Nasty Woman shirt and have ordered a sweatshirt with ‘Nasty Women Keep Fighting’ emblazoned on it. Those are for me. Those are to lift me up. I am aware that they aren’t contributing to the betterment of this nation. That’s why I donate to the ACLU, ActBlue, and Planned Parenthood. Don’t conflate your feel-goods with your do-goods.

At the end of the day, humanity is angry as hell. At the end of the day, outrage and fear are transitory experiences. An engine cannot run hot forever. It is going to be way too easy to normalize what it happening. Some are already doing so by breathing a sigh of relief that Obamacare might not entirely go away (for now) but saying nothing about Roe v. Wade or Steve Bannon being added as Chief Strategist.

Your pin does not stop apathy from setting in. Further, I argue that it could steal precious capital in our souls that could go towards actual action.

Why should I interrupt my life? Aren’t I already an ally?”

I don’t have money to give. I already bought a pin!”

Why isn’t anyone smiling at me gratefully? Don’t they see my pin?

A safety pin is a small object. It is a small gesture. Do not let a small gesture be all that you do for people who have had their culture, religion, love, and heritage raked through the mud.

Also, are you ready to intervene in an altercation? Because that’s a big part of what wearing that pin means. Being an ally means if you see something, you will do something. This takes thought and preparation.

  • Have you taken any bystander intervention training? An altercation, even a verbal one, is an adrenaline-heavy experience. Adrenaline can do all kinds of things to the body, including freezing it in place. It’s why you might see people on videotaped attacks sitting still, avoiding eye contact, or saying nothing at all. This is not a moral failing— they are adrenalized and freezing. Training can help you learn to deal with how your body handles the adrenaline dump and be better prepared to deal with a situation as safely as possible.
  • Adrenaline can also mess with your eyesight, creating tunnel vision that makes it hard for you to see what’s around you (a part of tachypsychia). Imagine that I am harassed and being threatened (this is happening in real life, it’s not hard to picture). It is not unlikely that my adrenaline system will spike. It is not unlikely that tachypsychia will take effect and I will have distorted eyesight. In that moment, how the hell am I supposed to be able to look for and spot a safety pin? It’s not going to happen, I will not be able to see a safety pin. Therefore it is going to be up to YOU, the ally, to be prepared to do something for me without my prompting it.

If you plan to wear that pin, think about what that means and prepare for it. Even thinking ahead of what you would do can be helpful.

If someone you are trying to be an ally to says something, believe them. Do not get defensive. In a recent interview, author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shut down gaslighting most eloquently by saying, “if you are a white man, you don’t get to define what racism is.” Lived experience is qualitative data. When you tell a person of color that they are against the movement, that they are haters, that you will do what you want because your friends of color appreciate it …. you’re gaslighting. Stop it. Listen to them. Ask them what they would like to see allies do. Then try doing the thing.

You can even do it while wearing a safety pin if you want. Just hopefully not one that costs $300.