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So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin Part 2: Is it Really About Your Feelings?

November 13, 2016

No it is not. It isn’t about your feelings. In case you were wondering and a lot of you were.

Before I get all the way into this, let me welcome my new readers. Welcome new readers. I post intermittently about a bunch of things that range in subject matter from knitting and my cat to activism and politics. Sometimes I write about all of those things at once.

I’m skilled like that.

So, welcome new readers. Hope you stick around. Some of you won’t and this post will be why. I’m OK with that. Please see the tag line of this blog. It’s true.

Moving on.

There has been a lot of comment on my previous post which is great. I welcome commentary. I also strongly advise that anyone who wants to debate with me read the rules of engagement. It’ll just make things easier for everyone.

One of the comment trends I’ve seen is people pointing out to me that Alt-right/racist groups are co-opting the safety pin.


This seems to come as a surprise to some people; the idea that those who hold the most vile of ideologies would attempt to corrupt this symbol of safety. I am not surprised.

Of course they are. Of course, white nationalists are attempting to devalue this symbolic gesture. That’s what they do. They co-opt our symbols, they co-opt our language, they co-opt the concept of bias and racism and paint themselves as the victims.That’s the only way they can get anywhere close to being taken seriously.

As Progressives it is our instinct to pause and take into account the thoughts and feelings of others. That’s part of what makes us Progressives, that ability to understand a plurality of ideas and see more than one opinion on an issue as valuable to one extent or another. I generally think this ability is a good thing, except when people try to use it to shoehorn concepts like “white genocide” onto a list of opinions and points-of-view that any rational person considers valuable.

I’m not linking to the definition of white genocide. Look it up.

Because some points-of-view are not valuable. Climate Change is real. There is no Tooth Fairy. And the concept of white people being subject to racism is laughable. You should laugh at it.

So yes, of course white nationalists are attempting to co-opt the safety pin movement. So what? Wear it anyway. Or don’t. Whatever.

The most common response to this revelation is “what will people think if they see me wearing a safety pin if racists are wearing it?”

To which I say, “who cares?” Seriously. Who cares what people think of you? Do you think that as someone who carries privilege marginalized people are going to see a ten cent pin and suddenly trust you? Do you think the pin is some magical talisman that negates your privilege?

It isn’t.

It’s probably better for you to assume marginalized people aren’t going to trust your good intentions no matter what. Trusting good intentions and the better nature of the privileged is what got us here in the first place.

In fact, the idea that racists might see you wearing a pin and think you are actually on their side could be good. It could be the best possible weapon in a confrontation because when you step in and help the person being attacked the shock of your actions may rock the attacker further back on their heels thus giving you an opening to remove the marginalized person from the confrontation.

What other people think of you doesn’t matter. Helping people does. If you’re not in it to help, then wearing the safety pin isn’t about the marginalized, it’s about your ego. Your ego doesn’t matter. And if you’re suddenly feeling the urge to post your social justice CV in an effort to convince me that wearing the pin isn’t really about your ego, don’t. Because all you’ll be doing is proving it really is about your ego. Don’t wear the pin.

Because it’s not really about the pin either. It’s about the promise. It’s about recognizing that marginalized people are and have always been in danger. The election didn’t change that. The election didn’t embolden anyone. It didn’t make privileged people more bigoted or more aware and comfortable with their privilege. Nothing is different for the marginalized. Only one thing has changed.

Privileged people are noticing. Yes, the SPLC is saying that they have over 200 reports of violence against the marginalized since election night but the key word there is “reports.” They are tracking the data more closely and calling for submissions of incident accounts as a result of the election. But these things were happening before. They’ve always happened.

If you are among the marginalized, especially if you live on the intersection of several marginalized groups, the threat of verbal or physical attack is just something you live with every day.

When I see a vehicle full of white men I don’t think “OMG they might be Trump supporters!” I think “White men are statistically the most violent group in the US and that statistic rises sharply if you are only tracking bias crimes and domestic terrorism.” Because that is the nation in which I live. I don’t think white men might target me for violence because of Trump. I think they might target me for violence because they are white men and I’m neither of those things. That’s all it takes.

I am in no more danger now than I was on Monday, by which I mean I was always in danger. A safety pin doesn’t change that. It doesn’t make me feel safer. A safety pin is a symbol. If that symbol doesn’t carry with it a plan for action then it has no meaning. In which case, don’t wear the pin.




30 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2016 1:16 PM

    Thank you for this, and your other article. As a fat white bi woman, I have been assaulted and have been afraid, but I am in a privileged class nonetheless. I had an impulse to wear a pin. Then I read your first blog on it, and have decided I need to make a plan before I wear it. And secondly, the pin isn’t the point, and wearing it WOULD make ME feel better. But it’s an illusion of action. I found your point that if racists co-opting the pin seeing me wear a pin could be a helpful tool in aiding a victim valid and might be the only reason FOR wearing it. Most of all, though, your point the election hasn’t changed the reality for marginalized groups — they were in danger before — rings true. I recognize I also need to increase the diversity of my network, to avoid the insulation of privilege.

  2. November 13, 2016 1:44 PM

    Thank you for your words (here and on the previous blog). I believe that every person deserves the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They need to be able to live their lives without fear. BUT. As a white woman, I cannot possibly KNOW of my own cognizance, how those who are not white (and not male, although I am female) live and what they feel or think. I actually fail the DJT test for “true believers”. I am white as a fact of the level of melanin in my skin. But I am a woman; I am a Pagan/Buddhist, and I am bi (or pan, haven’t quite figured that one out). The massacre in Orlando really drove home to me that I AM, most certainly, a member of the LGBTQ community. But as a white female, with a husband, no one questions my sexuality or sexual preferences.
    I live in Eureka CA and do not feel the need to wear a safety pin here. Don’t mistake me; there is still marginalization–but I’ve never seen it for myself. There is no way I could actually fight for anyone. (I’m also disabled and in chronic pain. Trust me, this is one time where it really would “hurt me more than it hurt (you)”.
    I make no claim to moral or spiritual superiority. But I do believe in living a life of love, of sharing love with all, always having my actions and words reflect love. I will not have to change this. I will only have to do the things (or say the words) I would have used in any confrontation before Nov 8.
    I am thankful for all of you, everyone who has made the choice to stand, no matter what–and has a plan for accomplishing this. And I appreciate your blog, which helps us to understand just what the motivations for wearing a safety pin we might have. Blessings on you, be safe. And here’s a hug {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{you}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}. I hand those out like candy!

  3. Darrell R Bass permalink
    November 13, 2016 4:56 PM

    Your article was well written and spot on accurate. What emboldened hate won’t do to pervert a well intended action… Pity, but this is Amerikkka, you can’t fool me…!đź‘˝

  4. November 13, 2016 6:14 PM

    Well, I certainly don’t want to be confused with a white supremacist. I guess I’ll have to add something they would never wear – like a Black Lives Matter pin and a rainbow flag pin.

  5. Debra Laird permalink
    November 13, 2016 9:32 PM

    I could not have expressed this any more compellingly. Kudos! I’ve walked the walk, and I don’t need a safety pin to step up. I never did. In the end, its down to the old and wise adage:”Actions speak louder than words.”

  6. November 13, 2016 10:16 PM

    I appreciate your comments both here and in the previous post. I am a white, heterosexual woman and have been subject to the sexual discrimination of women but am aware that it is just a small part of a much bigger discriminatory scope.

    I am wearing the pin. I do have a plan. What I have already discovered is that the pin is causing a conversation to happen. A conversation where I get to talk to other people about the problem and how to help. Whether or not it causes me to be trusted by someone being marginalized or not, the fact that it is raising awareness and conversation is well worth it being worn.

  7. Laura Chatain permalink
    November 13, 2016 11:20 PM

    I haven’t heard anyone mention the possible deterrent effect, which seems kind of obvious to me. If a bully is in public, and is inclined to attack someone vulnerable, and also sees that everyone in the vicinity is wearing a safety pin, how is that NOT a deterrent to that bully acting on his impulse? Assuming people wearing a pin are committed to intervening in bullying situations, which also seems obvious. Like, why wear the pin if it’s not a promise to intervene?

    • November 14, 2016 5:18 PM

      Bullies don’t often use logic. And the assumption that shared whiteness will deter intervention is a statistically safe one.

  8. Zack permalink
    November 14, 2016 12:56 AM

    Because the gesture has no meaning. It’s not designed to show support. It’s designed to make you feel better about yourself.

    Minorities don’t want caucasian wearing pins. They want caucasians to treat them like you would treat anyone else. Which you do…for all the wrong reasons. And the pin proves it.

    You don’t treat minorities with kindness and respect because you should, but because it makes you feel good. Because you think it makes you better. Everything else is secondary.

    Take off the pin and actually do something. Or wear meaningless symbols whilst patting yourself on you back about how great of a person you are for doing so. But stop lying, not just to the public, but to yourself.

  9. Robin permalink
    November 14, 2016 1:34 AM

    You and your words are what we need now. Having read part 1, I made a plan, but I am ill with cancer and chemo right now. That wouldn’t stop me from trying to distract the abuser or sitting with the abused. Your words have given me strength and hope. As a Wiccan I can hold the light, I can have the strength of the elements, I can continue to live my strongest belief in the goodness of the universe.

    Whether we choose to wear the pin or not, it is our action or inaction that will demonstrate our intent. Ego is sometimes hard to recognise, but, fear can shine the light on who we really are. Thank you for your strength and your honesty.
    Blessed Be!

  10. November 14, 2016 8:27 AM

    Thanks especially for the articulation about co-optation of symbols, including language. It’s all about behavior. Write on, write on!

  11. November 14, 2016 2:29 PM

    I appreciate what you have shared in this and your previous safety pin post. However, I would like to share my experience pertaining to this statement: “And the concept of white people being subject to racism is laughable.” It is a misnomer to call me white, but I am pale skinned and people can be ignorant. My best friend is pale skinned and happens to be Jewish. I recently received texts from a former male friend who is black that began with the words “you white people” referring to my friend and I, thus not only proving his own ignorance as to what is or is not white but also flagged him as a racist. So, I told him as much and asked him to never contact us again. His response was to threaten to have a relative shoot me for calling him a racist. So, today I had to have a long conversation with a police officer at my home. This is not acceptable. Any one can be a racist, particularly if sentences start with “you *whatever* people”. And I can’t laugh at that.
    I am wearing a safety pin. And I did need the information you shared. Thank you.
    We are the human race. Not everyone has figured it out yet.

    • November 14, 2016 5:05 PM

      Racism is the intersection of social privilege and structural power. Black people don’the have enough of either to perpetrate racism.

      I’mean sure you have been subject to bigotry but that is not the same.

      • November 14, 2016 5:08 PM

        Thanks for the response. Nonetheless, it is scary and so not needed in our world.

      • Tiffany permalink
        November 16, 2016 12:15 PM

        Isobel, I don’t think I’ve ever heard racism vs. bigotry described that way (shame on me – I had my own version of it that I kind of made up in the absence of it). Is this the way you would describe it too?
        I ask because I did see multiple different definitions of bigotry from toothless to closer to this definition, and this kind of “clicked” with what you said the most (to me).

        Thanks for your writing… I’m really trying to absorb it all.

        • November 19, 2016 12:09 PM

          I’m grateful to Isobel for her succinct definition and to you for sharing this link.

  12. November 14, 2016 2:31 PM

    Thank you. My first thought (from a white, cis, fat, bi woman’s perspective) was that the safety pin was a neat idea. Your posts here and a number of others speaking up and challenging me and others like me on our thinking has really helped me examine why I felt it was needful.

    I am sorry that it was necessary – it is not on you to do the work of fixing White America. It’s on me and mine.

  13. Sam permalink
    November 14, 2016 3:45 PM

    I’m a latina woman living in a liberal coastal city, Marina del Rey, CA. I have a lighter skin tone, a strong non-mexican accent, but I had always been aware of the stares when I went to certain parts, meaning rich white. The past friday I went to a store and found a young white male yelling ‘niggers, niggers, mexican rapists, are you afraid now? We coming, we coming’. He was looking for a fight and we gave him none, so finally he went away. I asked the manager to remove him, call security or the police. He told me they couldn’t do anything, it was policy of the company to only do something when it turns violent. I felt and still do enraged, fearful and in shock. I love this country and I feel America just told me I’m a second grade human being. I beg every white person out there to fight this, this is about decency, not even skin tones, or if they are right about some things or not. This is truly a fight for the soul of this country, for the future of our children. We must not stand aside or in silence. Here and now is where you decide where you stand, and it must be a LOUD stand, and I’m not talking about politics, whatever your views are, there is some Values that are Paramount. Go online, support organizations, give money, boycott brands, send letters, use your phone to talk to your representative, ask your bank, your realtor, everybody you have the power of money on to make a stand, you are not powerless.

    I will fight this from my space but it is not enough, we must help each other, it is the only way.
    Thanks for listening.

    • drycamp permalink
      November 15, 2016 11:38 AM

      The guy you ran into, whatever else is going on, sounds like he was a few peas short of a casserole.

  14. chanelle1s permalink
    November 14, 2016 5:15 PM

    THANK YOU for this!!! I’ve been getting a LOT of grief for my FB posts on this subject (basically, the ‘dear white people, your safety pins are embarrassing’ point of view). I’m biracial, and have friends, colleagues, and relatives of every imaginable race, political affiliation, faith background, nationality, orientation, etc. I very rarely speak out about stuff like this so as not to offend or upset anyone, but in light of current events, I’ve been a lot more outspoken. I try to qualify things with, “if it doesn’t apply to you, don’t take it on”, but a whole lot of people seem outraged by my belief that their wearing a safety pin is an empty gesture, a self-serving signifier of privilege, and/or an actual microaggression. Your essay puts into words what I’ve been trying to express, and does it with a great deal more clarity, coherence, and specificity. Truly grateful.

    • Tiffany permalink
      November 16, 2016 12:33 PM

      So… I might have fully missed something here. But I took the safety pin essay (part one) as to be about having a plan and action vs. gesture (and the huffpo article you mentioned pretty arrogant, thanks white dude). But I’ve also read others from sources with a right to speak on it consider it an empty gesture too, so I don’t dismiss that out of hand. It seems like the latter is how you interpreted it?

      I read it as kind of a practical guide of if you’re going to do it, make sure to think about it – all of it. I’m one of probably a very few white women who can take action due to martial arts training. And would. There is a bushido creed:

      “Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there. Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I am there. Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend.”

      It’s from decades ago, but the extension of it is to protect the victim, protect yourself, and yes, protect the enemy/perpetrator. That you have to be willing to put your body and your training as a protector role – period. The belt is heavy so don’t don it lightly, kind of thing.

      The first article made me really think – am I willing to wear it when it’s just my 7yo son and I around? Honestly, I’m not, and I’m really grateful that the article made me acknowledge that. I want him to see me take action and not just talk, but I don’t want to risk his safety in the process. Selfish? yup. But nothing is higher than his immediate safety to me. If I’m alone? Yes, I’m comfortable with the physical confrontation and any legal repercussions.

      But I have not yet donned a pin because of wondering if instead of being helpful, it actually is hurtful to those it’s meant to support (like you’ve said).

      I’m still trying to figure out what actually helps the people it should help the most, and what’s theater or about myself.

      Did I just completely misunderstand part one?

  15. November 14, 2016 8:20 PM

    Thank you! You’re expressing what I’ve been thinking. I’m a 66 year old white woman living in a very marginalized neighborhood. I navigate around by bus, and I’m physically not strong (bad hip). I wore a safety pin on my Saturday errands but have now taken it off my coat. Here are my reasons:

    1) It sets up a barrier of sorts between my neighbors and myself. I’m the last thing in the world from the Great White Hope, and I won’t portray myself that way.
    2) No, I can’t throw a punch, and I can’t take a punch, either. I’d be a liability in any physical confrontation.
    3) The people around here have every reason to regard me with suspicion. Miraculously, people don’t. I’m kindly treated 99% of the time.

    I have decided to leave the safety pin off my outer clothes. That doesn’t mean I can’t act if I see the opportunity to be helpful. I can and will, to the extent possible. I don’t need an ornament or a badge to do that. I’m going to continue exchanging greetings with people, swapping bus schedule knowledge, smiling at little ones–actually smiling at everyone, not ignoring people, and just exercising common courtesy. It’s small, but it’s do-able.

    Since I want nothing more than to proclaim loudly that I didn’t vote for the louse, I hope to construct for myself a small jewelry-style safety pin to wear on my inner clothes. That will assuage my need for solidarity while not creating barriers or false expectations.

    • David Laurance permalink
      November 19, 2016 11:24 AM

      Thanks for this. I’m a 60-year-old white man, living and working in the New York area, traveling by subway most days. I thought about the pin, even put a pin on my jacket. But then I took it off and put it in my pocket before I got to the subway.

      I probably could throw a punch. I’m tall and strong. I might be threatened by anything worse than fists, though. But here’s what made me take it off:

      Every trip on the subway, I have a choice about how much attention I pay, whether I meet people’s eyes and smile, whether I respond to the homeless person asking for change. I can’t do it all, but each time I encounter someone I have a choice of how to handle that.

      Sometimes I do that well; sometimes things happen around me that pull me in, and I wind up in conversation with someone I don’t expect. But the pin feels wrong to me because it proclaims to the world that I have made that choice already. And while I do try to choose again and again, sometimes I’m tired or distracted, or I just don’t see things around me, or something else gets in the way. So the public promise feels false to me. And I decided that I need to pay more attention and to get better at noticing and responding to the people around me.

      I read the previous post; I actually got a copy of the same advice at church last Sunday, and I found the post when I was looking for an online source. And it showed me that there is something to learn about active intervention, in case it does come to that. Perhaps if I pay more attention, I will need that advice and I’ll need to take action. But perhaps just by paying attention I can help to deescalate without confrontation.

      • November 19, 2016 12:03 PM

        Thank you for sharing this. It is very perceptive and insightful, and it resonated with me.

    • November 19, 2016 12:05 PM

      What you describe doing — “exchanging greetings with people, swapping bus schedule knowledge, smiling at little ones–actually smiling at everyone, not ignoring people, and just exercising common courtesy” — is so real and powerful. It matters more than you might think.

  16. Shawnna permalink
    November 16, 2016 2:00 PM

    Thank you so much! I’m almost 63, and for the first time in my life, I’m taking women’s self-defense lessons. I will wear my #safetypin proudly and have taken both parts of your articles to heart. I’ve also printed them out and am sharing them whenever someone asks why!


  1. Safety Pins and Solidarity | Episcopal Cafe
  2. Moving from Nasty to Dangerous: A step-by-step guide – A Dangerous Woman

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