Following a particularly horrible week in American history, a new debate is circling the Internet. Is wearing a safety pin a positive sign of solidarity or an embarrassing move to feel less guilty for not being more active in the country? Is there a right or wrong answer ― that I am unsure of. But what I am certain of is the fact that many of us are united in hurt and the crushing feeling that nothing can be fixed. And in that pain, I hope we can turn to focus on making real change together rather than shaming one another.
Safety pins started as a small sign of solidarity after Brexit ― to stand with immigrants and EU citizens in the U.K. It was a tiny reminder to show people facing hate crimes that their right to be in the U.K. was supported and in a way, that they were not alone. Was is it equivalent to say, canvassing or protesting or donating? Absolutely not. It was a safety pin.
Following Trump’s win, the safety pin appeared in the U.S., again as a small sign of solidarity to immigrants, refugees, and the marginalized communities that Mr. Trump has so vocally expressed his hatred for. Is it going to fix the massive amounts of racism in America? No. Will it tangibly assist refugees and immigrants stay in the country they call home? No. Will fighting about the intentions of why someone is wearing a safety pin help to accomplish any of those things? No.
This election has seemingly torn our country apart, leaving us divided in a way that feels insurmountable. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who have been fighting for equality, who are waking up to the fact they need to fight harder, or who are learning what actions can make real change.
Let’s not forget we have this debate of intention every time a large population of people change their profile picture on Facebook to show solidarity with an issue. Whether you’re standing up to cancer, standing with Paris, or trying to end the Hyde Amendment, the concept of “hashtag activism” is one that can feel insulting to the communities and individuals most affected. So does the concept of doing nothing.
If you want to wear a safety pin, I will not judge you. For many who wear it, you may already know it isn’t enough. You need to have conversations with friends, relatives, and even strangers to say that racism and discrimination are not values that you or this country will subscribe to. You need to listen to the experiences and needs of communities and individuals most marginalized and discriminated against in America, such as LGBTQ, Muslim, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and refugees. You need to donate your time and money to the organizations who are advocating, educating, lobbying, and mobilizing for real change in the country. You need to learn new words and issues, and adapt to make people feel more included, heard, and respected.
Here’s the thing. You may already be doing those things. I don’t know because I can’t tell by just looking at you. Just as I can’t know the experiences, struggles, or discrimination felt by any individual when I look at them. But what I can do is try to believe that there is still some good out there. If you wear a bag with a pro-choice button on it, my first reaction is not to assume you don’t actually do anything for reproductive rights or think that you’ve never volunteered at a clinic or donated to an advocacy organization. My reaction is going to be that you are wearing a button and are likely someone who aligns with my views that all people should have bodily autonomy and the right to decide what is best for their health and livelihood.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer in this debate of safety pins. Because people feel what they feel. But I know I don’t want to subscribe to a debate that begins by judging someone based on one’s appearance. Looking at me, I show up to majority of the population as a privileged white woman. I don’t wear the experiences of discrimination, economic struggles, assault, or harassment in bold lettering across my forehead. And whether or not I am wearing a safety pin doesn’t mean that I am not working every day to learn more, act more, and do more to be an effective ally. I don’t have all the answers, and wearing a safety pin certainly doesn’t mean that I think I do.
So before we go down this road of attacking one another’s intentions, let’s unite on one thing: we can always do more. I hope you will join me in doing just that.