Safety Pins Aren't Embarrassing, But Mansplaining Is

Newsflash: White man explains our motivations to us, then tells us what to do.
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Robin Rinaldi

Last week after Trump’s election, people started wearing safety pins to express solidarity with the women, non-whites, non-Christians, LGBTQ and disabled people who feel threatened heading into four years of a Trump presidency. The idea was taken from a similar movement in post-Brexit Britain. Yesterday, Christopher Keelty said here in HuffPost that wearing the pin was an embarrassment, meant only to assuage white guilt and bring comfort to the wearer, not the minority who might see the pin. He used phrases like, “Let me explain something to you,” and “I know, I know you’re uncomfortable,” and, “You need to sit in your guilt right now.” He recommended, instead of wearing a pin, carrying around a big “Black Lives Matter” sign.

Instead of agonizing over this in my white mind, I decided to ask some people in the groups Trump has targeted how they feel about the safety pin. Nine of out ten of them said, “Yes, it helps, please wear it.” I wore one yesterday and a gay couple stopped me in the grocery store, looked me in the eye, and said, “Hey.”

Anyway, I’ll try to make this short because as a white woman, I’m only one step down on the privilege ladder from Keelty myself.

1. Not all of us feel guilty about Trump’s election or are wearing the pin because we’re afraid of being called racist and “want some way to assuage that guilt and reassure your neighbors that you’re one of the good ones.” Maybe that’s how Keelty feels. Not me. I feel enraged, sad, and emboldened about the election, but not guilty, mostly because I’ve learned that guilt doesn’t accomplish much. When I put on the pin yesterday, I did so with a desire to connect to and support others, not because I was steeped in guilt. Keelty knows his motivations and feelings, not mine.

2. I’m personally ready and willing to back up the safety pin by verbally and physically defending anyone I see being bullied, period. I will put my words and my body between a bully and his target, Trump or no Trump. I grew up stepping in between my alcoholic father and my mother, and getting slapped, kicked, and shoved for it. I’ve stood up for women of color getting slapped by their boyfriends in parking lots and put myself between protestors and women trying to get into the door of Planned Parenthood back in the days when people shot PP doctors dead. Don’t assume we’re all afraid to do the hard stuff.

3. On the other hand, the pin might be worn as a symbol of solidarity by someone who doesn’t have the resources, energy, or even physical capability to do anything else—if that person chooses. Has Keelty thought of that? In this case, the pin can form nonverbal connections between people in an instant that have lasting emotional effects. In a time when we need every large and small tool we can muster to connect, communicate, support, and organize, why immediately knock any of them?

4. There’s no reason to assume that someone wearing a pin isn’t also helping in many of the other ways Keelty recommends, wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt, or marching in the streets. People can, and are, doing all of that.

5. Safety pins don’t just identify us to minorities; they identify us to the opposition. They let Trump supporters know the majority of people in this country do not agree with them. That’s valuable in itself. Maybe Keelty’s right that Trump supporters will start wearing the pins to disguise themselves as sympathetic, but I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

6. There’s such a thing as good intentions. There’s such a thing as small acts of kindness and doing what you can on any given day: some days a little, some days a lot. No one needs Keelty or me to tell them how to act and what they feel. They can decide for themselves.

7. Anyone wondering if the pin—or anything else—helps or hurts, can always ask the black, Latino, Muslim, disabled, queer and female people in their lives for feedback, then shut up and listen.

I’ll shut up now.

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