I’d like to take you on a journey through this post-election week that’s a little more lighthearted, or at least darkly funny. It’s the journey as seen through my brand new tattoo. It should be viewed as a tale of warning: do not get a tattoo during such turbulent times.
You see, the day after Donald Trump was elected, I woke up feeling totally abandoned by my country. As a teenager, I was sexual assaulted. I was lucky enough to have a supportive family, but I saw just how easily it was swept under the rug by those in positions of authority. A vote for Mr. Grab ‘Em By the Pussy, this walking talking rape trigger, was a vote that told me once again that I do not matter. Since I now have a daughter, my slight discomfort with rape culture has turned into a burning desire to run off and start a tribe of sword wielding Amazon women (with really cool braids and Xena clothes), just for her.
The thing about Donald Trump is that he’s alienated nearly everyone. Everyday since the election I’ve met another person who represents a point on the Donald Trump spectrum of alienation. I won’t attempt to tell their stories - those are their stories to tell - but suffice it to say that there are many people who have it worse off than me. People who are experiencing an immediate uptick in aggression directed at them. The threats of mass deportations. The hate crimes sweeping the country. Everyone is in a varying state of panic but I would guess that most of us are either a.) a person that Trump’s America hates or b.) a person who loves a person that Trump’s America hates.
I hate to be a silver liner, but when I went out into the world, this shared devastation actually gave me a sense of unity. We felt connected in our misery. I saw a little girl playing by herself and suddenly I was overcome with love, wanting to fight to make our country worthy of her to grow up in.
But I still didn’t know quite who to trust. Coded messages began to appear everywhere. I went into my local library and found the recommended book shelves bursting with books by Nelson Mandela, Michelle Obama and other people of color. Maybe I was just searching for some warmth, but I took it as a sign of solidarity. At the children’s museum, a burly white man was walking around with his cherubic toddler dressed in a shirt that said “Spread kindness and love.” I took that as a sign of unity.
The safety pin symbol seemed destined to be a similar sign of unity (but on a larger scale), as it came at me simultaneously from different corners of the internet. While Facebook friends of mine were conceptualizing the safety pin as a beacon of protection and solidarity against hate crimes, others were already posting links to the safety pin articles that were already circulating around. And at the same time, the safety pin was catching on like wildfire on my local chapter of Pantsuit Nation, Hillary supporters who are mostly feminists like me. We adorned ourselves with the safety pin as a pledge to stand up to misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and religious persecution, as much as we adorned ourselves with the safety pin as a plea for protection from our fellow neighbors, as a hope that we will be able to protect ourselves.
We were really moved by it. So my husband and I copied some of my fellow Pantsuit Nationers and got matching safety pin tattoos. We felt great.
And then, like clockwork, the internet came and ruined everything.
Literally the minute I got home from getting the tattoo, I learned that white supremacists, internet trolls, or possibly some horrific hate-child of the two started circulating a creepy white image with swastikas blazing, telling their fellow brothers to wear a safety pin in solidarity of white nationalism. This was a blatant attempt to co-opt the safety pin symbol and incite chaos and fear into a really great movement. The number of racists donning the safety pin has remained to be seen, yet a sharing frenzy began on social media. Don’t wear the pin anymore! White supremacists have taken it!
Then Christopher Keelty wrote his opinion piece, “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing,” mansplaining why we are all just trying to assuage our white guilt for letting this awful thing happen. If Keelty needs to put down some white people to assuage his own guilt, that’s his journey. But the whole piece rang untrue to what I’d experienced, and flooded my feed, creating divisiveness in the movement.
Other articles patronizingly told me that I could only wear the safety pin if I am prepared to intervene in a hate crime like a damn vigilante. Now, I made a choice when I got the tattoo. I knew I could possibly be putting myself in danger. But as a woman who you wouldn’t want on your basketball team because of my weak wrists, I don’t think anyone’s looking at me for backup. I want to stand up to intolerance too, in ways that I can. I want to call out my homophobic relative over Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll even stand next to you on the bus if someone is spewing hate speech at you and film them, and try to deescalate. But do I have to learn karate now? It seems to me like a symbol of unity is, once again, either being evilly co-opted by white men, disparaged by white men, or taking on white male connotations of what it should look like.
I scoured the internet to see what the people in greatest danger think about the safety pins. Many people have been comforted by seeing it out in the community. Many people seem to think it’s okay, as long as you back it up with action. But after the stamp of “white guilt” was thrust upon the symbol, I’ve noticed a more patronizing attitude towards it. “Go ahead, wear your stupid pin. But do this real work over here.”
I think of the safety pin as the beginning of the conversation. None of us were stupid enough to think that wearing the safety pin alone was enough. We know there is work to be done. All of us are going to reveal our true colors, anyway.
TBH, I’m bummed out that people had to be so disparaging on something that really had a chance at uniting people.
A record breaking two days after I got my tattoo, it’s already gone from symbol of revolution to white supremacist symbol to embarrassing white person symbol. I already have a tramp stamp AND a tattoo in kanji, I don’t need anymore White Person labels.
My husband says that it’s our symbol, and we can make it mean what we want. I think I agree with him.
I’ll get over my controversial tattoo. At least I can hide it under my long sleeves; I know that Muslims, people of color, Latinos, and trans Americans don’t always have the option to hide from hate.
But the reason I’m still adamant about talking about the damn safety pin, with all the other nauseating emergency awful news going on (please call your representative to get the White Supremacist Stephen Bannon far away from the White House), is because I want to urge people to be careful about how we move forward.
We are all feeling the terror of the clock ticking as more people are put in danger. I feel a hostile environment on the Internet right now, as if it’s a contest and no one is doing enough.
The beast of intolerance isn’t going to roll over from one blow. It’s going to take millions of little baby steps from millions of different kinds of folks. Guys, let’s include everyone. What we need in the streets is a Luke Cage, but we’re going to have to settle for the rest of us gym class rejects. Some people might be good at marketing but bad at talking about politics. Some people might be bad at making tattoo choices. Okay, all of those people might be me. But hey, we all want to help. If this thing is going to happen, it’s going to require the strapping peace keepers in the streets as well as the political geniuses in Washington as well as the old ladies holding bake sales as well as the white ladies with the “I’ll Speak To Your Manager” haircut who will be annoying the crap out of our representatives twelve times a day.
But if we criticize every step we take because it’s not enough, then we’ll never get anything done. So, let’s all try to breathe and do something small right now. And then again. And again. And again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse repeat.
I’ll be over here wearing my safety pin for the rest of my life, if anyone else wants to still join me.