My friend said to me, "those safety pins should just be pearl necklaces so all the white folks who are shocked about Trump can clutch them." Oy. Yeah. The wave of safety pin evaluations and critiques swelled. We read think pieces. "Pro Safety Pin" squared up against "Anti-Safety Pin." You know what the safety pin situation did? It distracted us from the discomfort at staring at our humanity. The distraction romanced us into multi-comment debates that kept us from confronting the actual hate, the actual oppression, the actual reality. If I can gasp and clutch my safety pin and then fight you about why I should have the right to wear it and OMG WHY DON'T YOU CRITIQUE MY SAFETY PIN WITH A KINDER TONE. you better call me in if you want me to do this ally work. Well. If I can successfully busy myself I don't have to settle into the painful world all of my previous actions contributed to build. The shouts about safety pins drowned out the voices of those who were vulnerable and suffering real life consequences of harm from a system they did not build. Patrick Stewart instagrammed his safety pin, so it has to be okay, yeah? Jean Luc Picard never gets it wrong.
A function of white supremacy is to render its victims shiftless and distracted. The ways in which white supremacy permeates ally culture is no exception Can a gesture meant to be an act of solidarity actually compound the problem? Ask all the folks at Standing Rock. Ally work, if you want to call it that, requires a massive amount of self-awareness and willingness to be called out.
Do More than wear a safety pin.
Beyond the main critique of the safety pin are the echoing requests, "wear the pin if you must- but DO THE WORK TOO." The retort is: you are being cynical, why would you assume that is all the person wearing a safety pin is doing? Do you know the historical implications of white "allies" who invest the least amount of work and still require the most credit? Whiteness is inherently lazy, yo.
Does your safety pin equate empathy?
Your empathy doesn't mean that you've educated yourself about the history, the struggle, and effects of white supremacy and anti-black racism to which you've been complicit.
Most folks know why sympathy and engaging in White Savior behavior are problematic. Have you considered why your empathy might be problematic as well? Your empathy assumes you have access and can share the feelings of another. What do you know about being attacked in public because you are a Black queer person? Your privilege keeps you from accessing true empathy.
Do white people get to self-designate their safety?
It is a bit presumptuous for white folks to proclaim their safety, no? The performative function of the safety pin is puzzling. It is one part "hey so I am not a bigot and racist" and one part "count me safe." But are you safe? Have you divested from the systems that continue to harm folks on the margins? Have you amplified their voices and centered their stories. Sharing the stories of how you intervened while wearing your safety pin is suffering porn baked into grotesque White Savior casserole. So foul. I am so happy that Muslim woman hugged you when she saw you wearing your pin on the bus. Do you feel better telling us about it?
"My safety pin is a signal that I am a safe space, look for it, and I'll be there to help you." Um. Can you please your white guilt bat signal? The light is shining right in my eyes. It is not the job of the marginalized to look for folks with privilege who are safe. It is the job of those with power to look for ways in which they can dismantle their privilege and divest from systems that dominate and cause harm.
For impactful white allyship there must be a deep commitment to finding all of your default inclinations suspicious. You should doubt your reflexes. You should second guess what feels and right and comfortable. If you've been socialized to default to white supremacy, then it would stand to reason that even your best intentions can be subject to those engrained biases and discriminations you've internalized. Moreover it would seem rather obvious that one's emotional trajectory always veers toward centering whiteness. There is a junction where the white person desires to be an ally as a result of their empathy (and a lot of guilt), but they have not laid the groundwork to understand how to engage in antiracism work without being harmful. This is the juncture I find most folks who are committed to the safety pin. That is okay. We all do have to start somewhere. Don't stay there. Be more committed to the quality of Black Lives than your safety pin.