The safety pin as a symbol has caused much division among whites and between whites and people of color. It’s not useful to become divided over something that is supposed to be a benevolent gesture. It seems like the energy we devote to arguing about the relevance of a safety pin could be used to dismantle the very unjust systems that warrant the wearing of the safety pin.
I’m delighted that I have friends who believe so much in a more equitable and compassionate nation so I respect them even more for wearing the symbol. And, to be honest, I won’t feel any more safe because of the safety pin.
I don’t feel any more safe because I can still get assaulted for walking down the wrong street in the wrong neighborhood; I can still be treated differently because of any number of the boxes I’m socially located in; and I still have to tell my nephews about the “right way” to play in some parts of town because their child-like flailing, screams and laughter could trigger fear in more conservative neighbors who might call the police or worse, shoot them, because they’re being “too” rambunctious.
As a symbol for white people, the safety pin seeks to fasten the deep divides in our society. It’s a symbol of the good intentions possessed by, and the grief felt by the wearer because of the suffering experienced by people who are violated by white people specifically. The wearer wants to convey that she doesn’t want to appear dangerous or complicit in the harming of others.
Marginalized folks don’t see the pin as a symbol of safety, we see it as a statement by the person wearing it that they want to “do” something to change the narrative of white supremacy that has dominated mainstream America since this land was “discovered”.
The enslavement of Africans in order to build upon and work this land without retribution under extremely abusive conditions was a legal practice in this country. Jim Crow, redlining, voter intimidation, public lynchings and the KKK–all upheld by the silent majority who has looked away from Black demise because they were conditioned to believe that Black people are inferior and that White people are superior. Likewise, the annihilation of Native people and their land -that continues still today- was all for the advancement of European settlers and their descendants.
If there is something to “do”, it’s to acknowledge the oppressed in a way that systematically distributes healing, resources and opportunities for economic prosperity in the same way that similar things were distributed to the European settlers and their descendants. But let’s be honest, this isn’t something most people from the dominant group can or want to do because equality may feel like oppression to them. Doing something is easiest if the doer doesn’t have to give anything up.
BUT the wearer of the pin wants to do SOMETHING. She feels helpless against systems of oppression that she didn’t build but that she benefits from. She wants people to know that she is not like “that”. That she is safe.
And all of that is fine with me. We all need to do something. We all need to be safe.
What I hope the safety pin also does is become a symbol that says not only is the wearer committed to an America where everyone is safe, I hope it also symbolizes that the wearer is committed to deconstructing Whiteness, American history and White Supremacy, and learning about how all of these things influences our lives and conditions our perceptions of reality.
The desire for safety is an important first step and the desire to dismantle systems that marginalize anyone is the kind of progress we all need.
So wear the pin. Wear the pin and help make America a kinder place for us all.
Rev. Lawrence T. Richardson is a United Church of Christ pastor, writer, and media strategist (including for the Center for Progressive Renewal!). Lawrence joined the CPR team in 2013 and works to curate and generate print and digital content for multiple media platforms. When he is not writing, curating, researching, and ministering, Lawrence spends his time enjoying nature, practicing yoga, and being an active presence in both the Transgender and Progressive Christian communities. You can find Lawrence online at www.LTRichardson.com and on Twitter @Larry2_0