Since Brexit an interesting phenomenon has appeared – the use of the once innocuous safety pin as a symbol of safe space. It has popped up in the USA post-election as well.
It’s heartening to see people recognizing that spaces are not safe for everyone. Check. It’s also great to see that people are recognizing that those who don’t feel safe need allies. An ally is someone who stands up for and speaks up for those who are being victimized, oppressed, marginalized, harassed, harmed, etc because of who they are. Check.
Those are the good things about the safety pin phenomenon, and if it’s helping to make people more aware of, sensitive to, and likely to intervene re: racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. when they see/hear it, then that is a step in the right direction. IF however, they are a cute symbol to pin on and show that one is supportive and an ally – and it’s not backed by awareness and followed by action, then they are dangerous and misleading and actually making spaces LESS safe.
Often we think of isms, oppression or marginalization as individual and personal, requiring an individual response. But there are other more insidious ways that undermine people’s safety- and these are systemic. Speaking up and standing up against those are also necessary – and more challenging because it’s hard to see these inequities if they are not impacting you. And so often they are not seen, and not spoken up or stood up against.
Which is where the safety pin causes some consternation and anger.
Unsafe spaces did not begin with Brexit or the US election. They have existed for too many years. Some see the safety pin and wonder where it (and more importantly, the sentiment) has been all this time – this symbol and expression of solidarity, safety and the promise of allyship. It’s a good question.
Wearing a safety pin also suggests that someone can know what a safe space feels like for someone else, which is questionable. But if we ask questions, and learn about each other, we can perhaps help to make spaces safer.
In the end, I’m torn about the safety pin.
I understand the anger about it. That it seems like the fashionable “in” thing to do, that it’s easy and safe for the person wearing it, that it is a pin rather than action. And I hope that maybe it’s also the beginning of people seeing more, of considering how different life can be experienced, of speaking up and stepping up against the isms, the phobias – against hatred. Some people may be late to the game, but if they are ready to play, then there will be more allies on the team. And isn’t that a good thing?
The safety pin could be an amazing symbol of action, mobilization, solidarity, courage, and hope. But to accomplish this is requires awareness of self and others, understanding the bigger picture, recognizing your privilege and using it to create change (among other things). It could signal a much needed change in how we see each other, what we notice and what we fight for and against – to make the world a much safer place for everyone.
But if you aren’t educating yourself about the issues, if you don’t know what it means to be an ally, if you’re not willing to step up and stand up, then it’s just a cool thing to do that will pass when you get bored or you think enough time has passed – in which case, please don’t wear one.
Either way, I encourage you to be open to hearing people’s reactions to them, and being willing to have a conversation about it – in order to see more and learn more about the people around you.