I don’t even know where to begin here.
Let’s do the short version: Last Tuesday, America elected Donald Trump—a man many consider to be a racist, sexist bigot—to lead the United States. Since Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States, has reported more than 200 incidents of “racial harassment.”
Widely reported incidents include a wall in western New York being “tagged” with the words “Make America White Again” next to a swastika. At a Veterans Day Parade in California, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman told the Washington Post about spotting men wearing Trump shirts and waving Confederate flags, “a symbol of slavery and white supremacy.” And in Texas, Ernest Walker, a black veteran in uniform, was denied a free meal at Chili’s on Veterans Day when a white veteran wearing a Trump T-shirt questioned his service. He wrote on Facebook that the experience made him feel “offended, embarrassed, [and] dehumanized.”
In response to Trump’s election, and the increased reporting of incidences of racism, some people have taken to the streets in protest. Others? Well, others have decided to wear safety pins. Yes. Safety pins. It’s a well-intentioned idea borrowed from United Kingdom “protesters” who donned safety pins when their country voted to leave the European Union earlier this year. Much like the United States, racist incidents spiked after the Brexit vote, and “concerned” citizens wanted to show their support for immigrants.
So, some Americans, now faced with their own version of Brexit, have followed suit. The idea is that groups who are being discriminated against will see a person wearing a safety pin and know they are “safe.” So goes a popular explanation in an Instagram photo: “I wear a safety pin to show immigrants, refugees and anyone else threatened by the hate and fearmongering of Trump and many of his supporters can know that I am and will do all I can to combat xenophobia, racism, sexism and ableism.”
A quick scroll through the movement’s most popular Instagram hashtag, #safetypin, shows many white ladies with silver safety pins in their lapels on the left, closest to the heart, of course. If you’re super trendy or, er, “safe,” you can purchase an 18-karat-gold safety pin necklace for $335 on Etsy. Just FYI.
Let’s call these safety pins what they are: an empty gesture. Of the white people who actually voted in the election, the majority of them, including white women, voted for a man who rants about banning Muslims and building walls to keep immigrants out and who thinks all “the African Americans” live in inner cities and will be shot going to the store. This same man jokes about grabbing women by their vaginas. And because of that vote, white people are being called out—again—on their racism, this time with actual numbers to back it up. Oh, voting for Trump doesn’t mean you’re a racist? OK. Let me quote you a popular and accurate meme making the rounds: “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal breaker. End of story.”
These pins—not the wearing of them or the pictures posted of folks wearing them—are not about safe spaces. They’re about not wanting to be perceived as a racist. Like, “I might be white, but I’m not like them, over there. I’m enlightened.”
No, you’re not. You’re trendy. These safety pins are the 2016 version of a 2004 “Live Strong” wristband. No. Wait. The money spent for those bracelets actually benefited cancer research. Who is benefiting from your safety pin purchase? Wal-Mart? CVS? Rite-Aid?
Look. I’m all for safe spaces. Don’t get me wrong. But how does your little pin really help someone like Ernest Walker? How does your trite pin help a young Muslim woman who’s forced to remove her hijab or else be set on fire? How does your trendy pin soothe a kid who shows up to school and his teacher tells him his parents will be deported because Trump is president now?
These are the things happening to disenfranchised groups, and you think they’re gonna turn to you? You? Not their mom? Or their partner? Or their clique? Or their church? To you? You who just realized Tuesday that the racism and bigotry that people of color have been complaining about forever is actually as bad as we’ve all been saying it was? You? You, who finally got informed half a millennium late and showed up $14 trillion (reparations) light and bought a damn pin? You? If this ain’t some white-savior-complex mess, I don’t know what is.
Like, a pin. A pin? Really? Not even an actual pen, which is said to be mightier than a sword, to write to your local congresspeople demanding that they vote in favor of actual justice and equality for all or else you’re voting them out in the midterms in two years? Not even a figurative pen, like a Facebook screed calling out your grandmom, and hell, your mom, too, about the casual racism of people who continue claiming, “I’m not a racist”?
Just a pin. The solution for fastening a baby in his nappy or keeping a blessed-in-the-chest girl from busting open her button-down is the same solution you’ve applied to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance.
The only time your little pin might maybe mean something is if you’re wearing it to an anti-Trump protest rally or one that supports black, LGBT or brown lives. Extra points if you hold a sign and post the picture on your Instagram so all your friends and family know you’re about that life. Your shiny pin shines sparkles if you put on your big drawers like Brad Pike and call out your racist family members on Facebook. Bonus points if you go HAM over the ham at Thanksgiving. You can relieve the white guilt of your whole bloodline if you film that moment and submit it to WorldStar.
Your pin will actually count for something if, the next time you see something bad happening to a person of color, you speak up and intervene instead of staring wide-eyed and silent and then writing about it in a status update that’s all about how you were traumatized by witnessing a terrible thing that happened to someone else.
You want to help? You want your little pin to matter like black lives? Actually create a safe space instead of cheaply designating yourself one because you fastened a piece of malleable metal to your sweater.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.