Monday, November 14, 2016

The Safety Pin Question

Jogging without a license:

I don't have to worry about anyone questioning my immigration status, so when I jog around my neighborhood I don't always carry any form of identification. That's because I'm an old white lady and I live in a community that is mostly white older people.  No one is going to stop me and ask me to prove I belong, or jail me until I can. No matter where I lived, I've never had anyone challenge my right to be where I am. That's white privilege, also class privilege.  I was born into it and didn't even notice at first that it wasn't that way for everyone.

But Mr. Rogers said:

I've always been told that if I have a problem I could flag down the nearest "authority figure" for help. The "helpers" are those in the positions of authority, wearing uniforms.  Heck, that's what Mr. Rogers said, isn't it?  "Find the helpers," he said, when talking about scary things happening. I told that to my students. No one in my hearing ever added, "but be sure to keep your hands visible and make no threatening moves, because that helper might be afraid of you." Privilege, again.

No medicine for them:

I remember being a high school student in the 70s (in a large city in another state) and going to the "North End" of town, with my best friend, to interview black community leaders there about the discrimination behind the riots happening in my town. I was amazed to learn that there were no pharmacies in the North End, because no one would make start-up loans or insure the stores. There followed a whole list of things, besides getting prescriptions for sick family members, that people in this neighborhood did not have access to. I had been allowed to grow up until this point ignorant of the issues in ethnic neighborhoods in my own town: again, privilege.

People First, except when that denies their identity:

I did try to become more aware of what went on with marginalized people, find ways to be supportive and inclusive, and tried to educate myself on what I, personally, should do. Sometimes, the right thing to do is clear.  Often, it isn't. Like with "people first" language:

The theory behind "people first" is that if you name the person first and then the trait -- say, a "person with a disability" rather than "disabled person" you are emphasizing that the person is a person first.  There are lots of arguments that people first language actually dehumanizes (implying the trait is bad, or not a part of their basic identity) and places the identity apart from the person in a way that does not reflect reality. Plus the grammar is awkward. We don't say "person with Italianness" or "person with offspring." This essay by Jim Sinclair (click here) and this essay by Lydia Brown explain the argument for "identity first" language.

So now, the safety pin question:

After the Brexit vote reports of abuse and intolerance of immigrants went on the uptick. People in the UK began wearing safety pins as a sign of solidarity with the immigrant population. After Trump's election in the U.S., appeals to show solidarity and willingness to protect marginalized groups on Facebook and Twitter by wearing a safety pin began appearing.  Actors and others posted pictures of themselves with safety pins on, along with statements that they would be an ally.  

Then other voices began to surface, suggesting this was a superficial gesture and although it might make the wearer feel better it was not enough to help those marginalized groups unless the wearer was willing to also step up and take action. Actions like intervening when seeing intolerance (there are some lovely guides about how to do that circulating on social media), and offering other ways to be an ally (this article offers some solid strategies for gaining understanding and effectiveness (strong language warning)). 

Both sides of this argument over what to do to be an ally have merit, and I want to both declare solidarity and take action to follow through.  

But there's a third thing to accomplish, and that is to take back some of the public space that we lost to hatred and bigotry.  I want to take some of the air out of the sails of the intolerant or just plain uncaring people who voted for someone who spouts hatred.  I want those emboldened by Trump's public racism, religious discrimination, LGBTQA intolerance, and xenophobia to know that they don't speak for me. The safety pin makes a quick, efficient, and public statement that I think they are wrong and want them to stop. At least, that is what I hope it does.  


  1. Thank you, Sue, for these very insightful, approachable and important words. You speak to what I've been thinking about and it helps me, for one, feel some hope in numbers of people having serious thoughts and taking serious action. I love it. And I'm very happy to know now that you have a blog!

  2. Thank you, Lisa, I'm glad to know you found it helpful. :) I don't blog very often since I gave up my self-reflective blog practice a few years back--but that was a personal blog and this one is different. It was a good discipline, though! Do you blog? You are doing so much with your family and your travels and your teaching -- it's a journey just following your journey! A good one, for sure.