Back in September, I spent nearly three hours discussing practical ways to fight racism with a dozen white people who were eager to learn how they could channel their frustration with a racist system into meaningful action. For the last hour of the presentation, I read and answered questions submitted by the participants. Prefacing his questions with, “It seems anti-racist action is more concerned with staking out the moral high ground than it is with actually confronting the realities of racial inequality,” one participant seemed to grasp the overarching theme of the webinar: White people have to stop trying to prove they’re individually not racist and start dismantling the system of oppression that benefits them exclusively.
Too often, the extent of working for equality starts and ends with claims of solidarity with marginalized groups, cemented with and accompanied by some superficial symbol. So last week when I read that people were accessorizing themselves with safety pins “to identify themselves as allies in the fight against intolerance, and to show solidarity with women, LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color feeling frightened by Trump’s presidency,” I was once again reminded that the trend of allyship is just that: a trend. And as a Black woman in an America perpetually hostile to me, I cannot afford to trust this convenient support and concern.
If you’re only now moved to show support for the oppressed, I want to know where you’ve been all this time. Though there has been a spike in reports of hate crimes since Donald Trump’s victory last Tuesday, hate crimes in America are nothing new. In fact, contrary to the post racial fantasy rhetoric, the hate this country is founded on has never subsided. Black and brown people, including those who are Muslims or belong to the LGBT community, have been under attack. So in the words of Future, “Where your ass was at?”
Where were these mighty pins that let us know you’re safe when Dylann Roof executed nine Black people in a church because after writing his hate-filled manifesto? Where were those accessories of solidarity when three Muslims were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C. last year? Where were all of these indicators of safety when a Black gay man was savagely beaten and his attackers were sentenced to probation? I could list a hundred more, but the point has all already been illustrated.
An estimated 58% of eligible white voters voted to elect Donald Trump to the highest office in the land. Since then, media has been complicit in a campaign to convince Black, brown and other marginalized people that the majority of Trump’s supporters aren’t racist bigots, but rather that they’re fed up with the current state of the country. Even popular liberal celebrities and politicians have pushed this rhetoric, reluctant to label those who support a man who has been vocally and unabashedly racist guilty by association.
These pins are nothing more than an extension of that campaign to convince those of us most affected by violent bigotry that not everyone is against us. It is just more white people white peopling, centering themselves, feigning genuine kindness and concern, and doing nothing effective. Those damn safety pins would be more effective to Black people if you kept them in a drawer just in case we lost a button.
What exactly does that pin communicate to a Black woman like me? Am I supposed to see it, and collapse into Becky’s or Chad’s waiting bosom as I vent all about how Liz and Nick are racist as fuck? Should I see that pin and know that the white people wearing them are somehow less harmful than those not wearing them, even as they continue to bask in the privilege that would prompt them to wear a fucking pin in a self-righteous declaration of solidarity? And what if your pin slips off? Should I then go back to the justifiable suspicion I hold for all white people because you’re not wearing the Pin O’ Good White Folks?
Personally, the very last person I look to for support when faced with racism, misogynoir or any of the other evils I contend with daily is a white person. And a pin won’t change that. In fact, I’m even more suspicious of people so self-centered and determined to convince me they’re one of the good ones that they’d resort to adorning themselves with a safety pin as a badge of honor. Nah.
You can legitimately prove you’re about changing this system the same way you prove you’re serious about any cause: Donate. There are organizations out doing work to change the lives of the marginalized you can give support financially. There are writers from marginalized (clears throat) who spend hours documenting our struggle and teaching. Hit them PayPal accounts. Put down your pins and pick up your pens, pressuring your reps to push a bill for reparations through.
Y’all will do anything to prove you’re not racist or otherwise a bigot except not being racist or otherwise a bigot. Collect your racist loved ones. Don’t pretend I need your protection. Use your influence to check the hate that lives and breeds within your own. Stop trying to prove you’re a good person and actually be a good person. Stop finding new ways to celebrate the most basic human decency.