Ah, the safety pins. I fear I am late to the party since this has been trending on Facebook for more than three weeks which means it’s likely doing its anticipated swan dive into online obscurity.
The last time I wore one of these was back in the day when they were called “friendship pins.” We children all had bloody pinpricks on our fingertips from decorating them properly. The beads were tiny and the bars sharp, after all. However, like many other innocent items, they are now shouldering the weight of representation. This creates an opportunity to become iconic:
Although the time for this discussion seems to be passing, I find myself still somewhat on the fence. When I first planned on writing about this, I asked my friends for their thoughts. I received a lot of passionate replies, most of which boiled down to two stances:
Some folks love them and feel that it’s a way to express solidarity. As one person stated, “it’s not about a trend or ‘look at me I’m part of this.’ For me it’s a silent protest to go along with my very vocal [ones.]”
Some folks hate them, claiming they are only out there to “make white people feel better” and calling them the latest in “slacktavism.”
My feelings were further complicated when I was at an event last week and was offered and encouraged to wear a one. When I declined, I got a vibe I really did not like. It was as if these total strangers suddenly felt they were on shaky ground with me.
What supportive, liberal, forward thinking “NWL*” would turn down such an item after all?
What I wanted to tell the people thrusting the pin at me was that I was still working through my feelings about these particular objects. That I initially loved the idea of them, but feared that they might lead to more harm than good. I worried abusers could wear one to be put into an even better position to bully. That trendsters might wear one and not understand the responsibility that came with it. That someone with limited abilities/spoons might put one on and find themselves a target.
Instead, I walked away feeling confused and thrown. I was at a convention and was rushing off to the next shiny and really didn’t have time to reflect. I did however observe and mentally record my thoughts for the rest of the weekend.
Seeing these bright slivers of metal on the breasts of people I know well absolutely warmed my heart. The ones who clearly recognize what it means to put a pin on. The ones who understand the import of what they are doing. The ones who know what possible actions they are offering to undertake should push come to shove.
The strangers I saw wearing them left me with the impression I have of ALL strangers. “I will wait and see what you bring to the space we are in before thinking anything else about you.” The careful neutrality of my reaction taught me a lot about how these might not be generating the intended space that is wished for.
It seems like this is one of the many causes of the month that seem to germinate in the liberal world. They are birthed, trend for a bit, fade away, and then there is a new way to declare oneself an ally.
Personally, I feel it’s best to simply BE an ally, to the best of one’s ability, quietly, without fanfare, one day at a time.
That’s just me.
After much self reflection, the thought of wearing one myself is out. I don’t want someone judging me by whether or not I wear a pin. I want them to judge me by my actions. If I see someone in trouble I will speak up, step in, shout out, etc. if I am unable to do any of these things, I will still do what I can.
I do miss friendship pins though. Maybe I’ll buy some beads and risk pinpricks again. Instead of a plain pin, I will decorate them in rainbow hues and favorite colors and give them away to my friends. In doing so I’ll be letting them know I honor them, that I support them, and yes, that given an opportunity will stand in front of them to protect them from harm.
They are my people after all.