Dear White People Wearing Safety Pins,
I work with many children of color, ranging in age from kindergarten to middle school. As much as I want to directly quote the things they’ve been saying about the horrors of this election, I won’t commit that invasion of privacy. But I’ll paraphrase and tell you that their questions and statements of horrified wonder, which always turn into a litany of fear, are all versions of this:
Why do so many people want to hurt me?
Why do all of these people think I’m dirty, that my family is dirty and unwelcome?
What will this big, white man with a lot of money do to me? He looks like a mountain to me, I can’t protect my family from him.
Where will he make my family live?
What is going to happen to me?
These children and their families don’t care whether or not you wear a safety pin. Their safety and dignity has been targeted, and the terror they feel is intimate and immediate. Trump hasn’t sent vehicles to take them away yet, but in their minds, it’s already happening over, and over, and over. These children and their families won’t run to you if they see your safety pin, they won’t come to you for aid.
And you’re not wearing the safety pins to help them anyway. You wear them because you and your family look just like the racists that have crawled out from the dark. You realize, perhaps for the first time, that your friends of color weren’t exaggerating when they spoke of being dehumanized and subtly subjugated. They kept saying these things were happening, and you never took them seriously. It’s too much guilt to bear, especially when you remember all the racist jokes that you let slide, and that you could’ve done more to stop all those conversations that made you cringe at family gatherings and at work. Like so many of the actions you take in the name of solidarity, you’re desperate to prove that you’re not a racist — not only to all the communities harmed by this wave of bigotry, but to yourselves. And you want us to erupt in thunderous, absolving applause, but we won’t. We’ll be impressed when you admit that your pins are worn to show solidarity with other reeling, dazed, liberal white people, and when you stop burdening us with your feelings, your approval-seeking.
Once you’ve done that, you can prove that your solidarity isn’t just an empty gesture by sticking to these strategies.
1. Be prepared to fight.
In the most boring and anti-climactic ways, without being thanked. A lot of what’s important in this fight are basic: donate, volunteer, email and call your federal, state, and local officials, repeatedly.
Stop the racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic, and sexist things that are being said and done in your presence. Don’t make PoC search for you when they’re being harassed, but firmly stand up for them. Don’t let anything slide.
Make a sign, walk, and follow people of color’s lead. Join local organizations, and help them mobilize support.
4. Don’t make it about you.
Don’t take it personally when a person of color avoids eye contact with you. Get over it if your smile isn’t returned, event at a protest. Understand that our PoC communities are fearing for the safety of our families, our own bodies, and our futures. We’re not prioritizing your feelings, and you need to be all right with that.
5. Keep Trying
When you fail, feel embarrassed, encounter opposition, or realize that after the dust settles, you can mostly go back to your old life. Don’t get comfortable and normalize Trump, because we can’t.
Do these things not for the opportunity to be congratulated, but rather out of a commitment to helping people who are struggling.