|the original Safe Place sign|
When I was a kid in the early 1980s, I spotted an unusual sign on the window of a house on our street. It said “Safe Place,” and it made an impression on me—the idea that a house could be publicly declared as a haven for young people in crisis. It comforted me knowing that house was there. Although my parents' house has acted as a safe haven for many over the years, we never had one of those signs; you had to go through a special training program to earn the Safe Place designation.
I got to thinking about those old (since revamped) signs this weekend. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections, a lot of white people feel a deep yearning to publicly say “I’m not a hater! You are safe around me!” Safety pins started trending in my FB newsfeed, and then, as to be expected, some valid criticisms of the safety pin trend and criticisms of how white people reacted to the criticisms were written.
So, here are my two cents at this moment in time. If your physical appearance usually works in your favor and you are suddenly uncomfortable because you fear that people may be looking at you and assuming the worst, sit with that discomfort for awhile. Let the discomfort be educational. Recognize that the people whom you most want to make feel at ease don't have the luxury of simply sticking a safety pin on their shirt and magically American society will stop suspecting them of being criminals/terrorists/backwards/lazy/usurpers/abominations/etc. They live with discomfort every day, and your safety pin alone isn't going to alleviate their fears that they and their loved ones are in more danger today than they were last week.
If your motivation is to bring down the anxiety levels of those who feel unsafe and unvalued by letting them know you have their back, there are many ways to do that every day no matter what you wear. You could nod and smile to strangers, offer your seat on a crowded bus, amplify disregarded comments in the staff meeting, raise your kids to know right from wrong and to have the courage to stand up to bullies, educate yourself and check your own micro-aggressions, etc.
If you want to wear a pin or badge as a silent expression of where you stand, that's totally cool with me. But, as a former scout and child of a retired Marine, I think such things should be earned and taken seriously when displayed. If not, it waters down and even perverts the meaning--just as cross necklaces have become seen more as fashion accessories than identification markers of someone who practices the disciplines of unconditional love, hospitality, and forgiveness. (Isn't sad that wearing a safety pin conveys better than a cross pin the message that a person cares about the lives of others?) To earn the right to wear a safety pin, I suggest that in addition to immersing yourself in books and documentaries and seeking genuine dialog and friendships with those you wish to be an ally of, read Isobel Debrujah's recent blog post, So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin. As for me, I'm still debating as to whether I've earned the right to adorn myself with pins, but it seems to me like a rather good life goal.