One of the more interesting responses to a Donald Trump presidency has been the safety pin. The idea itself came from across the pond in Europe after Brexit. The tenor of the country was becoming increasingly xenophobic due to an influx of Syrian immigrants. Some Britons want to let these immigrants know that they had allies, that there were safe people for them. Well, nothing says safety like a safety pin, so people who identified themselves as allies started to prominently wear them. The hopes were at the most that if a refugee felt threatened, they could find someone with a pin to help them and at the least a refugee would know a pin wearer would not start any trouble. The election of Trump has been the Brexit of the United States, with the same xenophobic fear as a part of the campaign. It’s no surprise that the safety pin showed up again.
Personally, I’m conflicted about the pin. Yes, I think it’s a good thing to support marginalized persons, but I plan on speaking up when I see someone being harassed regardless if I am wearing a pin or not. Will it really be a comfort to a Muslim, LGBT person, Transgendered person, Undocumented person, black person or Latina/o if they see me wearing one or will they think, “Another cis-white male trying to feel good about themselves?” I have heard the argument that the pin puts the onus on the marginalized to seek out the ally instead of the ally seeking out those in need. All these points beg the question, who is the pin really for?
On the other hand, it’s just a pin. After a polarizing election, it is good to know that there are people out there, people who look like our new president elect (white), who have love and respect for people in the margins. People who don’t blame Muslims or Latina/os for the state of our country. That LGBT persons are loved for who they are. It’s a sign that these are people who want to work with, not against.
I had the honor of attending a retreat for southern Unitarian Universalist ministers a week ago. Mark Morrison-Reed was the key speaker, so there was a generous turn out. There was much discussion about the election, the healing that needs to take place in our nation, our role as ministers and where do we as a denomination go from here? While in line for dinner one night, I was speaking with a colleague who is black about the safety pins and he said, “you don’t get to call yourself an ally. The people you are helping make that call.” It was a gentle way of saying that wearing the pin is the reward for doing the work, that it is part of the means and certainly not an end.
Recently there has been renewed interest in putting up the Black Lives Matter banner at UUFP. Many of you who know me know that I am very much in favor of having that banner up for all of the traffic on Warrick Avenue to see. My concern is what happens next? What will we do as a community that will inspire the black community to call us allies? What actions will we do to help those who literally live in our back yard and improve their quality of life? How will show them that we believe that Black Lives actually Matter?
I think before the banner goes up, we need to increase our involvement in the black community of Newport News. Something where we interact with members of the black community face to face, where we get a chance to listen to them and build relationships. Once we do that, putting up the banner isn’t just political, it’s personal.