safety pins and uncomfortable perspectives

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

Immediately after the recent presidential election, I came across a suggestion on Facebook:  those of us who want to designate ourselves as “safe people” in a world that suddenly feels very unsafe to large swaths of people could clip a safety pin on to help others know:  I am here for you.  I am here WITH you.  You can call on me if you need to talk.  I’ll jump at the chance to walk with you, if you don’t feel safe walking alone.  I’ll stand beside you, if you’re feeling threatened.  I will insist on being a witness and an advocate, if I see people threatening, shaming, or harassing you.  You have my solemn promise that I will not minimize your concerns or pretend you have nothing to be afraid of.  This idea resonated with me; within the hour I had found my stash of safety pins and clipped one on.

The very next day I read an angry Huffington piece that said we should take off our stupid safety pins – that we were “embarrassing ourselves” with this little do-nothing fashion trend.  That the pins were just a way to assuage our own white guilt while insisting that those who are afraid should not bother us with their messy feelings and problems.  This confused me, because I knew for sure that a lot of people around me would NOT admire the safety pin, would not think better of me for it – they’d think I’m another whiny knucklehead “libtard” who needs to grow a brain (as part of the “liberals have no brains, and conservatives have no hearts” narrative that needs to die immediately).  I didn’t do this to make others think well of me.  I did it to literally offer myself to others in their time of  need.  Still, I aim to be respectful, so while I kept the pin on, I kept pressing to learn whether I was truly being offensive to the very people with whom I aim to be a friend an ally.

The day after that, a friend who represents multiple segments of the populations feeling threatened by the political shift that is in process published her thoughts on the matter.  The pins might be a small thing, she said, but they are a signpost of hope to her.  They help her to feel less alone, less afraid.  They help her to know that someone cares in a time when she fears for her safety, now even more than before the election, just moving through regular life.

So I continue wearing the pin daily; each night when I take my wedding rings off to sleep, I attach the pin to them so I won’t lose it before the next day.

It’s important to note that wearing the pin is not the ONLY thing I’m doing.  I’m working more aggressively than ever to educate myself on these issues.  I’ve plugged in to resources that help me know who to call, how to call my elected officials and let my voice be heard in a way that stands to make a real difference, as opposed to arguing on Facebook, which only changes hearts and minds that show up to the table ready to receive, to learn, and to change – a rare thing indeed.  I’ve made donations to organizations that advocate for these populations.  I’m looking for groups/movements to join in real action, not just conversation.  I’m shaping my prayers according to the needs I find as I learn along the way.  G and I have made definite plans to attend the open house at the local mosque a week from Saturday, both as a show of support and as a way to further educate ourselves about a people with whom we’ve had very little contact.  If the pin was the only thing I was doing, it would be a pretty small thing for someone with the easy life I enjoy.  But it’s not the only thing.  It’s just the first thing.

In my quest to more fully educate myself, one of the things I do is go and listen to voices of people who don’t look like me, who are not from where I’m from, who practice different faiths or idealogies than me – people whose problems and challenges (and even pleasures!) are so different from mine that I sometimes feel alien as I encounter them.   I make every attempt to put myself in the others’ shoes as I listen.  I listen to hear and see and truly understand, not to judge or argue.  I push against the surprise and the discomfort of moments when I don’t understand or maybe agree with what I hear, refusing the instant rejection that happens inside all of us to some extent when we encounter difference.  When opinions to the contrary bubble up in me and want to be expressed, I shush them and continue to listen and watch.  After all, I’m a white Christian lady from the rural midwest, who grew up without people of other colors or traditions or faiths around me – there’s a scary amount of “closed-off-ness” in me that I have to push past to even START to understand folks who are not like me.

Some of that is fun, and some of it is really not.  Sometimes as I listen, I hear things that feel like a slap in the face – like a direct negation of all that I understand, or a rebuttal of who I am.  Those are the times when it is most important than I don’t retreat into argument and defense.  For a really small and inconsequential example, yesterday I listened to a podcast by a couple of ladies from a population about which I honestly know nearly nothing:  American Muslims.  These ladies were very much NOT about the safety pins – their anger at comfortable people who put a pin on and think they’ve done something was visceral.  Their language was strong; their dismissal was harsh.  I didn’t like it.  But those are the times when I must push forward and listen harder, if I want to love ALL people in a way that mirrors the God I serve, who really and truly does not love people like me more than the people who are not like me.  As I made myself keep listening, I heard the very valid reasons for their anger, and the very real and awful, hateful things they have experienced in the past and are experiencing a lot more since November 9.  I heard their very specific fears about what lies ahead.

I imagined myself in the situations they described.  I imagined being helpless to change the horror being thrown at me, while having enough historical context to know how much worse the situation could potentially get.  And then I imagined seeing some person who does not face these horrors daily – a person who gets to CHOOSE to engage with all this stuff or just pretend it’s not there at all – with a safety pin and a comfortable smile, and I got it.  I got the visceral anger.  I got the strong language.  I knew for sure that in their shoes, I too would be saying things that would make others uncomfortable.

I’m gonna keep wearing my safety pin, because a real-life friend of mine has said how much it helps her.  But I’m also gonna keep pushing myself with all my might to stay tuned in, to get relentlessly educated, to push my understanding exponentially further about people and cultures who are not like me.  This was always important.  It’s more important now.  What I know is that it’s easy to hate people we don’t know or understand, and it’s really hard to hold onto hate when we press in and discover their humanity – the ways we are the same, despite all the difference.

Love wins.  I know this because the God I serve chose love in the face of extreme hate.

How could I do less than that and tell myself I am His?


  1. mimere68 says:

    You expressed in the written word everything that I’ve been trying to say out loud. I, too, have been struggling with the notion of whether my safety pin was more of a hindrance than a help. Like you, I’ve jumped into the fray head first; learning and listening to everything I can to have a better understanding of what is happening in our world. So, I will continue to wear my safety pin…not because it makes me feel better or because I’m trying to make some white privileged statement, but because I want others to know that I’m open to learning more about the cultures and diversity that before this election, I thought I was well versed in. I want others to know that I am an open book – someone who is willing to listen, to learn and to advocate when called upon. Thank you for this piece.

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