Don’t Get Stuck With That Pin
Three Things Our White Friends Should Consider About Creating Safety
Posted Nov 18, 2016
I posted two articles on my Facebook page this week. I posted them one right after the other. One titled “So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin" and the other titled “Dear White People Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing.” The first article while not pledging allegiance to the idea of wearing safety pins gives instructions for how to be prepared to be a true ally if you do. The second article stays true to its title by arguing against the idea of wearing the pins. I spent my entire Sunday evening reading variations of posts for and against safety pins and what amounted to hundreds of comments between the various article posts. These safety pins have caused quite a lot of conflict, which is something I know a great deal about.
Conflict is not easy and breaking culture when it comes to conflict requires courage, commitment and getting used to being very uncomfortable. So, when it comes to this safety pins issue, I’d like to lay out a framework that might be useful to other people of color when asking our White friends to break the culture of silence.
Dear White Friends,
There is a movement that is taking place where people are wearing safety pins to show solidarity as allies to people of color and other marginalized communities affected by the acts of hate that have intensified after this election. It is in part meant to break the silence around these issues. Choosing to wear a safety pin is certainly up to you. Although for me, I would need you to wear a giant colorful one or I will not see it without my glasses. However, as an African American and your friend, I would like to share 3 things that would create safety for me.
- Recognize that being a nice person is not the same thing as being an ally and being nice is not enough. Allies don’t just give themselves the title, they do the hard work of admitting to themselves that there are other White people out there who know more than they do on this subject and they go and learn from them. They don’t ask me how to find them. Allies know that they must check the privilege they have of being able to put off learning how to do the work of confronting their own conscious and unconscious bias. Allies know that the “nicest” thing that they can do is seek out those groups of White people who have been doing the work of dismantling racism, join them, learn from them, bring home the skills and do the horribly uncomfortable work of teaching these skills to their children at an early age. They do this because not only is it right, but they know that their friends like me have little choice in when we teach our children about this because the world confronts our children with it at a very young age.
- Love me enough as a friend to prepare your sons and daughters to truly be friends with my sons. Have that really heartbreaking conversation with them about the fact that should they be driving in a car or walking down the street with my son and get stopped by the wrong police officer, their mere presence can literally change the “complexion” of that interaction and not in a good way as they are apt to think. Please tell them that my son’s safety will be affected by them understanding racism in this country and how it actually works. Please let them know that unlike the encounters they may have had with police, when they are with my Black son and in an encounter with the wrong police officer, everybody better know what to say and how to conduct themselves. Engage as my husband and I have in finding officers who will come and talk and role-play with your sons and daughters about how to be skilled allies to my sons during such an encounter. Please find the officers that will not say that if he isn’t doing anything wrong, he will have nothing to worry about because as my friend who has educated themselves about how racism works in this country, you already know that this is not true so you will not allow that lie to be passed on to your sons and daughters.
- Start talking regularly about racism with your family and friends. You can start right after everyone is feeling good and stuffed on Thanksgiving. I know you don’t want to ruin everyone’s holiday by calling out Uncle Joe or mom on their racist remarks or behavior or by making everyone uncomfortable by starting a conversation that requires people to listen to each other, be honest and open and grapple with this painful topic. Yes I have heard from some of you how hard it is to confront white people about their “stuff” and how you just stopped because it became too much. And I as a good friend refused to stifle my sarcastic and truthful remark of “who you tellin'?" Recognize that your privilege allows you to checkout while the blackness of my skin never gives me a pass. So I need you to stay vigilant and keep the conversations going and use the skills you are learning in your confronting racism group. As Black people, we do talk about racism consistently with each other because we are believed by each other, we experience it regularly and our very existence depends on us being vigilant about it.
Dear White friends, I am asking you to do this because if things were reversed in this country with regard to race and you and your children were scared, violated and targeted, I would damn well expect you to ask it of me. I want you to know that I will not unfriend you if you do none of the above, but with or without that safety pin I will also never feel completely safe with you.