If I — a multi-heritage, brown, Jewish man — get chased down by neo-Nazis and find someone wearing a safety pin, how will I know if that person will actually do what it takes to save my life? Do they really know what they’re signing up for?
I’ve found myself wondering this over the past couple of weeks, as we’ve seen an upsurge in overtly racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic acts following Donald Trump’s victory. Individuals and some groups across the country have started wearing safety pins on their shirts or coats. The phenomenon started with the Brexit vote, when a number of hate crimes were committed against immigrants, Muslims and other minority groups. The “Safety Pin Movement” was born out of a need to show solidarity with those directly impacted. The creator, Allison (no last name), drew inspiration from the #illridewithyou campaign in Australia. And now, the safety pin has stuck to the United States.
Still, we need to ask: What does it mean to wear the safety pin? Or better yet, what’s really required of those who wear the pin? When I asked around, most (white) individuals spoke of the safety pin as a sign of safety for minorities, and a sign that they would intervene if something serious were to happen. Some, however, expressed that they were only wearing it to clarify that they’re among the “good” liberals, as opposed to the “bad” racists. In this case, it seemed as if the safety pin were just a new incarnation of the shibboleth — a symbol or gesture that distinguishes a group of people who share a common custom or ideology.
When you don the safety pin, you might be confronted with a slew of situations in which you’ll need to step in. You may be required to hide someone from danger, call (and, in some cases, pay) for legal defense, correct someone’s use of language (i.e. redirecting when someone is being overtly racist), clean up wounds, or just offer a listening ear. It’s a commitment that shouldn’t be made lightly, since it can have a tremendous impact.
Before making the commitment, there are some questions you need to answer for yourself:
1) Have I started to do the personal work of undoing my biases?
If you don’t have any experience in uprooting your own biases, please start with personal conversations in order to begin the process. It will help you to ward off some of the pitfalls of being an ally.
2) Do I have a plan in place?
It’s often the case that in trying to save a life you may also be in danger. Do you have a plan of action just in case it’s not a one-off ordeal?
3) What support can I give or receive?
You should be clear as to what you can and cannot do. If you’ve built a network of “pinners,” make a list of people who will be able to step in, in ways that you cannot. It’s imperative that you know yours and others’ abilities, so you’re not left guessing in a moment of crisis.
4) What am I prepared to give up?
I’ve been thrown into a few situations where I needed to defend someone. I know that sometimes the aggressors are not just throwing words; they’re throwing kicks and punches as well. Often, I had to make a split-second decision to put my physical wellbeing at risk. Other times, it meant just giving up my level of comfort to help someone in need. Those times were worth it, for me. But that is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Pin. Don’t pin. It’s completely up to you. Just make sure that if you do wear the pin, you know what call you may be asked to answer.
Jared Jackson is a diversity consultant, entrepreneur, and the founder and executive director of Jews in ALL Hues.