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Thoughts on the safety pin

If you haven’t heard about why people are wearing safety pins out in public, let me point you here first. (By the way, if you have Amazon Prime, you can get a 6-month free trial of The Washington Post in digital form. After that, it’s $3.99 a month.)

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether the safety pin is truly support for those under attack or merely a symbolic gesture. The question has been raised whether someone wearing a safety pin is really willing to stand up to attackers when push comes to shove. I think we all have in mind how we would like to respond in a scenario. In my head, I’m coming out swinging with insults and ready to lay down a good tongue lashing. In reality, I, like many others when faced with an IRL situation, would freeze for a moment as I realize that this is actually happening, then make my fastest escape.

If you are a white majority ally, you may not know how you will react when you see someone being attacked. There’s a really great illustration floating around about what to do (ignore the aggressor, sit with the victim and engage them in normal conversation, stay with them until the aggressor leaves). But most of you will also freeze up or be at a loss for words. That’s ok. You’re human. But if you find yourself freezing/shying away, use that as a learning experience.

On one of the Facebook groups I’m on, a white ally was verbally attacked in public for wearing a safety pin. She was rightfully very shaken by the attack even though other allies stood up for her. Later in the day, she came back to share that she had a few realizations from the experience. She was a wreck the whole day because of it, and she realized it was because she had never seen that type of anger or hate from a complete stranger based on her appearance (the mere presence of a safety pin). She realized how her privilege had afforded her insulation from such attacks.

Here is my response to her (and I’m leaving out her direct quotes):

i’m sorry that you had this experience. at the same time, i think you hit on something very important [with your realizations].

hold on to this discomfort and take it in because this will help you become more compassionate for disenfranchised groups who can’t remove their skin/religion/sexuality the way you can with a safety pin. you had a taste of what the rest of us experience on the regular. and you’ll be stronger for the next time it happens. stay with it. stay strong.

This discomfort that you and I and anyone who wants to be an ally feels when we are under attack is in a way a good thing. It is a time for deep exploration and transformation. It forces us to grow in ways we didn’t know we could. It’s what you do with your discomfort that counts.

Most people run away from discomfort. I see it all the time in yoga classes. Fidgeting, checking the clock, peeking around. Being asked to sit still with your own thoughts and breathe – that’s uncomfortable for many. Being asked to stay in chair pose a few extra breaths while your thighs are burning is uncomfortable. But it also demands both physical and mental strength, and you won’t know your own strength until it’s tested in uncomfortable ways.

To those who are questioning whether to keep their safety pins on or not, I say stay with it. Commit to the work and to the discomfort and to the growth. Commit to what it is intended to mean, that you are someone that can be counted on to stand beside us and to listen to and learn from us. Don’t take it off just because it got hard. Like I said in my response, those of us in minority groups can’t take off our skin. If you want the safety pin to mean something, then make it mean something with your actions and with your compassion.

When you can get really comfortable with being uncomfortable, your potential for growth is limitless.

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