In the post-Trump U.S., following from post-Brexit U.K., the safety pin has emerged as a symbolic declaration of solidarity, the declaration of a safe space.
In the face of the rise of bigotry and hatred in public discourse, the safety pin signals a clarion call to stand by those in U.S. society feeling the brunt of the climate of intolerance. We could certainly use more solidarity at this juncture of U.S. history.
Wearing a safety pin is also a material marker of standing by the marginalized in public spaces, where bigotry has been making its appearance.
As much as the symbolic show of safety pins points toward an entry point for solidarity, it is important interrogate the symbolic nature of solidarity.
The sudden expression of solidarity marked by an event (election of a bigot as the President of the U.S. whose campaign has anchored itself in a narrative of hate) declares that event as the moment of crisis. The marking of the election as a crisis moment obfuscates the histories of on-going racism experienced by people of colour.
The narration of the election as the moment of crisis does violence to the lived experiences of the many communities of colour who have lived with the violence of racism in the U.S. on a daily basis.
The safety pin as a liberal marker of solidarity also obfuscates the very racism that underlies liberalism and liberal notions of multiculturalism.
The liberal White feminist whose heart is bleeding for the brown Muslim man today is also the one that four years back looked at the Muslim man and branded him as chauvinist.
The show of solidarity in such instances does not really perform the difficult act of solidarity, of "being with," instead working quickly as another marker of identity politics, as a self-affirming branding tool like the "Pink Ribbon."
If solidarity were to truly work, if my White friends who feel so angry about the racist U.S. were to truly feel an opening for the racisms that people of colour witness, they might begin by simply listening to the many marginalized voices that express scepticism toward the displays of solidarity.
To feel solidarity is to first and foremost sit back and listen, to allow oneself to experience the pain and suffering that mark the lives of the underprivileged. To find solidarity is to begin with patience, patience with being challenged, patience with one's privilege being critically interrogated.
To articulate solidarity is to fundamentally recognize the impossibilities of solidarity amidst inequality that marks everyday life.
Unless you want your safety pin to simply be your self-branding tool, listen.
Listen to the voices of the margins that stand witness. Listen to the voices of the margins that express scepticism at your white liberal performance of solidarity.