Safety pins and allyship

2157633575_3fa7126cfc_zLike many around me and many people I know, I cried when I woke up on November 10. I had truly not anticipated the results of the US election and had blindly, optimistically, believed that there was no way such a terrifying human being could be handed so much power.

How wrong I was. How wrong so many of us were. I cried, not because I lost. Frankly, I lost twice in this election cycle, as I had voted for Senator Sanders in the primaries, and then for Secretary Clinton in the election. No, I didn’t cry on my big sister’s shoulder because my candidate lost. I cried because I feel less safe today than I did on November 8.

I’m no where close to alone in this. Many women fear losing their rights to reproductive healthcare. Gay and queer people fear the rolling back of their hard-won rights to serve in the military, marry, etc. African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim-Americans are facing outrageous racist verbal and physical attacks.

We are afraid. And our fear is justified. MY fear is justified. But I must own that I have a lot of privilege in this. I’m a white woman, and don’t have a short, or otherwise extreme hairstyle that might tip someone off to my sexual orientation. I can pass, and that is privilege. And even though I fear for myself, it is absolutely my duty to use my privilege in defense of others. So last week, I clipped a safety pin onto my clothing on my way to work.

I work in Washington DC. I ride the metro and I work in a wonderfully diverse office. I work closely with a brilliant and diligent African-American, a playful Pakistani-American, and a hilarious Costa Rican-American. I am so privileged to work with these people. And I wore my pin because I will use my privilege to protect them, and others, from harm as much as I am able.

Imagine my sadness when I saw posted all over Facebook an article shaming white people for wearing their safety pins, saying that we were just embarrassing ourselves. As someone who has had need of allies in my own life, I am going to say clearly that I utterly reject this ally-shaming.

Not everyone is ready to be exactly the kind of ally you need or expect. But everyone is on their own journey. Shaming someone for taking a small step will discourage them from taking larger steps or growing into more of an ally. And for many, putting on a safety pin, publically declaring their opposition to the new administration, exposing themselves in that way… for many, that is one huge, almighty step.

People walk the path of allyship at different speeds. Not everyone is ready to loudly defend my rights at the risk of their own safety. But they’re working on it. I appreciate everyone who has taken even one step on the Ally Path. Thank you, allies. Thank you so much for learning about, caring about something outside of your own experience. That’s huge, and I am grateful to you, whether you where a rainbow bracelt to church, surreptitiously read feminist articles, or even just recognize within your own heart that all God’s children deserve love and safety. You’re on the Ally Path. And I appreciate you. Please continue wearing your subtle symbols, because I am looking for them. And I know others are, too.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Kalliope!

    There’s a perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good streak in the small safety-pin backlash that I find sort of exhausting. It also assumes a kind of zero-sum allyship that makes no sense to me. I can march on Washington, donate to the ACLU, talk to my students about Standing Rock, continue educating myself about race relations and gender identities, call my representatives, and wear a safety pin, without the latter hindering any of the former.

    I live and work in a diverse but deeply conservative environment, and I can’t help but think that some of the disconnect here is contextual–that is, maybe there are white people in large coastal cities wearing safety pins to relieve their guilt and enjoy the social cachet without doing much else (or maybe not, and this writer is just enjoying the fine savor of some leftister-than-thou contempt). But I’m not sure bloggers in Seattle and New York can entirely speak to the solidarity needs of young ethnic, sexual, gender, and religious minorities at my Arkansas university. I can’t entirely either, but it’s a tiny gesture that costs me nothing and I know there are students (and other faculty!) that find it meaningful.

  2. Thanks for this. Part of what has disturbed me in the wake of this election is the relentless self-flaggelation the left has been inflicting on itself. You said it perfectly when you said that perfect is the enemy of good. Sometimes as I’m reading about important issues that I would like, in theory, to support, I withdraw into my own personal concerns because I feel like there is often such terrible backlash against anyone who tries to care or advocate for a cause that does not directly affect them. The barrier of entry is so incredibly high when we don’t give people room to be imperfect people with good hearts trying to take a step in the direction of increased compassion. When you feel like you need three phds in cultural appropriation and intersectionality to participate in a conversation without stepping on a land mine, it’s a lot easier to stay home and only speak up when you can speak from the relative safety of personal experience. I have been wistfully wishing that we could all just take a deep breath and try to look upon the motivation in people’s hearts rather than the correctness of their form.

  3. Thanks for saying this, Kalliope. I am sometimes hesitant to say or do things because the people I would be trying to support aren’t all on board with what I might be saying or doing. So I appreciate hearing your openness to even our meager efforts.

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