Safety Pins Helped Elect Donald Trump
11/14/2016 by Dylan James Harper
There’s a general rule to consider when it comes to social or political activism: if it’s easy, it’s probably ineffective. One could easily dismiss the recent safety pin trend, where allies to marginalized communities signal that they are an ally by donning safety pins on their shirts, on that basis alone; if that’s easy, what is it really accomplishing. A deeper look, however, reveals how the safety pin represents more than just slacktivism, but a harmful attitude that allows individuals like Trump to get elected.
The safety pin started in the United Kingdom after the embarrassing Brexit vote occurred (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/11/11/safety-pins-brexit-donald-trump-election/93639074/). It was meant as a way to signal solidarity to specifically refugees and immigrants in the United Kingdom, were subjected to a slew of hatred during and after the Brexit campaign, which was largely based around anti-immigrant sentiment. It then got picked up by people in the United States after the Trump vote.
While there’s still a lot to sort out post-election, one thing that is perfectly clear is that a lot of people, primarily people who would consider themselves “allies” to marginalized communities, rather than members of those communities, were extremely surprised by the Trump victory. There are a lot of reasons this is the case (the humiliating prediction by Nate Silver, for example), but one is that most people in this category simply couldn’t fathom that someone like Trump, who was so openly racist, openly sexist, and downright vile at times, could get elected. This was the manifestation of a denial that’s gone on among privileged classes over the quality of life for marginalized communities all throughout the history of the United States. Of course, to people in those marginalized communities, while the election results may still have been somewhat surprising, it certainly wasn’t because there was doubt as to how bigoted the country as a whole is. But how could it be so clear to people in the communities while individuals outside those communities remained relatively unaware? One word: visibility.
When you’re an “ally” to a marginalized community you experience all of zero of bigotry they experience, in part, because no one who would make a bigoted action against the community recognizes you as having anything to do with that community. There is no replicating what it is like to actually be a part of one of these communities. However, something like a safety pin, meant to be a subtle signal, just furthers that ignorance. The whole point of the safety pin is for allies to try to do something but still maintain a safe invisibility. That is how someone like Trump isn’t taken seriously, and is elected president.
Going forward, people who want to help marginalized communities should focus on their own viability first. Broadcasting the fact that one is an ally is only useful if it communicates to people who are apathetic toward a marginalized community’s issues that it is something worth being aware of and dealing with. A safety pin does not accomplish that in any way. All it does is maintain a safe bubble for allies, and continue isolate members of marginalized communities, who can’t become invisible, by ensuring they remain the lone targets of all hostile bigotry.
Dylan James Harper is the Chief Political Editor for CSuiteMusic
Read more of Dylan's work at www.dylanjamesharper.com