It’s More than a Safety Pin

I’m not an ally. I’m a fellow citizen. It’s not a safety pin. It’s something bigger than that.

The “Dear White People” messages that tell me that my pledge to stand up for American values is flimsy and theatrical are condescending and unkind. Those scoldings are dripping with assumption and disdain about my motivation as an American citizen.

Oh, you’re going to wear a safety pin. Aren’t you precious? 

Don’t you understand how meaningless that is? It’s just something to soothe your white conscience.

As an older feminist, I finally learned not to discount support coming from men. Sometimes, I have been in disbelief that a man actually, genuinely, shared the view that men and women are equal, and more disbelieving when that man actually showed through his actions – small and large – that the belief was real. You don’t find men who are feminists on every street corner but there are more than we think. Many more. So I learned to link arms with those men, to trust them.

I know what it means for a man to be openly feminist. Everyone doubts him. They doubt him because the current of sexism in our world is so deep and strong as to be genetically defined. So there is a great disbelief in the genuineness of his feminist declaration and as great a suspicion that, when push comes to shove, the male feminist will desert us. That might be true but I take that chance.

So wearing a safety pin says what about me?

Maybe it’s a message to other people that I am a supporter, that I will do whatever I can to intervene in mistreatment. It’s easy to discount the safety pin business when you think of it this way, like it’s a tiny secret symbol to the oppressed that you’re ready to save them. It’s a notion ripe for denigration.

Oh right, Jan, someone being threatened by a racist bully is going to seek you out of a crowd to defend them.

Probably not. But we are in a situation now and going forward where individual reckoning with one’s principles and integrity is more likely than theoretical.  Married to a Jewish man for 32 years, there have been many discussions about what I, as a non-Jewish woman, would do to protect him if ‘they’ came for him. We joke about this but it is uneasy joking. At his core, he wonders about me. How far would I go to save him?

And I wonder about myself. What would be my limit? Would I have a limit? Would I be brave? Or would I find an excuse to be a coward? It’s sickening talk and still abstract but for how long? Many things we thought could never happen in the United States are, this minute, happening.

So maybe the safety pin is to remind me that I am obligated to live the words that I say. I can’t tell my husband I love him if I wouldn’t do everything in my power to protect him. I can’t say I believe in equal rights for everyone if I’m not willing to speak up, intervene, and put myself between someone intending harm and the person for whom harm is intended.

What does this mean, though, in a practical sense? I’m not sure. I don’t think there is a recipe for what comes next if you are an American opposed to racism and sexism. We can support the extraordinary organizations and institutions that fight for our rights but beyond that, I think we are winging it on a day to day basis. Perhaps the function of the safety pin is to remind us that we are capable of being braver than we ever envisioned.

Which of the people you know would be the heroic rescuers of Jewish children and families during the Holocaust? Would it have been someone you rode on the bus with one day or would it have been you who protected Ann Frank’s family or secreted Jewish children out of the country with fake passports and middle of the night passage? Do you think the people who stepped forward planned it all along? Or did they just believe they had no choice but to do the right thing?

Maybe the safety pin isn’t for others who see it. Maybe it’s for those who wear it. So we remember that we need to be the heroes. Even if we are weak and small and doubt ourselves, we need to find our own bravery and not wait for it to be delivered by people stronger and wise. I think about the prospects of throwing my 68-year old self in harm’s way and I love the part of me that thinks, yes, they will have to go through this old broad to do something terrible to someone else. I want to be that person.

I want to be brave. Even if I have to wear a safety pin to remind me.

11 Comments on “It’s More than a Safety Pin

  1. Jan, I had to read this post twice because during both readings I couldn’t concentrate and kept saying to myself, “I cannot believe I am reading this and we are so close to this being a reality.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Red Said What? and commented:
    RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…It’s More Than a Safety Pin

    Although I like to vary guest posts, Jan Wilberg’s blog, Red’s Wrap hit home for me again. Although my blog avoids politics like the plague, this time I’m making an exception.

    I respect the office of the presidency. I respect our democratic process. I know and cherish the story of how the United States came to be. I have re-enacted the Revolutionary War. I have taught children about the 13 colonies, branches of government, our constitution and The Bill of Rights. I have voted in elections for 2 decades. I am a proud American.

    I am also a woman. I am a mother raising Jewish children. I am a survivor. And I am a friend to enough who are scared of being hurt in the name of our future president.

    Yes, I know. Mr. Trump went on television and told supporters who are discriminating against minorities to “Stop it.” I also heard him say during the interview he “was surprised to hear” about the incidents and believed they were “built up by the press.” Minimalizing attacks and blaming journalists only makes me question more and trust less.

    As a New Yorker who’s watched her fair share of reality television, I’m used to Mr. Trump’s word dance. So I’m watching the actions. Right now, what I see are ideologues, alt-right white nationalists and alleged anti-Semites being appointed to positions of power.

    While I won’t pass judgement on the people in my life who are excited about his presidency, I refuse to shut my mouth or blindly accept that if I give Mr. Trump a chance everything will turn out fine for all Americans.

    So I will continue to wear my safety pin. Not to make myself feel better, but like Jan explains in her piece, to remind myself of what I need to do every day to help my children, loved ones and neighbors.

    It’s easier for me to snuggle up in my bubble, play it safe and hope for the best. To be honest, I feel uncomfortable even writing these words. But I’ve come to learn discomfort is not only good; sometimes it’s necessary.

    Going forward, I will use my voice. I will march for human rights. I will find time to help. I will do my part to preserve our democracy and uphold the values upon which our country was founded. Because as an American, I am free to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I share your sentiment. I too have seen posts on social media about wearing a safety pin. I think it’s a good idea in many respects to show your support for others, to help when help is needed. But personally, I wouldn’t wear one myself. Only because anyone who knows me will confirm that I’m that person already who often wades in xx


  4. i have too thought about myself in situations you describe. could i stand up, stand in the way, of actual oppression. i didn’t know in the past and i’m not sure now. what i do know is that i must. thanks for this blog.


  5. Thank you so much! I have gotten a lot of hate as of late for coming out as a trans woman, i am glad there are wonderful people out there like you.

    Liked by 1 person

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