After Trump’s victory of last week, as incidents of racial intimidation started to become more commonplace across the United States, some on the left began wearing safety pins as a sign of solidarity with members of those communities most at risk that. [This practice, for what it’s worth, was borrowed from British progressives, who began wearing safety pins after the Brexit vote, as anti-immigrant violence began to spread across their country.] While the practice has been criticized by some in the U.S., who say it’s a hollow gesture on the part of white people who just want to feel better about themselves, others think it’s a relatively simple and effective way to convey to the people of color around them that you not only value their presence in society, but would have their back if something were to go down. Personally, I can see the merit on both sides of the argument, and, for that reason, I’ve chosen to stay away from the subject of safety pins… that is, until tonight, when two very different, very local safety pin related stories were brought to my attention.
First, I got news through a friend that, at 2:20 this afternoon, someone cut the face of young woman walking in front of the Michigan Theater, likely, we’re told, because she was wearing a safety pin. [A friend of a friend posted the following to Facebook about the incident: “My coworker’s daughter was slashed in the face while outside the Michigan Theater, apparently for wearing a safety pin. She’s okay (wound was minor), but understandably shaken.”] And, second, I got word from a reader of this site who works at a large, local university, that everyone in their department was instructed not to wear safety pins because they were making pro-Trump students “uncomfortable.” [This, by the way, comes shortly after Trump supporters on the campus of the University of Michigan launched a #NotMyCampus campaign intended to draw attention to how unwelcome and persecuted they’ve been made to feel for supporting our racist President-elect. [In their letter, which has now been signed by 358, these students claim that the “University’s response to President-elect Trump’s victory is perpetuating a hateful climate that makes students feel ashamed for voting for Donald Trump.”]
So, here, on one hand, we have a young woman who was physically assaulted, she thinks, because she was wearing a safety pin, indicating that she’s made the decision to come out publicly against racial intimidation. [I believe, from what I’ve heard over the past hour, that the man who cut her did so with a safety pin, which would seem to indicate that this was, in fact, related to her wearing of the safety pin.] And, on the other hand, we have conservative university students who apparently don’t feel as though they should have to confront people wearing safety pins because it makes them feel as though they’re being attacked… Think about that.
Here we are, just a few days after a Muslim student at the University of Michigan reported that a man in downtown Ann Arbor forced her to remove her hijab, saying that, if she didn’t, he would set her on fire, and we’re discussing the fact that the sight of safety pins are making Trump supporters feel “uncomfortable.” How absolutely bewildering is that? We’ve had these two racist attacks reported just blocks from one another, in what we’re told is one of the most liberal communities in the midwest, and yet we’re concerned about the feelings of those individuals who, despite the violent, hateful rhetoric, chose to vote for Donald Trump.
I should reiterate that this story that I heard about university employees being asked to remove their pins, for fear that they might offend conservative students, could well be an isolated thing. I haven’t heard of a university-wide edict on safety pins. So it could just be a single department somewhere. Regardless, though, it just bothers me that, while some people are facing very real threats in post-Trump America, we’re spending even a single minute worrying about the feelings of those who don’t want to be made to feel bad about their choice to put this man in White House, where, by the way, he’s already announced that his chief strategist will be a white nationalist. And, yes, maybe it makes me a bad man, but I find it difficult to summon too much empathy for people who voted a bully into office, when they say that, by being forced to look at safety pins, they’re being bullied, as though that’s even remotely the same as being physically threatened.
There is a huge difference in my opinion between having one’s face cut open, as happened today, and feeling frightened by the mere existence of liberal students. One of the young men who signed the #NotMyCampus petition, if you can believe it, told the Detroit Free Press, “I’m not even safe at my own home.” [To my knowledge, he had neither been slashed, or forced to disrobe to avoid immolation.] And, meanwhile, people on the right are suggesting, as Trump did yesterday, that these very real instances of racial intimidation that we’re seeing across the U.S. are, in fact, relatively trivial. [Trump said on 60 Minutes that he’d only heard of “one or two instances,” “a very small amount.”] So, on the one hand you have real cases being downplayed, while, on the other, you have people on the right saying that action needs to be taken immediately because they’re being forced to consider how their votes may have unleashed all of this on the world, as though those two things are even remotely equivalent.