After the 2016 presidential election, I read an opinion piece that mocked people who donned a safety-pin to show their solidarity with marginalized people. (Click) The critic, Christopher Keelty, accused these individuals of hypocrisy: assuaging their guilt rather than taking substantive action. “Marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help.” He went on to explain, “Even if you aren’t a racist, you still benefit from racism.”
In a second blog, he expands upon his theme. He exhorts white people to attend black churches as an example of real action. (Click) His advice leaves me nonplussed. If white citizens don’t have much skin in the game and can’t be trusted, what good would that gesture serve? To be honest, his suggestion strikes me as a trifle arrogant. Are white people to assume they can arrive at black churches without invitation and be welcomed simply because they are white? How antebellum is that?
My guess is that Keelty knows little about race relations. Certainly, his ignorance about the power of symbols is breathtaking. Perhaps he is too young to remember World War II, when the Danes engaged in a symbolic gesture of defiance against their occupiers, wearing four coins tied together with red and white ribbons in their buttonholes. Perhaps he is too young to remember Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in 1974, a bloodless flower defiance that spawned the Rose Revolution in Georgian (2003) and the Tulip Revolt in Kyrgyzstan (2005).
The flower, the swastika, the four coins and certainly, the cross have all played their
part in the course of human history. More recently, the red ribbon rallied support for HIV victims. Frankly, we live smaller lives without the outward show of our inward feelings. Recall the image of marines raising the American flag over Iwo Jima. Was that an empty gesture?
Symbols are not a substitute for action. They are a call to act. Those who wish to wear the pin as a sign of solidarity should do so. They break no laws by revealing what is in their hearts.