Monday, November 14, 2016

Acting Like An Ally (When Safety Pins Aren't Enough)

Over the weekend a whole wave of safety-pin advocacy swelled and burst within my kidlit community. First came some blog posts about "allies" of marginalized people wearing safety pins on the outside of their clothing, to identify them as "safe" to the marginalized. Then came a whole bunch of really lovely illustrations from prominent children's book illustrators, incorporating safety pins with well-known book characters. I retweeted some of these images without thinking too hard about the whole idea.

Then Carole Boston Weatherford, a writer I greatly esteem, shared a post that said, basically, white people, stop it. It pointed out that perhaps teaching children they could trust any stranger who stuck a safety pin on his or her clothes was ludicrous, and that also the safety pins were mostly just a tool to make the wearer of them feel a little bit better about him or herself.

You know, I'm not a racist/misogynist/homophobe. I'm an ALLY. 

The problem is, we don't get to label ourselves allies. That term is something other people grant us, once we've earned it. When the whole VOYA magazine thing blew up (go here if you don't know what I'm talking about), one of the VOYA editors defended her discriminatory actions by saying, "But I'm an ally!" and pretty much the whole LGBTQ teen lit community called her out. Saying "I'm an ally!" while acting solely from a place of privilege is pretty much like saying, "Some of my best friends are black!" when you've never once invited those black friends into your home.

What we can do is act like allies. We can aspire to become allies. And here, from the Reading While White kid lit diversity blog, is how to do it.

Safety pins are easy. Dismantling oppression is hard. Do the hard thing.