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.


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

    I agree, however there is no reason not to do both. At least right now, in my opinion. If there evolves a consensus among POC, LGBTQ, etc, that this is something we should not do, then we should stop. But right now I'm seeing mixed commentary, with the majority trending to the positive (assuming you really mean it, will stand up when needed).

    Rather than try to reword, this is something I posted on FB about this:

    "There has been some discussion on a group I am a member of that we should not wear these pins because it is the equivalent of the French flag as a profile pic, something that just makes us feel better without doing any actual good. It appears there is a fair amount of controversy about this, and I would certainly encourage discussion. If the consensus by those most likely to be disenfranchised is that we should not wear the pins, I will certainly stop, and I will continue to monitor these discussions. But for the time being, I still plan to wear the pin, and if I am in a situation where I see someone being bullied or harassed, I plan to do what I can to help.

    That said, I think I am less likely than most to be in that position. I live in the country. I spend the overwhelming majority of my time either at work, at home, at the stable, or driving between these three places. We go shopping in Richmond, and very occasionally out to dinner, but that's about it. Pretty boring. Unless I am out of town, I am rarely on public transportation, and I'm never out at bars or clubs.

    I do, however, work in a medical practice (I do OB only) that serves a fairly large African American population, and a significant Muslim population. We also have quite a few lesbian couples. If wearing the pin makes any of these women feel more comfortable and welcome, then I think I should continue to do so. "


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