WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Thoughts on the Safety Pin--To Wear or Not

The International Day of Tolerance (November 16) was established in 1995 by the United Nations to help increase public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. In our current climate of heightened intolerance both in public discourse and acts of violence, we need no reminders--but we do need clarity and strategies to build our strength and effectiveness as activists who choose to respond proactively to intolerance. The following is written by Christine Saxman, a National SEED Project staff member and Chicagoland high school teacher who reflects thoughtfully about the safety pin symbol that is being worn by people in the U.S. and Britain to show solidarity with targeted/marginalized people in our communities, and how every action we take has consequences.


WCWsafetyPinI wrote these thoughts as a white, upper-middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual, secular humanist woman, with the primary goal of connecting more deeply with other white people and being open to all other intersections. I was deeply impacted by and must honor this writer of color--Isobel Debrujah’s “So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin.” There was also much reaction to a white writer, Christopher Creelty’s, “Dear White People Your Safety Pin is Embarrassing.” After I wrote my initial reflection, I was also deeply impacted by ryboylorn’s “On Safety Pins, Pant Suits, and (Faux) Markers of Safety,” the personal testimony of so many people of color who were yet again targeted by the white fragility that could not tolerate the message that their pin is not enough, and by the need for Mia McKenzie’s “How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’” to be re-shared so many times. So I’ve reflected and added to my original piece. I humbly offer it here.

INTENT and IMPACT:
Pay attention to and appreciate all the thoughtful dialogue that prompts deep self-reflection and understanding of one’s purpose/self-reflection, taking ownership of the impact of one’s actions, regardless of intent. Own your impact if you wear the pin or if you do not wear it. But do not dismiss anyone who shares a negative impact with you from their perspective as a targeted group. Listen. Believe. Take further action and focus on repair.

INTER-CONNECTEDNESS:
Appreciate (and question) the history of the pin: from Australia’s #illridewithyou to support Australian Muslims to the history of the pin to combat the anti-immigration sentiment post-Brexit.

Safety PinCALLING IN WITH LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY:
For some white people, this might be one of the first public actions they have taken and it is all they can see to do. As a white person, I have the energy and responsibility to support them in this step. I do not expect people of color or other targeted groups to take this action. And I personally have to be vigilant internally when I monitor and judge the behavior of other white people negatively to make sure I’m not just trying to make myself feel like I am the good white anti-racist, falling prey to competitiveness that props me up and allows racism and other -isms to continue on happily. This is the question I would pose Christopher Creelty, given the chance. How can we hold other white people in loving accountability, moving them to action? How can I do that with humility in the service of inspiring other white people to take deep, abiding action?

LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY ONE STEP FURTHER:
I see another white person wearing a pin who feels like they deserve credit for doing so. How can I use that symbol to start a conversation and move to actions we can take to back up the symbol, to give it some weight? In my own humility, I can possibly learn a new action. Perhaps, I can help someone realize an action they could not envision. Perhaps, we can work in solidarity. We can even continue the conversation to ask how can we move to a more overt symbols--a Black Lives Matter Pin, #NODAPL, #ISUPPORTDREAMERS, #STANDINGFORLGBTQ rights, #NoHumanIsIllegal…. And I commit to lovingly calling to action those whose only action is wearing a pin. I can emphasize that we are in it together.

ACCOUNTABILITY:
As a teacher I have been asked many times to identify as an ally publicly by my students and colleagues and so I have chosen to honor those requests and hold the anger/frustration/disappointment from others who do not believe I have the right to call myself an ally. It is one of those tough accountability decisions that I reflect on regularly and discuss with anyone calling me in or out. I am always a work-in-progress. I welcome all feedback, listen, believe, and act on the accountability that aligns with my commitment, humility, and humanity.

WHITE SUPREMACIST CO-OPTION:
What happens when white supremacists are faking it? I totally support all targeted groups to stay steadfast in their refusal to trust anyone wearing the pin. But as a predominantly privileged person, I go back to my responsibility to start dialogue with others I see wearing the pin. What does it mean to you? What’s your story? And if I doubt their answers and sincerity, I call them in and have another accountability discussion about White Supremacy. I commit fully to that. I had to do it in high school in Pennsylvania. I can do it as a grown woman now.

INTERSECTIONAL SYMBOLISM:
For me, the pin symbolizes standing against all the violence: racism, Islamophobia, anti semitism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. As a victim of sexual assault, I want to see the pin. I will ask for support and action from those wearing it. And I will have the conversation if it is just an empty gesture. But, wow, will I enjoy the conversations that let me know I am not alone. Don’t underestimate that.

BOTH/AND:
I believe we must wear a symbol and question the symbol. I believe we must wear a symbol and take action. I believe we must have this conversation and interrupt racism, Islamophobia, anti semitism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia at the same time. I believe we can be both/and. But we must take action. Our humanity depends on it.

saxmanI love the people in my life who push me to be better. I owe much gratitude for this piece to Mirah Anti, Jorge Zeballos, Pat Savage-Williams, Andrea Johnson, Donald Burroughs, Matthew Biecker, Ashley Tuzicka Ray, and Jamie Utt.

This piece was written by Christine Saxman, a National SEED Project staff member and Chicagoland high school teacher.

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The Gated Community of the Heart

blogpullquoteGatedCommunity

A gated community can be more than a real estate development. Last year, I visited an ailing friend who lives in a gated community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. I waited at a guardhouse while my white host, on the other side of the gate, was asked on the phone whether I should be let in. Waiting, I felt guilty until proven innocent, with a tinge of "Am I an imposter? Do I belong inside the gate?” But once allowed in, I could drive around without feeling wary as I looked for my friend's house. I didn't need to prove again that I "belonged." I am white, and elderly, and to the young white guards, I probably looked harmless. I was given a pass--temporary permission to belong.

Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman because he was a dark, unwelcome element from outside that Zimmerman felt did not belong within the gated community. Its neighborhood watch organization justified--at least in Zimmerman’s own mind--his intention to get rid of the outsider-within. George Zimmerman acted as an individual, and it was as an individual that he refused to do what the police asked him to do--stay in his car rather than engage on the street with Trayvon Martin.

But I see George Zimmerman as also acting out fears, projections and aggressions that form patterns in our civic life. I think George Zimmerman shared with tens of millions of people in the United States the assumption that people whose skins are darker than their own do not belong, people who look poorer do not belong, and black men on the streets do not belong. The deep and usually unacknowledged assumption of the more empowered is that these others are threats that should be rooted out.

My own education in this kind of exclusion started very early in my life. What I have in common with George Zimmerman is a head full of yes-and-no instructions about who should be in and who should be out of "our" communities. Beyond that, our circumstances were very different.

I was raised in an upper class suburban New Jersey family with what I call a "litany of 'good's"--unquestioned markers of superiority that put a gated community around my consciousness. I was told that we had a good family, lived in good neighborhoods, went to good schools, had good manners, read good books, and of course earned good grades. We females should go to good colleges and marry men with good prospects who would get good jobs and make good investments because they had good sense and good judgment. We would learn good music and recognize good art because we had good taste. When such a castle of invented "goods" is built around one, an obedient self, keeper of the moat and drawbridge, will recognize and try to keep out threatening elements.  

This frame of mind, instructed in keeping the “bad” at bay, made me as a child feel some fear when an un-good thought, an uncertified thought or person even, made its way into the precincts. The gated mind did what it could to hold off, stamp out, expunge, even kill the intruder. A man I was dating when I was 18 told me his parents had Jewish friends. I broke up with him immediately. Having grown up in anti-Semitic towns with few Jewish people, my gated mind stopped the intruding element. George Zimmerman and I were taught by large elements of American sensibility to do this.

We need liberal arts education and caring parents to teach children’s minds to see that what is unfamiliar is not necessarily threatening. We need teachers to encourage students to look critically at what they have been taught about who and what "belongs" in a democracy. Examining one's mind and widening one's scope are humanizing pursuits. By contrast, rage--especially racial, religious, gendered, sexuality and class-based rage--at what is seen as “other” can kill off those observant and potentially welcoming internal elements of the self that can see beyond whatever excluding “litany of goods” one was taught.

The posse sensibility is not open or welcoming. The inner watchdogs of the closed mind kill off democracy. They fear what is not in their precincts. They do not recognize themselves in others. They close off curiosity and empathy. What remains is the ruthless gated community of the heart.

Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D. is an associate director at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum and a leading scholar on privilege, she is the author of the groundbreaking essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

 

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Dear Dr. McIntosh After completing 4 yrs of undergraduate work, I am in my second semester of graduate courses here at Georgian Co... Read More
Thursday, 30 January 2014 13:25
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