Why I Won’t Put a Pin In It

This has been a long time in coming so bear with me while I rant it out.

When I heard about the Brexit safety pin campaign coming from across the Pond, I got it. I really did. I understood the good intentions behind it and the want to show support. But as it gained momentum and pushback and then counter-pushback and counter-counter-pushback as the alt-right supposedly co-opted it for their own nefarious purposes, I struggled to explain to well-meaning liberal friends exactly why this bothered me and I was getting more and more angry. Looking at this through my own lens, pointing the mirror squarely at myself, I think I finally got it. So here it goes:

In the interest of privacy, I am using an analogy, but trust me, this is real. This is my real life experience. My family is profoundly affected by what I shall call "Giraffe Syndrome." It defines my every day, my every waking hour, and touches me, my husband, my children, our friends and relatives and everyone who comes into contact with us, alone or together, at work or school or community event. It is an all-consuming reality that is both stigmatized and frightening. We live with this every day. There is no "normal" beyond it. So I thought about how I feel when I see a bumper sticker with a yellow and brown-spotted ribbon or a pin that says "I Love My Giraffe Syndrome Kid." Truthfully, I feel a little better knowing I am not alone in this world and that someone out there understands something what I'm going through; it's something that we share, even if we never see or speak or meet again. Giraffe Syndrome is no longer hidden in the shadows or isolated and that feels better. For a moment.

Once in a year on Giraffe Syndrome Awareness Day, the town hangs yellow spotted ribbons on trees and the school dresses up in yellow T-shirts and there's talk about Giraffe Syndrome in the air because everyone knows a friend's brother's cousin or an aunt's favorite co-worker's son. There are smiles and balloons and tiny Giraffe Syndrome keychains dangling from my neighbor's purses... And this makes me livid. Why? Because while everyone who is NOT affected by Giraffe Syndrome is smiling and patting themselves on the back for being so Politically Correct and caring and enlightened, folding up that yellow shirt and packing it away for another 364 days, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with me and my family and does not help us one bit. I *live* in yellow shirts 24/7, 365 days a year. These people have seen me and my family in that color every day when they passed me by in the school or the market and kept right on walking. Even donating money or volunteering for Giraffe Syndrome causes does little good directly to me and mine and, in fact, no one's bothered to ask ME what would make a real difference in my life.

Do you want to know what would really help? Invite me out for tea. Meet me at the library or the bookstore or downtown. Let's take in a play or head to a craft fair or shop at a thrift store with really bad hats. Let's get our husbands together to do whatever husbands do while we're away and laugh over baked goods about the latest episode of that show we saw on TV. And, if I really want to shoot for the moon, maybe have your kid come play with mine. Invite us to meet you at the park or the museum if you don't feel comfortable having us at your house. Let's take them to the mall or out to eat or catch a movie--they don't even have to talk or even sit next to one another; just by being there we can feel welcomed and included and a part of something outside our own four walls. These are baby steps really, some generic neighborly kindness, but THAT would help me a great deal.

Which brings me to the pins.

Again, I understand kind, well-meaning white, heterosexual, ci-gendered Judeo-Christians wanting to show that they care and that they do not support bigotry, racism, xenophobia or any of the other intolerances that are currently in vogue this week, but the truth is that this does nothing whatsoever to help and, in fact, is insulting. Yes. I know this is tough to hear, but please hang in there...

Okay, Remember the movie Bolt? Cute animated flick with a girl and her dog who thought he was a superhero when really he was just raised onscreen like Truman from The Truman Show? (Another good movie!) Do you remember Penny's agent? Anytime she wanted to talk about something important, he'd blow her off, but he didn't straight-out ignore her, he pretended to take her seriously and--wait for it--said they'd "put a pin in it" to discuss it later.

Of course, later never happened. Even if this guy was being 100% honest and had every intention of addressing her concerns, which never seemed the case, the very act of "putting a pin in it" was so the agent could address it later, when he wanted, and at a more convenient time (for him), if ever. He was in charge. He called the shots, not the person who needed help. And by wearing those pins you, as a well-intentioned privileged person, are telling other privileged people that you are a Nice Person. Good. That's nice. Check. Maybe it's even a reminder to *you* to stand up for what you believe in when the time comes. Great. However, so what? How does this help the person who needs help right now? When I tried to ask about this, a dear person whom I love and respect told me that the safety pin was a signal to anyone who needed a friend that she was a safe person and that they could come to her for help.

My head exploded.

No. NO NO NO. One billion times *NO!*

If you, well-meaning, kind person that you are, ever see me or my children being harassed or attacked by a horde of Giraffe Syndrome deniers hurling anti-Giraffe epithets or maybe even sharp rocks, do you really think I am going to search around during this confronting, unsafe and scary situation in order to locate you, the nearest safety-pin-wearing Nice Person, and push beyond this terror so I can throw myself on your well-intentioned mercy? Seriously? No.

So You Want To Be An Ally? I want YOU to step out of YOUR comfort zone and DO something. ACT! Your assumption that *I* should come to *you* because you're supposedly a Nice Person who will stand up for me is the cherry on top of the Clueless Privileged Ice Cream Vermonster. If you're the type of person who is willing to defend me, f!@#$%^&*ng DEFEND ME! Step up! Say something! Stop them! Stand with me! DO SOMETHING! Get me out of there and away to someplace safe. Make sure everyone knows how not-okay this is. Offer me a way out. Offer me a warm beverage. Offer to call a cab. Offer to phone anyone I might need to contact right now. And accept and don't be offended if I say "no."

You see, being a good person means that you are a good person, not just a Nice Person. You do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. In Judaism, there are levels of mizvot (charity) eg: giving money to someone in need is good, giving money anonymously is better & giving money so you don't know who receives it and they don't know it was you is the best since then no one feels awkward or superior or obligated to anyone else. You do good by doing good and no one needs to know about it but you. You don't need a pin to tell your friends you are a good person. YOU know whether you are a good person. Your actions will show it. Just like the writer's adage: Show, Don't Tell. Do good by doing good. When it's needed. Now! Don't just put a pin in it or pack up the ribbon or fold your t-shirt and put it away for another day next year.

So you will not see me wearing a safety pin and it is not because I am not an ally or a Nice Person who doesn't care what is going on. You know I'm an ally (or whatever) because I act like one. You know that I will not tolerate certain jokes or certain things said in my presence or in my home or with my kids. You know that I am "touchy" and "sensitive" (or even "bitchy") about certain subjects and that I have no problem confronting a problem if someone steps out of line. You know this because you know me. And if you don't know me, you will see me speaking up if a situation comes up that is uncomfortable or aggressive. I will push myself to step outside my comfort zone, including with friends and family, when I am aware of it and I will accept criticism when I was ignorantly unaware of it or let an opportunity pass me by. I will learn. I will do better. But I will DO SOMETHING.

Because everything else is just putting a pin in it.


2 Responses to “Why I Won’t Put a Pin In It”

  1. Kathy bagioni says:

    You are absolutely correct, Do something when you see a problem. But there is power in symbols and wearing a pin has already led me to have to one civil conversation with a Trump supporter. If it takes me one person/one conversation at a time to get people to think, really think, about what’s happening, I’ll do it. Everyone has their bit to do. Right now, this feels right to me, for me.

  2. Dawn Metcalf says:

    That’s brilliant! And yes, I think everyone should do what’s right for them and with all the best intentions. I wrote this to explain why I wasn’t wearing one or why some people might react negatively to it so that communication promotes understanding. I hope I did as much.

Leave a Reply

Order Now!

Amazon Kindle