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Politics & Activism, Race & Identity

Nobody Wants Your Safety-Pin: Post-Brexit Activism

helpful activist actions to take post-brexit in the UK_MG_0070

Here in post-UK Brexit, where hate crime and racism are on the rise, an American woman in London came up with the idea of wearing a safety pin to show your opposition to racism and to single yourself out as an ally. One of the original posts actually said “Even if you’re too scared to actually help during a racist attack, go up to the attacked person to check they’re ok and offer them a cup of tea after”. I appreciate the sentiment but this is woefully misguided. The “show your support from afar” movement is one of the things that  belong with the “keep calm and carry on” attitudes  in the past. To me, the safety pin represents the very worst in assuaging white guilt. It allows people to feel like a saviour or ally without actually having to do anything.

Imagine actually being the victim of a race attack. Imagine feeling vaguely disconnected from the country you were born in for your most of your life. Imagine then reaching your mid-twenties and receiving the message that actually over half of the country doesn’t want you anywhere near them. I know this is not how all Leave voters feel. I know that sounds hyper-emotional and reactionary. BUT, it’s incredibly hard to have lived the life I’ve lived thus far, then have a result (and a fall-out) like this, and not feel overwhelmingly like 52% of the country is just sticking their two fingers up at you. That’s what it’s like.  That’s my gut reaction; a gut reaction, of course, meaning a feeling so strong that some people used it as a guide to vote.

At first the safety pin thing pissed me off. I’m being attacked based on the colour of my skin and you want to give me a cup of tea? But I understand that those wearing safety pins probably feel desperate to do something, anything to help – after all, these are desperate times. But there are lot more practical things you can do. I don’t want to deride the good intentions and empathy of others, so I thought I’d make a list of more hands-on ways to do something instead. Please add your own at the bottom in the comments: imagine if we had 30 practical things to do!

1. Use Your Voice

The issues currently surrounding the UK are huge and important, and waiting for “everything to blow over” is not an option. Ignore the few who are calling for their twitter feed to “go back to normal”. Stay angry. Stay alert. Stay up-to-date. Don’t reprimand yourself for watching the news or talking to people – now is the time to start engaging in discussion and looking for the problems.

Educate yourself, and somebody around you at the same time if you can. Listen to the people around you: who sounds confused? Who is scared? Who is naive? Talk to each other. Probably the most frustrating line of discussion I’ve heard post-Brexit is “I don’t know how my brother/Dad/grandmother/friend voted, and to be honest, I don’t want to know”. No. You don’t get to ignore the fact that there are disagreements with those around you and then feel upset about it after; those discussions are awkward and difficult but try to have them before it’s too late. Clean the wound fully and maybe it will heal. Maybe you’ll change somebody’s mind. Try to understand those who voted the opposite way to you; talk to them.

2. Take Action

This is a continuation of the last point; go to a rally, take part in a march, organise a bake sale if you like. Do something that involves bringing people together to discuss and learn and be safe. Maybe you want your community to talk about how you can stop the spread of racism, or maybe you want to create a meeting that is knowingly and actively inclusive for attendees. Use social media and be the person who makes those things happen.

Sign a petition – I signed not because I thought we would get a second referendum, but I thought it was as good a way as any to show how upset I was that 1.7% can be deemed a winning majority. Share a blog, comment on an article. Follow more news and media outlets, tweet your thoughts and opinions, write a post of your own. If you have any kind of audience at all, reach out to them. Drop a line into your set or give a speech between songs. Don’t stay silent.

3. Write To Your MP

This is probably the number one most productive thing you can do. Write to your MP; tell them your fears (whatever they may be), tell them how you feel, and what you would like them to do. Whether your MP campaigned the same way you felt or not, whether your MP is the person you voted for or not does not matter. If they’re your MP then they are YOUR VOICE. They represent you and the rest of your constituency. Write to them and ask for more, for better and for help. MPs are generally very good about getting back to you and responding; the more people that ask, the more they will hear.

4. CALL OUT RACISM

This should be obvious. Racism is everywhere, and we should be targeting every last drop of it’s poison. Do you hear somebody using the term “migrants” for brown people and “expats” for white people? Do you hear somebody citing fear of Turkey joining (or as Boris insinuated, “a nation of Muslims”)? Racism has it’s roots in fear and confusion;  so talk to people and untangle the fear and confusion. Abandon stereotypes. I’m a second-generation immigrant. Have I stolen your job?

Call it out LOUDLY – if you see an attack in the street, investigate. My heart goes out to those living in divided, mostly Leave areas. I’ve been talking to friends and family in those areas, and trying to see what we can do practically to help. If you hear anybody (including yourself!) using the words “I’m not racist, but..” or “I don’t want to sound like a racist, although…” then take a good, hard look at whatever words follow those phrases and consider why you needed to quash doubt. If something is said that could be so easily misconstrued that it needs a disclaimer… it may well just be racist. And don’t beat yourself up: we have a LOT of ingrained racism in this country and the best way to deal with it is to acknowledge it.

And hey, white people, this goes doubly for you. If you are scared of racist attackers, then welcome to our world. No, it’s not safe out there. But you’ve been granted immunity so you may as well use that superpower for something. If you see somebody having a go at somebody else; say something. Polls show that only 32% of people would try and stop a racist attack, but 86% of people would try to assist a person who was already in the midst of breaking something up. Make the first move. Don’t be a bystander.

5. Join A Political Party & Engage

The political landscape at the moment is a complete shitshow; nobody’s in charge, nobody’s able to make decisions, and the only person with a clear plan is Nicola Sturgeon. Look for the MPs that are speaking out (especially on Twitter). It’s confusing, I know, but try to follow the tangled threads if you can. The Left parties look possible to ally with each other ahead of a general election – do some research into what issues are key for each party, and identify your own interests.

Parliament has the final say on what goes, and an overwhelming majority of parliament were Remain. Parliament is not legally obliged to go along with the (narrow) results of an advisory referendum. Cameron insinuated that the UK would leave, but he’s stepped down, so nobody has invoked Article 50 yet. Experts are saying that in the event we won’t actually even leave; the sheer time and effort needed to make Brexit workable is staggering. With the two major parties in absolute chaos and the country split and on the edge of meltdown, now isn’t a great time for 400% more negotiations and paperwork. If we do leave, we must rally together and campaign until we lose our voices for the things that matter. Right now, whether you voted Leave or Remain, nobody is being treated well by the government. We all have a right to be angry.

I don’t know what will happen. But keep hope. Keep busy. Keep active. And for Gods sake, take your safety pin off.

Report It – UK hate crime charity

Tell MAMA – for Anti-Muslim Attacks

WriteToThem – for writing to your MP

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9 Comments

  • Reply Denise

    Dear Laila, as usual, I loved your post. I liked the practical things you suggested, and numbers 3 and 4 resonate more with myself. Especially four, cause I am a bit wary of MPs 🙂 Do they really read, I don’t know… I, myself, am postponing a letter about something I found very serious, that happened to me in the UK, to an MP… but well, if I don’t write, I will never know whether they read or not – I will write at a certain point, it has to be really well thought. As a coincidence, I prepare my weekly posts around Tuesday or Wednesday, to be on air on Monday. Last week I wrote about the safety pin movement, it will be on air on July the 4th. I think that wearing the pin at least tells people that you are showing you don’t agree with racism. But sometimes people are either far away, or are depressed or traumatised and cannot do more than wearing it. Of course, being more active is better, no doubt! One thing I did, being far now, long ago, was to detach myself from racists when I spotted them. Being blue, purple,brown, black or white should be seen as the same – we all need to breath air, eat to stay alive and we will all die the same way – in a castle or in a tribe, death is the same. Hope I could show it in a good way, cause sometimes I may be misunderstood about it. You always write so well about important topics, I loved your post!
    DenisesPlanet.com

    July 2, 2016 at 6:02 pm
  • Reply Kitchen Rants

    Ever since I read your piece about not being white and what that entails for you and how you advised everyone to ‘call it out’ when you see racist shit, I’ve actually begun to pay closer attention. And I’ve been ‘calling it out’ – and it’s been quite fun to go on the Facebook page of a cousin that you never knew is a white nationalist and just excoriate them. The cousin is American, but posting Islamophobic videos from Britain First (um OK). I shouldn’t enjoy calling it out so much but I am: I see racist shit, I’ll call it out, misogynist or sexist shit – I call it out, anti-semitism (the real kind – not the ‘you oppose Israel so you MUST be anti-semitic’ BS), I call it out. And I realize I am having just a wee bit too much fun with it.
    I am like you – mixed race, my father is white, my mother is Asian (Chinese-Asian, not traditionally what is known as Asian in UK) BUT I can pass myself off as a white person if I wanted to, I never have but people assume I am white when they meet me (the Irish whiteness and freckles and awful frizzy hair) if I don’t speak Chinese or if I say nothing. And if I am honest, I haven’t experienced half of what you have in your piece about what it’s like to not be white, so I can never speak to that feeling of being ‘othered’ by society. It makes me angry no less but because I don’t experience it, I didn’t ‘call it out’ as much and I’m going to change that. Also, to add another layer of complication regarding race in the US – some minorities are seen as ‘better’ or more preferred – such as white parents won’t freak out if they see them at our local schools – and they are Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other SE Asians, Indians etc) than other minorities such as Hispanics or Black and it’s disgusting. Racism is bad enough but then to ‘divide’ the oppressed minorities into preferred and non-preferred groups…
    Hang in there. You can hope Parliament can come to their senses but they you have over 50% of British public vote Leave so if Parliament forces a Remain you might have riots and more social unrest. In the meantime, I’ll call it out with you. XO.

    July 2, 2016 at 9:24 pm
  • Reply Jane

    Great post Laila, and applicable to situations outside of Brexit/Britain as well. You made some interesting points about the safety pin thing. I thought it was a sort of pledge to speak up when racist incidents are occurring, you’re right in saying that just wearing it is pretty useless.

    July 3, 2016 at 1:47 pm
  • Reply lizziercole

    Completely agree that the safety pin is like trying to use a stone to dam a river. So small that it’s almost meaningless. Taking action about anything you are passionate about is exactly what you need to do in situations like this – we can all make a difference and calling out racism is something I try to always do.

    http://lizziedailyblog.blogspot.co.uk/

    July 3, 2016 at 9:53 pm
  • Reply Jess Acton (@jessacton)

    The UK is a weird place post Brexit vote. I’m lucky that I live in Edinburgh which I think was the highest remain vote outside of London (about 75%). I haven’t noticed an increase in racism / anti immigrant sentiment here, although as a white person I might not know if it was happening. I’m relying on Nicola to untangle the mess, she is an impressive force to be reckoned with. I’m so sorry for the way the vote has made you feel, Laila. The reports of racism on social media have been so painful to follow.

    It feels weird to just be carrying on with our daily lives regardless of the fact that politics is in turmoil. It feels weird to be talking about anything other than politics. It feels like months have passed since the vote but it’s not been that long. I’m worried that people will get bored about referendum coverage and we’ll stop talking about it. I love that your suggestions of practical tips for making a difference. Writing to your MP / attending a protest / calling out racism are very useful things to be doing. I wish I was in London to attend the protests there.

    I never thought that we would actually vote Leave and I’m angry at those who did, but I also understand where it comes from. I think it’s unfair for people to be demonising the North East for the way they voted. There is a lot of prejudice there, which is completely unacceptable, but there are also a lot of working class communities who have been hung out to dry by the system and they are voting for a change, because the status quo has not been good to them so far.

    Jessthetics xx

    July 8, 2016 at 1:12 pm
  • Reply 4 Questions To Ask Before Wearing A Safety Pin - LiberalVoiceLiberalVoice — Your source for everything about liberals and progressives! — News and tweets about everything liberals and progressives

    […] pin wearers after Brexit received a lot of criticism for simply acting to address their guilt and show themselves to be open-minded and tolerant without […]

    December 2, 2016 at 2:39 pm
  • Reply 4 Questions To Ask Before Wearing A Safety Pin | BuzzJour

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  • Reply 4 Questions to Ask Before Wearing a Safety Pin | Intentional Insights

    […] pin wearers after Brexit received a lot of criticism for simply acting to address their guilt and show themselves to be open-minded and tolerant without […]

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