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