One response, from those saddened by this all too predictable turn of events – stoke up the fires of racism, don’t be surprised if racists emerge from the gutter – has been to urge the wearing of a bare safety pin. As i understand it, primarily to show solidarity: maybe, too, to make a more positive statement of “you’re safe with me”.
As always, the UK’s progressive cohorts have split two ways on this. Some think it’s a great idea: some think otherwise, condemning it as variously tokenist, virtue-signalling and not especially helpful. I disagree.
One of the arguments used against wearing the pin is that it should not be necessary. There i cannot agree more. The default position on the street should be one of no racism, no hate, no assault.
And while there is an implied play on “safety”, i doubt it will make people feel especially safer.
Still: following the referendum, i was upset. In part because the Remain camp had lost, and this felt a victory for stupidity and reaction. Much more, because i woke to realise the steady drip, drip, drip eroding those common values of tolerance and inclusion with which i had grown up had finally worked. This was not my country anymore: was unrecognisable as the place i grew up with and celebrated.
Little has happened since to change that point of view.
Another reaction, wholly spontaneous, was a desire to reach out: to tell those now in the crosshairs of racism not that it would all be OK, because i don’t think it will. But that some of us, many of us still have their backs: still appreciate them as people, as humans; are, to use an old-fashioned term, in solidarity with them.
Wanted to, but could not, as i did not know how to.
Which is why i loved the safety pin campaign when it materialised. It’s not about big stuff, about turning back the tide, or creating safe spaces – though i think it can help slightly.
Nor do i see it as being about “virtue-signalling”, the ultimate cynical condemnation. Or if it is, how many more demos, pickets, pieces of direct action must we now consign to the bonfire of irrelevance because some of those present are merely there to demonstrate their radical credentials, before going back home to abuse the neighbours and torture the cat?
And to those determined to pooh-pooh such notions, here is a quote from an EU worker, from yesterday’s Guardian :
When I walk down the street and see people, I wonder whether they voted leave or remain. I’m afraid that if someone hears my accent they might shout: “Go back to your own country”. All I feel now is fear. I can’t make any plans for my family’s future because I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next two years.
Wearing a pin will not, cannot make it alright, any more than pride flags, white poppies or pink armbands.
But doing so can, perhaps, be the beginning of something else: a signal to the world that whatever other people may be saying about migrants, you do not share that view. You, at least, are prepared to stand with them today.