Kate is a recent History grad from Glasgow University, soon to embark on a Masters in Environmental Communication. She is also a committed activist and campaigner – today she tells us her thoughts on the #safteypin movement.
A growing concern among many in Britain is the apparent rise of racial abuse following last week’s referendum to leave the European Union. There has been a 57% rise in reported cases and many on social media are documenting instances of #PostRefRacism; from unpleasant remarks, to abuse on public transport, to xenophobic graffiti. There are many who are worried that the Leave victory has legitimised prejudices and racial intolerances.
Although any existence of this behaviour is totally unacceptable, it is important to remember that this is by no means the mentality of the majority of British people. The cross in the box of most Leave voters was not motivated by racial prejudice and it is damaging to assume that is the case.
This weekend I and my family have witnessed 3 "when are you going home?" Racist incidents aimed at EU citizens here.
— Adam Boulton (@adamboultonSKY) June 26, 2016
"Table next to me says to Polish waitress "How come you're so cheerful? You're going home." Him and the missus started laughing." Disgusting
— Jamie Pohotsky (@jamiepohotsky) June 24, 2016
Since the referendum, there have been marches in Scotland’s biggest cities, where people are saying on mass that in or out, we need to stand in solidarity with refugees, immigrants and non-white British citizens. Thousands have signed petitions calling for the protection of multiculturalism and urging the media to ‘stop the hate’.
One response came from Twitter user Allison, who became ‘an accidental anti-racist campaigner overnight’ thanks to her idea for a #safetypin campaign. This followed on from a similar campaign in Australia, when following a bout of Islamophobic abuse, people wore ‘you can ride with me’ badges, showing they would take public transport with and accompany people who did not feel comfortable.
The idea of the safety-pin is that it can be worn to show solidarity with non-White or non-British people in this country. It aims to serve as a symbol that one will not tolerate racial abuse of any kind.
The campaign has been criticised for being a token effort, arguing that it is not enough to actually help people who are experiencing racial abuse. One Twitter user wrote: “I don’t need you to wear a paper clip rn. I need you to call out your mates from back home who still describe me as ‘coloured’.”
Others have labelled it unnecessary, notably Piers Morgan who Tweeted: “I don’t need to wear a safetypin to prove I’m not a half-wit”. Ableist language aside, I do understand Morgan’s point. No, we should not need to wear a badge to show that we are not racists; this isn’t a club we need to prove we’re part of. It should really be a baseline of human decency.
And no, it’s not enough. Sticking on a pin does not mean your job is done. But unfortunately, due to the current situation in our country we do need to do something. Allison has since responded to criticism, saying that wearing a safety-pin should also be a commitment to actively call out racism wherever you see it.
Social media is both a catalyst and a stop gate when in comes to activism. It can rally people and raise awareness on an unprecedented scale, but there is also a toxic tendency for passionate and enraged people to post a Facebook status and feel like they have made a difference.
— miss pommery 1926 (@cheeahs) June 27, 2016
I think that wearing a pin is at least one step further than this. Political badges have been a central part of social activism in this country for half a century and I firmly believe in them. But, as their creator and many others have commented, resistance can and must not stop there. If prejudices and racial intolerance have been legitimised in this country then we need to actively challenge that and remind everyone that they have no place in our society, whether we have a place in the EU or not.
Don’t wear a safety-pin to prove you’re not racist – wear one to show you are anti-racist and act to prove it.