This is part 2 of my interview with Allison, the originator of the #safetypin campaign in the UK. So far, #safetypin has been covered by The Telegraph, CNN, the Huffington Post and the BBC among many other media outlets.
Part 1 of the interview was posted earlier this week.
Please note that this interview was conducted on the morning of July 5, after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling and before the fatal shooting of Philando Castile less that 24 hours later.
I would remiss if we didn’t look back at the past 12 hours. Last night in the US, Alton Sterling, a father of five, was shot dead at point-blank range after being pinned to the ground by two white police officers in Louisiana. Sterling was black. Both of the officers’ body cameras had apparently fallen off. Officer Robert J. Kinnison, one of the two white officers involved, is an outspoken gun rights activist and Trump supporter.
I’d feel remiss as well. My heart is breaking for Sterling’s family–there’s nothing I can say that would be enough. The sad truth is that no amount of intervention by allies or bystanders can stop an incident where you also have an armed police force informed by institutional and cultural racism. Meanwhile over here the Chilcot report is focussing on the deaths of British soldiers while making no mention of the thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq. (And for them to release the report on Eid al-Fitr–the holiday which ends Ramadan–is just perverse.) The news media is still more interested in white agency than in non-white consequence, if that makes sense–the reporting focusses on the white characters. We get the rundown of the cop’s background and his life but hear very little about the black victim.
On your side of the pond, Scotland Yard reported yesterday that there have been three hate crimes per hour since the results of the referendum were announced. In addition, the British Pound is at a 31-year low. Do you think that this indicates an increase in the racial and economic tensions you described in the first part of our interview?
Over here… this weekend is a big Eid celebration in Trafalgar Square for the whole city to come to, celebrate and learn about their neighbours. I’ll be there. The British love a street party. In the longer term, who knows? I think as the Tory leadership contest heats up it will either become an arms race to the most restrictive of positions or the most liberal, but I can’t say which yet. Currently EU economic migrants are still having to worry that they’ll all be deported if Theresa May gets into power, plus we have the fabulous option of the Tories resurrecting Nigel Farage as a cabinet minister. Anything could happen.
I may be jumping ahead here, but have you had time to catch your breath and consider what a phase 2 for the #safetypin movement (and, yes, now I will call it a “movement”) might look like?
I don’t know what’s next for #safetypin. I’d like to continue to try to tap into the base of folk who responded so powerfully to it, even personally–I have 900 more followers on Twitter now than I did ten days ago. I’m actually currently unemployed (got laid off two months ago), so I think I will look for a new job in activism or charity work. I’d like to continue being part of the conversation and hopefully part of the solution. If that doesn’t pan out, though, there’s always marches and volunteering, and all the other little things people do to make their communities better. I’m not sure we can make a movement out of it. But I do think one major strength of #safetypin was that it showed potential allies it’s possible to be a movement of one.
I must admit that I loved #safetypin as soon as I saw it, which is why I’m so excited to be corresponding with you. Before I start wearing mine, however, I wanted ask you if taking it out of it’s original cultural context and expanding it into a symbol against racism in the United States would run counter to your goals, or dilute your message. I don’t want to culturally appropriate your idea unless you see it, not as cultural appropriation, but rather as the strengthening an anti-racism message.
I definitely don’t see the safety pin as “my idea” or something I have ownership over. Someone emailed me, really early in the campaign, to tell me that Dutch children had worn safety pins on their collars as evidence of friendliness during WWII–if an Allied pilot was downed, the pins would assure him of the kids’ allegiances, even if they didn’t speak the same language. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but that’s the core of it –that we all recognise each other as having the right to be here.
The terrific Nikesh Shukla tweeted, editor of the book “The Good Immigrant (go here to preorder!) tweeted “i want the safety pins to mean ‘fam, i got your back’ not ‘sir, consider me no threat’.” That’s exactly how I feel as well. I do think the narrative got a little skewed along the way, but essentially I feel the core concept has been retained, which is good.
Britain is for everybody. This nation was built on the backs of so much unpaid labour, exploited globally during the time of empire, that there’s almost no modern country it hasn’t affected. Everyone has a place in Britain and everyone is welcome. The pin says you recognise your neighbour’s right to thrive here regardless of their race and that you will defend that right. There’s no reason that message wouldn’t fit equally well in the US. So by all means, please wear one. I’d be honoured.