Smile and Safety Pins

Some months back I read an article about how the AmazonSmile program can have a suppression effect on users’ charitable giving. Essentially, with every purchase through AmazonSmile the user gets the good feelings that come with donating money to charity, and this satisfaction relieves the user of any obligation he or she may feel to donate to charity out of pocket. Whereas a normal charitable donation may be $20, or even $5, AmazonSmile sends only pennies to the selected institution–.5% of the price of your Amazon purchase. You would have to spend $4,000 on Amazon for the charity to receive $20; for a $50 donation, you would have to make Amazon purchases adding up to $10,000. AmazonSmile users get the satisfaction of donating to charity (which makes them more likely to buy from Amazon), and charities miss out on potential additional donations. Users win; Amazon wins; charities lose.

In the aftermath of this presidential election, some Americans are borrowing a particular symbol used after the UK’s Brexit vote. The Leave campaign was waged on a platform of xenophobia and Islamophobia, and violence toward immigrants, Muslims, and other villified members of the community was a serious problem following the vote. Wearing a safety pin was meant to signify that a person in danger could find safety with the wearer. Similarly, the success of Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-black, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-women, etc., campaign was a signal to some of his supporters that these groups were fair game for violence, threats, and other abusive acts. Some Americans have adopted the safety pin symbol to signal that they would protect those who are the subject of abuse.

This seemingly harmless practice has aroused friction among those who otherwise agree that Trump and his abusive supporters should be resisted. While many people feel the safety pin is a unifying and potentially beneficial tool, many others reject the safety pin as simply an empty symbol. I believe the AmazonSmile conundrum gives credence to this latter position.

Wearing a safety pin is the literal least somebody could do; finding and applying a safety pin is cheap, quick, and painless. Wearing a safety pin is not speaking out vocally or with actions against racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, or the other repulsive and dangerous values that threaten the people in our communities.

The danger of wearing a safety pin is inaction similar to the noncharitable effects of the AmazonSmile program. When someone feels that they need to do something and that something that they do is as simple as wearing a safety pin or clicking through a link, they may choose to do no further or more meaningful action. Like the AmazonSmile program, wearing a safety pin does not require additional time, money, or action on the part of the doer. The good feelings you get from self-identifying as part of a movement or group (i.e. the group that opposes Trump and supports people of different cultures and ethnicities) are soothing, but the world is not better off because you are personally soothed.

Of course you can wear a safety pin and donate to groups that defend voters’ rights and protect people of color when you see them abused and call out racists in your life who use hurtful language or openly attack others, but you cannot simply wear a safety pin and think your job is done. You cannot simply set up your Amazon account to click through AmazonSmile and think you saved the world.

Many of us are reeling from the realization that white supremacy, misogyny, and intolerance are more rampant throughout our country than we had allowed ourselves to believe. We want to fight these forces, and we want to show the world where we stand. A safety pin seems like a simple solution, but it is nothing more than a vanity project. We do not need external vanity; we need internal reflection. You do not need to tell the world who you are with a safety pin in your shirt; you need a tack in your shoe that reminds you quietly, personally, every moment, that the world you love is in danger, and to save it you cannot take the easy way out.


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