On Safety Pins and Safe Places: We All Need to Be More Aware
Dating has always proved to be a challenging trick for me. For many of the black men I meet, my being Jewish is a problem, as the hope and expectation is that I would be Christian. For many of the Jewish men I meet, my brown skin is a problem, for it is viewed as something that needs to be “explained” within the Jewish community – and that is deeply uncomfortable.
I have been told to my face more than once that I am an amazing woman in every possible way, but that I am not someone to bring home to meet the family. “How would I explain you to my family?” one suitor said. And he meant it.
I once overheard a beau’s mother tell him that he could not bring me to a family function because people would mistake me for the kitchen help. He did not argue. At all. And our relationship disintegrated from there.
I was told – by a Jewish educator no less – that she couldn’t set me up with one of her single friends because I was too “complicated” to explain to people. She then went on to ask for the number of one of my white, Jewish girlfriends.
On the heels of the election, these people have joined the chorus of voices that has been posting daily on social media about their outrage regarding the racists who are now in control of our government. There is a great deal of ranting about how “they” – being the Trump/Pence supporters – need to change their behavior. And, there is a great deal of back-patting about how wonderful, loving and inclusive “we” are.
Some of these people have changed their profile picture to a safety pin, because they want people to know that they are a “safe place” for anyone who feels they need one.
But, much like my dear friend Carrie Bradshaw often mused, I cannot help but wonder how on earth these people can self-identify as a “safe place” – when I was not welcome in their homes or at their tables? When I am unacceptable or considered “too complicated” to date because of my skin color? When the very nature that I exist seems to require an explanation?
Say what you want about the David Dukes and Steve Bannons of the world. From my perspective, they are racists, misogynists, homophobes, anti-woman and anti-Semitic – but at least they aren’t hypocrites. They hold tight to their twisted and sick values in public and in private.
Far more disconcerting to me are the people I described above, for they are saying one thing publicly, but behave quite differently in private. Those people, brandishing their safety pins and joining with the voices of outrage against the racists are in some ways more dangerous to me, precisely because they don’t see the racism in their own behavior. When they had their chance to be a safe place for me, they failed. And the pain of that hypocrisy is indescribable to me.
The results of the election are sure to bring about changes that will not make me happy, but I am glad it also is shining a light on the subtler ways all of us can increase our levels of awareness. “They” are not the only ones who behave badly; “we” do, too.
Of course, I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t wear safety pins as a sign they’re a safe place. Wanting others to know they are safe with you is a beautiful thing. But, I am suggesting that the notion of being a “safe place” is bigger than what one does in public or on social media. What’s more, even if you’ve never been a safe place in the past, this is the perfect time to commit to being one – for today and in the future. In public and in private.