Shortly after the U.K. voted for Brexit and hate crimes started rising to unprecedented numbers, I received messages from Hijabis (Muslim women who choose to wear the traditional veil “hijab”) asking me if I could post some self-defense videos:
It came to no surprise to me that the first request I received the day we found out America voted a racist and self-admitted, sexual assault perp into the highest office, was a request to re-post the Hijabi self-defense videos. But it didn’t stop there. I have received hundreds of messages from all kinds of scared women, a good 80% from Hijabis asking me what else they can do and what type of weapons they should carry.
For those people who only know me as a filmmaker and also those who automatically assume that a woman can't possibly know anything about personal safety or self-defense (yes I see you in my Twitter mentions) rest assured I know what I’m talking about. I will not list all my titles and qualifications here, but I will tell you that I used to do this for a living, as a matter of fact the first job I had in the US was teaching hand-to hand combat to an organization I’m sure you’re familiar with:
Now that that's out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about the safety pin campaign.
I don’t know exactly who started it, but I know that it came out of the U.K. after Brexit. As far as I understand, it was never meant to be a “hey-look-at-me-fixing-racism” campaign. It was created as a signal for people most vulnerable to hate crimes, so they can identify people willing to help. Similar to the #IllRideWithYou and #IllWalkWithYou campaigns.
If you think even for a minute that none of us in the personal safety world thought about the fact that it could be abused by exactly those people we’re trying to protect hate crime victims from…you are arrogant and unhelpful. We have more than thought this through and speaking for myself, I not only analyze every safety tip I post a hundred times over, I also consult with other personal safety professionals to make sure I have thought of every scenario.
But thank God for white American men who post hot-take think pieces (I’m not even going to link to it because I refuse to give him more clicks) half of the crowd who would have liked to wear the safety pin are now confused about the sincerity of the campaign.
JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
I asked a friend of mine from England if there had been backlash like this in the U.K. as well. She forwarded me a couple of similar pieces, written by….yes you guessed it…men.
Now even women-of-color are jumping on the bandwagon, because somehow a campaign that started as “emergency-assistance-offered” has been misinterpreted into “I’m-wearing-a-safety-pin-to-fight-racism” campaign.
Come the fuck on people.
I know everybody is riding on raw emotions this week…but this is inexcusable in my opinion.
What you publicly hear about Hijabis getting attacked is only 1/16 of the amount of attacks actually happening against them. I have young Muslim girls sending me messages, telling me about how and when they were assaulted, but begging me not to tell anybody. When I ask them why they won’t share this with authorities or family members, they explain that they will lose all personal freedom if their family, especially male family members, would find out. No more trips to the mall or to a friend’s house without a family member in tow (and before you start saying anything about patriarchy in Islam…I will remind you that there are thousands of photos posted on the web of angry white Dad’s posing with a rifle next to their daughter’s prom date…so please, spare me).
Are there other marginalized groups under attack now, who won’t be helped at all by a safety pin? Yes, absolutely. I am mortified for Black people who now have to fear an even more empowered, racist, deadly police force. I promise you, I will fight on your behalf as much as I will fight for anybody who is now at a greater risk…unfortunately, I can’t do that with self-defense videos or safety pins because neither will be effective against racist cops with guns.
I am also mortified for my Muslim family members and friends who are now worrying about being banned from entering the U.S. or even getting deported.
Not all of the threats we face can be solved with safety pins and it certainly isn't a tool that will help fight racism...but the people who are endorsing it for personal safety never claimed that.
Imagine you’re a 14-year-old Hijabi girl getting on a subway car, you turn your head to the left and spot a group of young, loud white men already giving you dirty looks, so you turn to the right and there you notice a group of eclectic strangers, 3 of them wearing safety pins…two of them adult women. Chances are pretty good that those 3 people are not secret Nazis who went through the trouble of getting safety pins to commit premeditated assault. Could it happen? Yes. But the chances of that happening are much slimmer than our Hijabi girl getting hurt by the vile, fuck boys to her left.
I’d like you to consider not ruining something that could help this one, vulnerable group…just because some people misinterpreted its meaning or because it doesn’t help the much greater danger you’re facing.
We are all afraid. But we cannot be ruled by fear…or we will certainly lose this fight.