Safety pins and safe spaces

Marian Abdulkarim discusses safety pins and safe spaces in the context of racism and anti-racism

Marian Abdulkarim discusses safety pins and safe spaces in the context of racism and anti-racism

Juulia Niiniranta

Juulia Niiniranta

This summer the SuomiAreena event was once again organized in Pori, Finland. With its multiple panels and discussions one caught my eye: “What makes the Finnish police the most trusted in world”. The participants of the panel were from the police institution. Diversity meant that the panel represented different departments within law enforcement and the police academy. One of the organizers told NYT-liite that they wanted different voices to be included as well as those who are experts in the issue to discuss it. Alright.

During the Brexit campaign the hate crimes against minorities in the UK increased. Racism was being fueled by the politicians campaigning for Britain to leave the EU. Racism prevailed on the streets targeting immigrants. This was happening in the UK – a country that once colonized half the known world. Trevor Noah cleverly points out the history that makes Brexit so ironic and the rhetoric of Britain First in his stand up comedy piece from last year.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote many were concerned about racism and the lack of safe spaces for people labelled as immigrants. A woman started a safety pin campaign in an attempt to increase the sense of security for those being targeted. The idea was simple: wear a safety pin to show that you are a safe person to sit next to or talk to. It seemed brilliant and the media picked it up. As this was happening in the UK – a society that I do not live in – I didn’t feel the need to comment on the obvious problems of the campaign. Poorna Bell, however did – as did Victoria Sanusi.

I do believe that the campaign was started under good intentions but as you can read in the above articles, intentions are not as relevant as consequences. Combating racism is not about addressing white guilt. It’s about acknowledging the power structures and committing to creating a society in which equality is a lived reality. Anti-racism is not about white people feeling better about themselves.

Combating racism is not about addressing white guilt. It’s about acknowledging the power structures and committing to creating a society in which equality is a lived reality.

A few days later the campaign found its way to Finland with the hashtag #hakaneula. This is how movements work. I would have hoped for more thought on the campaign before adopting it here. The issues addressed by Bell and Sanusi are just as relevant in a Finnish context as they are in the UK. The Safety Pin campaign fails to understand the lived realities of black and brown people and only manages to address white guilt. I am not here for that.

There have been a lot of discussion on racism lately in Finland and there are those voices that tell us that racism has increased. I respectfully disagree. As a black woman who has been a member of this society for decades and has lived with racism as part of my reality, I struggle to find where this increase has actually happened.

The Safety Pin campaign fails to understand the lived realities of black and brown people

The black and brown voices that address racism have increased. The anti-racist networks have strengthened and there are more people who are actually anti-racist in Finland today than there have ever been before. This creates a situation in which racists become more vocal from grassroots to political arenas. We see more outspoken racism and calls for changes in legislation in order to enable more racist policies on minorities regardless of their background.

hakaneula 4

Juulia Niiniranta

As a black female body navigating in a predominantly white space the question of safe space is relevant. Equally relevant is who negotiates the terms under which our bodies are safe. Being in the public space is a constant negotiation. The lived realities of different groups must be taken into account and this is why it’s important to listen to those who face more obstacles in their attempts to negotiate for safe spaces. As an able bodied individual in a society that is built for able bodied people, it means I need to listen to those who are disabled. I benefit from this ableism every day and thus cannot be an authority on accessibility. For white people in this society, it means they need to listen more to those dealing with racism. They too benefit and are protected by their whiteness from the reality of those facing racism.

As a black female body navigating in a predominantly white space the question of safe space is relevant.

Creating anti-racist or anti-oppressive strategies is a shared responsibility in which everyone should participate. Being an ally to an oppressed group means giving up the space, accepting and acknowledging that your lived reality doesn’t give you the tools to address inequality – unless you listen to the experiences and needs of those whose realities you want to have an impact on. It’s easy to demand for an equal society, but the steps we take towards this should be easier. For us to be able to remove obstacles we need to first recognize them.

Why did I start with the police panel? Because I think that having an institution represented widely is an idea we could use in the anti-racist, anti-oppressive work. However, the police panel was a fail from an anti-racist perspective. There are a lot of black and brown people in today’s Finland who are concerned about their safety – those concerns are also aimed at the Finnish police force – apparently the most trusted in the world.

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