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Is Safety Pin Box the Gift for 'White Allies'?

Leslie Mac and Marissa Johnson created Safety Pin Box, a subscription service designed to teach and guide white people on how to be effective allies.
Protesters Demonstrate Against Police Shooting During Panthers Football Game In Charlotte
A demonstrator wears a Carolina Panthers jersey outside of Bank of America Stadium before an NFL game September 25, 2016 in Charlotte, NC. Protests have disrupted the city since Tuesday night following the shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott at an apartment complex near UNC Charlotte.Sean Rayford / Getty Images

The election cycle and installation of Donald Trump has left the country in what could be called a battle of privilege, especially in terms of race and gender. The election has also left us with more questions than answers. Not the least of which being what exactly is an ally?

Immediately following the election, the safety pin trend quickly became a way for white liberals to self-identify as allies. It’s a gesture that has largely fallen on deaf ears when it comes to people of color as it presents itself as a presentation with no substance.

With that in mind Leslie Mac and Marissa Johnson, both of whom are known for being on the frontline of the Black Lives Matter movement, created Safety Pin Box, a subscription service designed to teach and guide white people on how to be effective allies that take actionable steps toward liberation.

NBCBLK caught up with Johnson and discuss Safety Pin Box and the environment that for them, made this venture necessary.

Marissa Johnson
Marissa Johnson

NBCBLK: How did you and Leslie meet?

We met online through Black Movement circles and went on vacation together in Jamaica just after the election. It was there that SPB was born.

Explain the concept behind Safety Pin Box

At its base, SPB is a box subscription service for white people who want to be allies in the fight for liberation. Subscription fees go in part towards a Giving Fund for Black women freedom fighters, and subscribers receive monthly tasks for them to help further the Black liberation movement.

But more broadly, SPB is a system of reparations that also requires white subscribers to be actively engaged in learning and solidarity of work. For Leslie and I, it is a new way of being. We want Black women to be paid for their labor and have ways to educate and do justice work that are less traumatic than what we are often subjected to.

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We want white people to think of their role in the movement as redirecting power to Black folks, making reparations giving a part of their monthly budget, and make ally work a consistent part of their lives.

White folks gotta do better. At SPB we teach them how to, while collecting reparations funds to give directly to Black women to be used at their direction. We are modeling a new way of moving forward.

What was your general impression of the safety pin trend and how it developed?

Both Leslie and I laughed because the problems with the safety pin trend seemed obvious to the majority of the people wearers claimed to be supporting. It was quite clear that there was a large contingent responding that truly did not know how to do solidarity work.

After chuckling a bit and thinking about what people in the movement really need, we channeled this failed act of allyship into a sustainable model of solidarity via SPB.

You make it very clear that Safety Pin Box is designed to support black women. Why not include black men?

Well foremost, we are women, and in doing Movement work for the last few years, the majority of people doing work in Movement spaces are women and femmes. Because Black women specifically do a lot of the support work in the Movement and in the Black community as a whole, we knew that supporting Black women would benefit the whole community.

In addition, we understand that Black women are the least likely to be sustained doing this work. Black women make less money than Black men on average and, honestly, it's been difficult to garner support for Black women killed by police in the same way that deaths of Black men are recognized.

We don't think there are enough spaces specifically dedicated to supporting (not using) Black women. SPB is a part of changing that.

Is there space for black men to support Safety Pin Box at this point?

Absolutely! All Black people can help us promote Safety Pin Box, and I think Black men, especially in light of Charlemagne the God's comments, can take extra care to recognize the Black women in their lives and lift up their contributions.

Can you give an example of a task that participants are asked to complete?

When you sign up for our newsletter on our website you have access to a free month-long sample task. This task is about power mapping your life, seeing where you have power and where you are directing that power. By the end of the month, subscribers commit to redirecting at least three streams of power they have to Black people and tracking their progress over the next year. It's a good one for anyone, regardless of financial ability, to get started.

Leslie Mac Shipping out Safety Pin Boxes in Michigan.
Leslie Mac Shipping out Safety Pin Boxes in Michigan.Courtesy of Safety Pin Box

What has the general feedback been from participants?

We are just now being able to connect with subscribers since we launched on Giving Tuesday. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Mostly our subscribers are people who recognize that there is a problem, want to be part of changing it, and feel like they have nowhere to begin. For them, SPB fills a real need to empower them to resist with us during a Trump presidency, and our subscribers are people who are dedicated to changing themselves and becoming better people.

There has been some pushback on the concept of Safety Pin Box. Much of which has been particularly racist and vile in nature. How are the two of you handling it?

Sadly, this is par for the course for many Black women online and in justice work. Truth is, Leslie and I have received this kind of hate and more many times just for our activism; it's terribly familiar.

The difference now is that we know with all the hate also comes confident support from people who see the unfounded attacks. All of this helps our business, and as our business grows, the more Black women we can help. We are so committed to this goal, of helping Black women, that we are not backing down. Haters better pack some snacks because this is a marathon and we have just begun.

How are women selected for the financial gifts? Is there specific criteria?

On our website we have a section called "Black Women Being" that explains how gifts work. We encourage any and all Black women doing Black liberation work to apply and they will be added to our pool of recipients.

Each month we will give a set number of financial gifts based on subscriptions and recipients will be chosen at random from our pool of applicants. Recipients will be profiled in that months

Time will tell whether or not Safety Pin Box is the new model of unified and active ally-dom but it seems clear that at the very least a starting point is needed.

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