trump and trigger warnings

The aftermath of the general election has looked something like this: a huge increase in reported hate crimes, a terrifying lineup of potential cabinet appointees, and truly the least passionate, least moving comments about all of this from our president-elect. “Stop it,” he said to hate crime perpetrators.  Not the most effective way to end terror, usually.

The aftermath has also looked like this: protests across the country about the results, a huge surge in donations to progressive organizations, and increases in volunteers for these organizations.  Some things are good; many things are bad.  We need more time than we have, to heal, to organize, to process, to grieve, to plan, to gather our courage and screw it to the sticking place.  And yet, even though we lack time, many people are already working and acting to mitigate the negative effects of the future administration and to continue to move forward from where we already are.

A lot of the protests have happened on college campuses.  I wished so badly that I was still in college when I was watching election returns and when I woke up the next morning. Instead, I watched from far away as my friends and peers who are still in school held a rally to show anger, grief, and solidarity. I felt proud and lonely.  I also felt angry that there are those in that community, and in so many other educational communities, who think that protesting, rallying, choosing to express emotions, and naming oppressive violence for what it is are acts of weakness and whininess.  I have seen a lot of people saying some version of, “Get over it, you big baby. You lost. Grow up and move on.”

This is all a slightly tweaked version of the anti-trigger warning/anti-safe space viewpoint.  No matter how many times the people who subscribe to this anti-compassion ideology use the words “oversensitive” and “coddled,” they cannot change the reality that people’s fears are completely founded.  In 2015, reported hate crimes came to an average of slightly fewer than 16 per day.  In the week following the election, there was an average of 72 hate crimes per day. That is a huge increase.

In this world where systemic violence is a reality for everyone (whether they choose to acknowledge it or not), the idea that students (or anyone) are overly sensitive because they want to choose how they engage with harmful ideas and people is predicated on the belief that students and young people are stupid, and that they need a big institution and established academics to show them what is up and what is down, what is right and what is wrong.  This is tied to the complete erasure of the fact that most spaces are already safe for certain people (we all know the drill: cis, straight, white men from high socioeconomic backgrounds, Christian or atheist/agnostic; citizens of their country of residence; speak the main language of their country of residence); people start to take issue with the concept of safe spaces when they apply to people who have trauma related to institutionalized and cultural injustice.

It comes down to this: there appears to be a contingent of academics (it’s hard to say how large or small this group is) who do not respect what students think, want, or feel.  This discourse is toxic, and it is perpetuated by supposedly liberal professors and commentators as well as conservative ones. The complete disregard expressed by these “anti-safe spacers” for the complex emotional landscape that is part and parcel of being a human was a necessary condition for Trump’s election.  To compare the necessity to have legal freedom of speech with the freedom to say whatever you want without even social consequences is ridiculous, and to equate thoughtfulness and care in speech with educated elites is dangerous.

There have been (approximately) a million thinkpieces about HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN???? And I think it is obvious that there are a lot of reasons: white supremacy, misogyny, classism, the lack of genuine commitment on the part of Democrat elites to economic justice, Hillary as a candidate, etc. We (obviously) will never be able to determine exactly what percent of his victory was attributable to each social factor, and we don’t need to.  But we do need to be aware of a discourse that is accepted as more defensible than other oppressive discourses, even though it is simply an “academized” extension of them, and we need to speak back and resist. Continue to insist on spaces that make us feel safe and demand the conditions that make it possible for us to participate in difficult discussions and act in anti-oppressive ways. To everyone already doing the work-physical, emotional, and intellectual- of unlearning and undoing systemic violence, keep on keepin’ on!  We can do this!


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