Two days ago chalking of “DEPORT,” “BUILD THE WALL,” and “LOVE TRUMP’S WALL,” etc., appeared on sidewalks across campus, edits to the chalking of “LOVE TRUMPS HATE,” “GAY AND SCARED,” and “#NOTMYPRESIDENT,” that appeared last week in response to Donald Trump’s election as president. It might be easy to dismiss these two sets of chalking as equivalent, as students giving voice to feelings in the wake of the election or as plain and simple free speech. Speaking as historians, we argue that such equivalence would be a profound mistake.
The initial chalking builds on a rich tradition of American protest in which disenfranchised and marginalized peoples have claimed voice and protested inequity, joined by allies of all races, sexes, and creeds. The response chalking celebrates the xenophobia and rhetoric of hate that Donald Trump’s campaign has simultaneously built upon and unleashed.
As early as 1776, Americans used revolutionary rhetoric of liberty to challenge the emerging nation to live up to its ideals of equality. Since then, Americans involved in protesting for women’s rights, abolition of slavery, environmental protections, social and economic justice, and a host of other reforms have laid claim to the free speech guaranteed them as Americans to challenge their country to rise above enduring inequalities and be better. The protests against Trump’s presidency come from this impulse – and from fear that America is moving backwards into a time where racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia dominated instead of moving forwards to becoming “great again,” whatever that means. The second chalking, while far from this campaign’s shocking rhetoric, opens the door to this backwards movement.
For many Americans, this past election cycle has been a painful experience well before its outcome, and across party lines. Few have wholeheartedly embraced the coarse rhetoric, casual misogyny and overt racism of the Trump campaign, and many have distanced themselves from the crudeness of Trump’s speeches, Tweets and statements. But some Americans have not, instead taking it as sanction to show the worst of themselves: we have seen examples across the United States in the week since the election, from attacks on hijab-wearing Muslim women to racial epithets to taunts of others who fall into the categories which our President-Elect has demeaned. We have heard of such incidents on college campuses.
This is not the place to lament nor cheer the result of this election. Rather, we suggest that we, individually and collectively, are now charged with choosing how we will live in this new America. We can choose kindness, or we can opt for baser emotions. We can choose inclusivity, or we can welcome his election as a license to exclude. We can decide on love, or we can select hate. We can live up to the best of America, its origins and its present self, or we can choose otherwise. And, we believe, history will hold us to account for the momentous choices we make in the days to come.
-Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, Sace Elder, Nora Pat Small, professors of history