Some folks in my social media network have expressed surprise or dismay at the force of negative reactions on display this week. For those of you who legitimately (as opposed to rhetorically) don’t get it, let me do a bit to address one piece of the puzzle: the immediate and personal fear expressed following the presidential election.
Are you familiar with Schrödinger’s Rapist? In brief, it refers to some of the risk assessments women perform: an unknown man may be a perfectly decent guy, but he may also be a rapist, and it’s tough to tell one from the other. I’m going to steal that concept to talk about Schrödinger’s Deplorable.
Voters had plenty of information at their disposal this election cycle, and they are adults perfectly capable of deciding which candidates best represent their interests. This was not a year of dog whistles. Women, Muslims, Mexicans, and the disabled were among the groups explicitly attacked on the campaign trail by the man who will be inaugurated in January. You didn’t have to look far to find partisans whose words or actions went even farther.
So what is one to think when confronted with Trump yard signs? It’s a very reductive marker, but those folks are broadcasting their feelings on an important issue, and the sign raises a lot of questions. Do the owners hate women? Do they want to institute a religious test for immigrants? Were they moved by David Duke’s endorsement? Do they expect an uptick in non-automated manufacturing jobs? Do they favor mass deportation? Do they feel very enthusiastic about large infrastructure projects? Are they fans of the bottom of the ticket and conversion therapy? Are they fans of Pepe the Frog? Do they like Trump’s plans for their tax bracket? Do they think he will be effective on the international stage? A yard sign doesn’t communicate nuanced political positions on the range of domestic and foreign policy issues a president must address, but it communicates the political company voters are willing to keep, and the trade offs they feel are acceptable for the sake of a winning coalition.
Those Trump signs stand outside the homes of Schrödinger’s Deplorables. Do they hate me personally because I’m a woman? Probably not. Are they a violent threat? Probably not.
But I can’t know for sure.
Neither can anyone else in a marginalized group, many of whom are in much more precarious situations. This is why my Facebook and Twitter feed were filled with anxiety, despair, the numbers for suicide hotlines, and information about health and legal services that can be accessed in the next two months. This sort of visceral fear is neither new nor irrational. It’s just become more public, more visible beyond the communities who instinctively and historically get it.
If you aren’t the sort of person who performs Schrödinger risk assessments (and really, are you sure you don’t need to?), pause for a moment to consider the perspective of those who do. Consider whether people are performing them when encountering you. Do you hate them personally? Probably not. Are you a violent threat? Probably not.
But they can’t know for sure.