This article was translated into Chinese and published on WeChat through a collaboration with Chinese for Affirmative Action
Written by Ding
Reports about "Critical Race Theory (CRT)" being banned in public schools, including Florida and many other states (Source)
As an increasing number of states banned “critical race theory (CRT)” from public school classrooms, it has been so upsetting to see how Asian Americans connected our community trauma (Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants, for example, who have left or even fled communist regimes) to CRT influenced by partial and mischaracterization of CRT. When I wrote the article Five Myths of Ethnic Studies half a year ago, I didn’t anticipate the misinformation and mischaracterization of CRT to be a recurring theme in the education field. Could I find more nuanced, balanced information about CRT on WeChat? I decided to find out.
To prevent my judgment from being too skewed by political bias, anecdotal evidence, or my own information cocoon, I forwent my usual WeChat article reading and searching habit. Instead of reading whatever was shared with me through the “friend circle” social feature or pushed to me through the “official account” newsfeed feature, I applied academic research strategies trained by my information science profession.
On July 6, 2021, I conducted a keyword search for "批判种族理论", the Chinese translation of Critical Race Theory, in Sogou, the default search engine Tencent chose for WeChat, which generated 520 results. Here is what I found after reading the first fifty results:
Among the randomly generated 50 WeChat articles with the keyword "批判种族理论", the Chinese translation of Critical Race Theory, 35 were right-wing portrayals of CRT, 11 were relatively neutral discussions with opinions from different sides, and only 4 focused on progressive voices.
Screenshots of some articles found by the author while searching
Among the 35 right-leaning WeChat articles of CRT, 20 were direct translations of the speech or articles of Trump, Mike Pompeo, James A. Lindsay, Christopher Rufo, Roger L. Simon, and other anti-woke/conservative figures without much contextualization or discussion. In particular, it is unbelievable that the work of Roger L. Simon has been shared thousands of times on WeChat, given that he is the Editor-at-Large at The Epoch Times, a far-right newspaper and media company, which is strictly censored on WeChat due to its anti-China leaning.
What is even more concerning than the mischaracterization and misconceptions of CRT in connection to community trauma and the disproportionately right-wing coverage of CRT on WeChat is the outright false information. For example, one article astoundingly cites primarily the far-right fake news website, Gateway Pundit, which is known for publishing false information and conspiracy theories. Sadly, even Chinese immigrant parents who received STEM PhDs and millennials who live in liberal states share some of these articles with misinformation and fake news with me.
The original report of the Columbia Press Review: (Source)
I was shocked when first reading the description from Columbia Journalism Review of the political discourse on WeChat as “asymmetrically polarized, with the right leading in volume, reach, and skewed issue agenda.” But as much as I want to defend WeChat by listing all the progressive official accounts focusing on feminism I am following, after this search of CRT and after witnessing the recent shutdown of Chinese school-based LGBTQ community WeChat official accounts, I had to admit the truth in this criticism.
To be clear, it is not my intention to advocate for or against CRT in this article. As a librarian and media literacy educator, I have had thousands of patrons come to me with different opinions on contentious issues, and most times, I validate their positions. In the meantime, however, I challenge them to verify sources to get credible information, to think critically about their side, and most importantly, to understand the freedom of speech of different sides. I am concerned when one side is marginalized, and while the complaints about cancel culture in US media are usually made by conservatives, WeChat is exactly the opposite.
Indeed, it is one thing to have a different opinion, and quite another to be complicit in censorship, fake news, and conspiracy theories. With the world turning increasingly polarizing, it is both our right and obligation to read opinions and check facts from both sides, especially because so many of us rely on WeChat to make sense of, and engage in the American society.
As such, I am calling out the single-sided, fake, and misleading information of WeChat articles about CRT that deprive us Mandarin-speakers of seeing the whole picture. One big critique of CRT has been that it would divide the nation and indoctrinate the younger generation. Yet, judging from WeChat, it is the disproportionate right-wing information landscape that is even more divisive and brainwashing, rather than the actual difference between different sides. We should at least listen to the children that many conservative activists are trying to “protect” from CRT. We should also recognize the heterogeneity within each camp and separate CRT as a theory from praxis.
A related report in "Time" weekly, with the accompanying text: If we can't promote these difficult conversations, how can our children do it?
My CRT mini-search is only the tip of the iceberg. Fernbach and Boven from the University of Colorado at Boulder published an article in June 2021 using empirical studies to show how people overestimate the magnitude of political polarization. The last thing I want is for WeChat, a platform I, like most Chinese American immigrants, not only rely on to communicate with most of my families and Mandarin-speaking friends and students, but also read, share, and publish social and cultural commentary articles and podcast episodes, to become a hotbed mainly for far right narratives, fake news, and conspiracy theories.