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I will not be trolled into silence on the issues that face our country
I will not be trolled into silence on the issues that face our country
Who am I?
I was at a Family Dollar store getting some discounted ant traps, when a reporter from NBC San Diego called to schedule an interview with me to discuss the newly released California Reparations Task Force Interim Report, which “details the harms of slavery and systemic discrimination on African Americans.” Little did I know that that interview would trigger a chain of emotional reactions in the form of online trolling.
My comments in response to the groundbreaking report commissioned by the California state government primarily reflected upon three main problems. First, the reparations task force failed to distinguish between descendants of African slaves and black Americans who are not so descended. Second, the report’s proposals with respect to, among other things, free health care, free college tuition, and zero-interest home loans may violate the Equal Protection clause and California’s constitutional ban on racial preferences. Last but not least, perpetuating race-based treatment will further divide the country while not solving any real problems of access or performance. I have also written an opinion piece scrutinizing the higher education section of the reparations report.
Intended to misrepresent my policy analysis on a complex issue as racial animus, these colorful comments oscillate between nativist assertions that an Asian woman has no business of talking about reparations to sensational innuendo that I am serving the interest of white supremacy. Some told me to “go back to your country.” Another belittled my music taste for Tracy Chapman because “you hate black people but don’t mind listening to our music.” This sort of incendiary verbiage is eerily similar to an attempt in 2020 to silence me at a community townhall, when a group of self-identified American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) activists shouted me down for quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They argued that I did not have the right to mention Dr. King’s name.
The trouble is, in spite of my foreign-sounding name and permanent accent, I have spent over a third of my life in America, including the formative years during which I developed an understanding of the world around me and my place in it. This is the only country where I belong and can think of “going back to.”
It is true that my ancestors did not partake in the building of the transatlantic railroad or suffer the loss of rights due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But I submit that my commitment to a national identity that transcends political, racial, ethnic, and religious divisions qualifies me as an American, no less than my fellow countrymen whose predecessors had deeper roots in this land. That identity is couched in reverence for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and laws of the land, a strong faith in America’s founding values and principles, and a profound belief in colorblindness.
Constitutional colorblindness, attacked and vilified today more than ever as a regressive tool of sociopolitical control by “white men in power,” is the cement necessary for holding together our naturally diverse and pluralistic society. This is not to argue for indifference to divergent individual and group characteristics, but to recognize a common destiny that binds us all and overshadows our tribal differences. In the domain of public reason, colorblindness translates into an unapologetic adherence to the vision of equality, a fundamentally liberal idea rooted in equal treatment and equal access on an individual basis. Or in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, “[i]n the eyes of government, we are just once race here. It is American.” For the cardinal principle of colorblindness to prevail, we must learn to reconcile the inevitable conflicts between the timeless vision of our founding documents and the confounding realities of any given moment, and we must recognize that our inevitable failures to live up to our ideals result from human fallibility, not from a failure of the ideals themselves.
Sadly, we as a society seem to be engaged, both voluntarily and involuntarily, in a petulant project of nullifying our high ideals on account of observed disparities and corrosive assumptions of racism and bias. For both political expediency and economic gains, establishment partisans and mass media platforms seek to over-amplify our differences across a growing number of identity categories and portray society as a crude abstraction of privilege and oppression, as if we live in a cartoon. Toxic divisions follow, and if unaddressed, will lead to a rapid breakdown of our social cohesion and shared cultural foundation. It is under this broader context of manufactured divisions that my detractors have been emboldened to bombard me with hundreds of unsolicited messages, commenting not on valid facts or the merits of my argument, but in reference to their perceptions of my identity.
So, you ask, what is at stake if some anonymous person trolls a wannabe public intellectual like me? After all, I put myself out there for scrutiny and those disagreeing with me have the liberty to express their opinions. For one, freedom of opinion, when expressed as a relentless trolling of hated opinions, is not liberty, but rather, as Walter Lippmann observed in 1919, a “freedom of error, illusion, and misinterpretation” that gnaws at the very roots of our democracy. Lippmann goes on:
Time and energy that should go to building and restoring are instead consumed in warding off the pinpricks of prejudice and fighting a guerrilla war against misunderstanding and intolerance. For suppression is felt, not simply by the scattered individuals who are actually suppressed. It reaches back into the steadiest minds, creating tension everywhere; and the tension of fear produces sterility.
Devoid of objective information or standards of evidence, heckling another for their free expression undermines the public sphere by distracting from nuanced policy issues deserving of collaborative deliberations. Will free college tuition help close down the academic achievement gap? Is race-preferential healthcare the answer to differential morbidity among the most impacted population groups? Can lowering standards solve a growing national crisis of illiteracy and mediocrity? And most importantly, who gets to talk about what?
To stay true to my disciplined resistance to the primal pull of race or ethnicity, I pronounce, in answer to the question with which I opened this essay, that I am an American who happens to come from China and I shall continue to exercise my right and passion to thoughtfully investigate and speak out about issues that impact all Americans. I urge you to join me and the club of free thinking, the membership of which is nonexclusive in a nation so diverse as ours, so long as you are more committed to the pursuit of the truth than to any impulse of tribalism.
Wenyuan Wu holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Miami and is the Executive Director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. She previously served in the same capacity for the historic “No on Prop 16 Campaign.” Since late 2020, Wenyuan has focused her advocacy and research work on combating the intrusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in American public life. She and her team launched a website to provide practical resources for everyday Americans facing CRT. Wenyuan also authored a booklet on CRT in spring 2021 and organized a bi-partisan and multi-racial coalition against CRT. Wenyuan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.