The Trump administration’s WeChat ban was supposed to go into effect Sunday, September 20, 2020. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the ban after it was challenged by lawyers representing Chinese American plaintiffs. As many of you know, this ban will make WeChat difficult, if not impossible, to use for millions of users.
But we’re not going anywhere.
Although we call ourselves The WeChat Project, we are first and foremost your children—young Chinese Americans who want to talk with our parents and grandparents. We will not stop having these conversations. WeChat is a complicated platform; while it plays a role in spreading misinformation, it is also a powerful tool for connection, organizing, and community-building. We laugh every time 奶奶 sends us a video of adorable puppies. We’ve witnessed WeChat users mobilize to create mutual aid funds and food drives when COVID-19 first hit. For many, ourselves included, WeChat serves as our main—and often our only—connection to relatives and friends overseas. Make no mistake: the Trump administration knows that banning WeChat will hurt millions of Chinese Americans, who are already othered as perpetual foreigners. This is a racist action, akin to a second Red Scare.
It is a difficult time to be yellow in the United States, and we are scared. In our American history classes, we have learned that the United States locked up Japanese Americans in concentration camps without trial during World War II, even though they had not committed any crime, and even though most of them were U.S. citizens. The United States feared Japanese Americans, simply because they looked like and represented the Japanese soldiers against which the American troops were fighting abroad.
At that time, Chinese Americans tried to survive by emphasizing that they were Chinese, not Japanese. They wore shirts proclaiming, “Me Chinese, please. No J**.” They pinned tiny American flags to their shirt lapels. They even signed up to fight for the US Army, risking their lives for a country that did not protect or care for them. We tried so hard to be the “good” kind of Asian, the “good” kind of foreigner.
The racialized conflation of Japan with Japanese American, of China with Chinese American, of Japanese and Chinese with each other, continues from the 1940s to today. In 2020, in the wake of COVID-19, clothing vendors began selling t-shirts with an eerily similar slogan: “I’m not Chinese; I’m Japanese.”
But as the WeChat ban—as well as the violence many of us have endured and/or witnessed following Trump’s decree that COVID-19 is a “Chinese virus”—should remind us that the “American” half of our identity cannot protect us Chinese Americans, because to be “American” still means, fundamentally, to be white. No matter how much effort we have poured into making our lives here in the United States, or how well integrated we think we are into safety and success, we remain vulnerable to accusations that we don’t belong. We ache when we hear people tell our hard-working parents to “go back to where they came from,“ and we seethe when we are told to stop spreading the “kung flu.” No matter what politicians like Andrew Yang claim, we can never truly “prove” we are “worthy” of being American to the white people that run this country.
The fact is: we are yellow—there is no escaping how we look. When the United States clashes with an East Asian country, East Asian people become the visual embodiment of the enemy. World War II has taught us that it doesn’t matter whether we are people of East Asian descent living here or abroad, whether we proclaim ourselves American or not. Our presence in the US has always been racialized—which means that as the United States ratchets up its current geopolitical contest with China, the entire Chinese diaspora will feel the effects. From no longer being able to contact our family and friends in China to experiencing attacks on our bodies and our businesses, U.S.-China tensions alter the terrain of our daily lives. As the feminist and writer Carol Hanisch stated in 1970: “the personal is political”—and the political, here, is deeply personal.
Where do we go from here? Times like this provide yet another reminder of why it’s critical to work in tandem with and in support of all communities hurt by white supremacy, in the United States and across the world. Our struggle—for anti-discrimination laws in the wake of rising hate crimes, against the gentrification of our beloved communities, for data disaggregation that better highlights our varying needs, and for justice for immigrants—goes on not only when conflicts and tensions make the headlines, but so long as white supremacy exists in any way, shape, or form. The WeChat Project is here to support that fight. Whatever happens to WeChat, we will keep talking with you, and we hope you’ll keep engaging with us. We will continue to post articles on ChineseAmerican.org and on our official website: www.thewechatproject.org, where you can subscribe to our newsletter.
This is not the end. Our Chinese American community is stronger than those who have no regard for it.
The WeChat Project