Photo: Jade/Getty Images/Blend Images
The men who harass me know three things: I’m Chinese-American, my husband is white, and our son is multiracial. You hate Asian men, they insist; you hate your own child. You hate yourself. I once received 27 tweets — calling me everything from “irrelevant” to “liar” to “coward” to “neglectful gaslighting mother” — in 48 hours, from one person. I save these messages in a folder on my computer to document the abuse. Whenever I upgrade my laptop, I copy them over, little packets of poison I must keep and carry forever.
I’ve gotten messages like this for more than four years, ever since my first novel — featuring a family with an Asian father and a white mother — was published and my own mixed family became public knowledge. But this message arrived in August — #AsianAugust, some were calling it, because of the huge success of Asian-centered films like Crazy Rich Asians, Searching, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It was a moment when Asian-Americans were celebrating as a community, yet here was a hate message plummeting out of the blue into my inbox. And like most of the harassing messages I receive, it came from an Asian man.
In frustration, I shared the message on Twitter, and most people were appalled. I’d thought I was alone, or just unlucky, but as I spoke to other women — 13 for this piece — I realized it wasn’t just me. Targeted harassment from Asian-American men toward Asian-American women over choosing a non-Asian partner or having multiracial children, I discovered, is widespread, vicious, and devastating. We tell kids, “Ignore bullies and they’ll go away,” but the thing about ignoring bullies is that even if they leave you alone, they find other targets.
For instance, actress Hana Wu was targeted on Twitter after she tweeted a film trailer in which her character has a relationship with a white man, and she soon began receiving misogynistic messages on Instagram.
On Reddit, users speculate freely about Asian women’s sexual relationships. “Perhaps she settled for a black guy because she couldn’t snag a white boyfriend?” suggests a thread on writer Jenn Fang, who is the founder of the Asian-American blog Reappropriate — and is married to a black man. Another reads: “She probably dated a village of White guys before she dated the black guy to be ‘edgy’ and further her SJW career.”
Hateful language is also directed at the women’s multiracial children. Sometimes it’s direct and horrific: Writer Christine Tan — whose husband is white and whose son is multiracial — received the following email via her personal blog, a few months after suffering a miscarriage. Here’s just the first half of the message.
Other times, the implied violence is more subtle. About half the women I spoke with shared messages in which harassers called their children (or hypothetical children) “the next Elliot Rodger.” Elliot Rodger was a 22-year-old who killed 6 people and wounded 14 others near the UC Santa Barbara campus in 2014 — leaving behind a “manifesto” blaming his mixed-race heritage and rejection by women as his motive — and the harassers invoke his name frequently as an argument against interracial dating and multiracial children.
The volume and venom of these messages has real-world consequences for these women. They told me they reduced their internet presence afterward — making it harder to share their work and get new work. Some writers told me they shied away from writing about race, relationships, or identity. Some quit altogether.
Although the messages come from many users, one particular subgroup on Reddit seems to be the root for most of this harassment. Writers Mimi Wong, journalist Clarissa Wei, and the vast majority of women I spoke to for this piece (including me) were all targeted after being highlighted on “AZNidentity” — which frequently calls out Asian women its members disapprove of.
Officially, AZNidentity describes itself as “a Pan Asian (East, Southeast, South, Central) community against all forms of anti Asian racism.” Though some of the posts on the forum do focus on Asian identity and fighting racism, on the day I checked, 18 of the 30 most recent posts — and 20 of the 30 top posts of all time — explicitly discussed Asian women’s choice of sexual partners. Derogatory and misogynistic language is common: “Lu,” “self-hating AF” [Asian female], “colonial mentality,” “white worshipping.” On this board, all these terms are used liberally, and virtually interchangeably, to denigrate Asian women thought to be ashamed of Asian culture. Almost always, the “proof” is that they have relationships with non-Asian men.
On Twitter, some refer to this type of misogynist harasser as “MRAsians,” because their behavior resembles that of so-called “Men’s Rights Activists”: anti-feminist, threatened by women’s power, and preoccupied with men’s perceived disempowerment. There are also echoes of the incel movement, in which men see their “involuntary celibacy” as the root of their struggles and view women as a commodity. The men harassing Asian women about their interracial relationships may not all know each other, but they are linked by a common ideology: a belief that Asian women shouldn’t date outside their race — and that as Asian men, they have the right to voice this opinion through toxic harassment.
But the outlook of the Asian men behind messages — and posts — like those above also echoes another group: white supremacists. A startling number of posts on subreddits like AZNidentity, as well as harassing messages on social media, use language like “cultural genocide” and “eugenics.”
Asian men face long-standing stereotypes that they’re socially awkward, unmasculine, or sexually unattractive, and these perceptions often put them at a disadvantage, from academics to work to dating apps. From their posts, it’s clear that Asian men like those on AZNidentity believe they’re fighting a constant battle against a culture that’s out to get them.
To this community, it’s a scarcity model: Asian women who succeed are accused of succeeding “at the expense of” Asian men. The worst scarcity, they believe, is in the dating pool: Asian women who “marry out” are perpetuating the stereotype that Asian men are undesirable. (The reverse, however, is not true — relationships between Asian men and white women are celebrated, with AZNidentity even crowdfunding a porno based on such a couple.) Asian women who have mixed children, it’s assumed, will raise them to prefer non-Asians, perpetuating the cycle.
If Asian men lose out in jobs and in dating, the logic goes, the result will be the extinction of Asian men — in cultural relevance, and possibly literally. Thus, in the eyes of these men, interracial relationships and multiracial children are “eugenics” — selectively “breeding” Asian men out of existence — but inter-Asian marrying to create “pure” Asians, as they put it, is commendable.
There’s a range of behavior from men who engage in this harassment on Reddit, Twitter, and other channels. The problem is that even legitimate concerns end up entwined with these more extreme views. Some of the men on these forums argue that they are overlooked culturally and that Asian women’s activism sidelines them — a point that the Asian community can and should civilly discuss further. However, most speak not about cultural representation and activism, but about what they perceive as a dearth of dating opportunities for Asian men. The most toxic posts come from men who argue for racial purity and refer to Asian women as if they are commodities rather than people. Yet men all along this spectrum of opinions engage in similar harassing behavior, using similar misogynistic language and similar bullying tactics — and placing the blame for the entire array of complaints squarely on Asian women.
Read even a small sample of messages and you’ll notice they focus overwhelmingly on who an Asian woman chooses (or doesn’t choose) as a sexual partner. While Asian men in interracial relationships face this as well — Eddie Huang has tweeted, “my dm box and LIFE is full of azn women that come at me for having dated non-Asian women and its foul” — the harassment is directed almost exclusively, and most viciously, at Asian women in relationships with non-Asian men.
I know this all too well myself. These harassers frequently brand me “self-hating” and accuse me of “hating Asian men” — because I have a white husband, and because of a tweet I posted years ago in which I acknowledged I wasn’t always attracted to Asian men.
They have a valid complaint here: My tweet fed into those stereotypes that Asian men are unsexy, and when people pointed this out, I rethought my own biases. Growing up, the only Asians I knew were my cousins — so, as I admitted, when I see Asian men, my first instinctive feeling is often kinship rather than sexual attraction. This is a shortcoming in me, not them, and it’s something I’ve worked — and am still working — to unlearn.
But though I’ve addressed this topic multiple times, it doesn’t matter to the harassers. They send a screenshot of that tweet repeatedly at me and anyone who tries to support me, passing the .jpg along on Reddit like a shared baseball bat for anyone who wants to take a swing.
In their messages, these harassers often claim Asian women don’t care about the issues facing Asian men, or even that they believe the stereotypes. But for the women I interviewed, the opposite was true. Nearly every woman acknowledged how hard it was to be an Asian man.
“I will fight anyone who wants to emasculate Asian men,” YA author Ellen Oh wrote me. “But I won’t do it at the expense of misogynistic hate toward my sisters. There are many enlightened Asian males out there who are able to see that Asian women who promote women’s rights, including the right to date and marry whoever the hell they want, are not the enemy.”
Several women had hesitated to speak publicly about the harassment, fearing it would make Asian men look bad. “It’s family matters,” several said.
I worry, too: that revealing this harassment will make the Asian community look weak when we’re finally making strides in representation. The instinct to close ranks is incredibly strong, instilled in me since childhood by my proudly Chinese-American parents, and by generations of cultural tradition that says: Don’t show weakness to outsiders.
But though these women still felt some solidarity with their harassers — family matters — that feeling is one-way. Even women who explicitly support Asian men can be targeted by this group if their support is deemed insufficient. Nancy Wang Yuen, a professor of sociology at Biola University, was harassed because she advocated for others in addition to Asian men. “Her posts become about other POC [people of color], often not even Asian,” a Reddit post complains. “I have to scroll pages to see one comment on her speaking to anything about Asian men.”
Many people don’t know this harassment is happening, but even those who do often stay silent. Few Asian men speak out, knowing that the harassers turn on anyone who displeases them. One woman said a prominent Asian man privately gave her advice about harassment, but he said he would get heat if he got involved directly. In another case, when an Asian man tweeted against the harassment of an Asian woman, the harassers contacted his workplace and asked to have him fired. Still others refuse to believe that the harassment is real: After I shared examples of harassment, some people tried to convince me that a white person sent the message to stir up intra-Asian infighting. This could be a very long con — but it seems unlikely.
Officially reporting the harassment often leads nowhere, leading many women to stay silent. When I made reports to Twitter and Reddit, I received no response, and local police said the messages were deplorable but didn’t reach the level of criminal harassment.
Despite fear of reprisal, however, many Asian women have begun to speak about the targeted harassment they’ve experienced, and several prominent Asian men, such as Phil Yu of the blog Angry Asian Man, writer Jonny Sun, Eddie Huang, and Arthur Chu have recently denounced this behavior, too. With no official recourse, the best way to combat this type of harassment may be bringing it into the open — with the entire Asian community, men included, speaking against it wherever it occurs. Asians are not a monolith; we will inevitably disagree on particular opinions or pieces of work. But empathy and thoughtful conversation must be the goal, and the entire Asian community must work together to end the misogynist harassment that prevents it. It is, in this way, a family matter: We have to support each other.