In May 2020, a Yale undergraduate named Eileen Huang wrote an open letter following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Writing on a blog called Chinese American, Huang warned of “the rampant anti-Blackness in the Asian American community that, if unchecked, can bring violence to us all.” Her appeal quickly went viral among Asian Americans on Twitter and on the Chinese platform WeChat, and sparked a conversation in the media about ways that Asian Americans have helped perpetuate racism. For lots of readers, the discussion was eye-opening. Others had a less positive response. Among the detractors was a subculture commonly known as “Men’s Rights Asians” or “MRAsians,” which has gained notoriety for harassing anyone—often Asian women—whom they see as a race traitor or threat to Asian men. And they took direct aim at Huang.
First there were threads mocking Huang on r/aznidentity, a subreddit with more than 44,000 members that is the unofficial hub of Men’s Rights Asians. But it wasn’t until January, when Huang began posting on TikTok about anti-Black racism, that the real harassment began.
After Huang posted a video about Asian celebrities appropriating Black culture, she began receiving hundreds of sexist and violent messages through email and social media. “The focus started to be on me and my personal life,” she told me recently. “I had to limit my comments on Instagram because people would comment, ‘Kill yourself,’ or ‘I’m going to rape you.’ ” Members of r/aznidentity began looking into her previous romantic relationships—including ones she’d had in high school—and denigrated her on the subreddit for having dated a white person. “She’s just another white worshipping Lu; we always have to take them down; She wants white men to try to kick our asses, but slap her ass,” one user wrote. (Lu is an epithet often used on the subreddit to insult Asian women.) They schemed about how to “cancel” her, encouraging one another to contact Yale in an attempt to get her expelled. Others tried to get her fired from her internship, and she was kicked off Twitter after they mass-reported her. “I’m not a celebrity with a PR team that can handle this. I was navigating it by myself and blocking people by myself, which meant I was forced to read a lot of the verbal abuse,” Huang said. One member of r/aznidentity even made an entire website and separate subreddit dedicated to keeping track of her activities. “He posted about me every day to ensure that r/aznidentity would not forget about me,” she said, adding that some “scary people” discovered her through the site. “Human brains are not programmed to receive that much violence over the internet.”
The harassment persisted for months, escalating when her attackers found an old sarcastic joke she’d made on Twitter in late 2020, before the spike in anti-Asian violence, when her following was small and mostly consisted of friends. It was an attempt, she says, to jab at Asian Facebook users who were spreading anti-Black messages: “Maybe it’s good to normalize racism against Asians,” she’d written. “It was obviously tongue-in-cheek,” she says now. She’d figured people would read the tweet, realize a young Asian woman had written it, and understand she wasn’t serious. When members of r/aznidentity discovered the tweet, the harassment against her escalated dramatically. Many began blaming her for the attacks, citing the joke out of context to suggest that she was earnestly promoting anti-Asian hate. “She seriously thinks some old lady deserves to get stomped in the face by some thug because once an old asian lady somewhere looked at a black person the wrong way,” one user wrote. “Eileen Huang has blood on her hands,” wrote another.
“I became a scapegoat for everything that subreddit despises the most,” Huang said. “I’ll always be a symbol of their worst fears and insecurities.”
Spend a little time on r/aznidentity, and you will quickly become immersed in the lingo of Men’s Rights Asians. The posts are dotted with contemptuous mentions of WMAF: white male–Asian female relationships. Bananarang refers derisively to an Asian woman who’s previously dated white men but is currently seeking a relationship with an Asian man. PAA, or “progressive Asian activist,” is a pejorative term similar to “social justice warrior” for Asians who ascribe to liberal, feminist values. The most common colloquialisms are Lu, referring to Asian women who “use their white/non-Asian partners to gain influence and put them in positions of power above other Asians,” and Chan, referring to Asian men who are “mentally colonized.” An anonymous r/aznidentity user whom I’ll call David, and who until recently was a moderator for the subreddit, explained the concept to me: “There are Asian Americans who can fit into white circles that other Asian Americans can’t. Because that Asian American can go into those circles, they believe they are superior.” All of these terms are defined in the subreddit’s official glossary.
Members of r/aznidentity reject the “Men’s Rights Asians” and “MRAsian” labels that are commonly associated with the group; they liken those terms to racial epithets. The members I spoke to claimed to be advocating for both Asian men and women. Granted, some of what they discuss on the forum isn’t really about gender at all, just general news about Asians in pop culture and current events. On a given day, the board might include posts dissecting Asian characters in Marvel films or praising Andrew Yang. The comments are often heterogeneous and laced with disagreement.
But the predominant preoccupation of the subreddit and its founders is with what they see as Western societies emasculating Asian men and unfairly elevating Asian women. American culture does indeed have a long track record of portraying Asian men as timid and asexual, but MRAsians see women as active accomplices in maintaining the stereotype, contending that, by dating white men, Asian women are upholding white supremacy.
Last year, a popular post addressed to Asian women shortly after the killing of Floyd read, “Maybe you should have had this ‘conversation’ about White Supremacy and anti-blackness when you were dating a new white guy every other week. … Were you too busy doing something else with your mouths?” If a particular Asian woman has had any sort of history dating white men, r/aznidentity members will denounce her as a turncoat who hates herself and her race. And that denouncement, historically, has been paired with harassment.
MRAsians were notorious Reddit marauders long before Eileen Huang became a target, tormenting other Asian Americans on the site and elsewhere on the internet. They’ve gone after Asian American actors and writers, and made life even worse for noncelebrities like Huang who’ve attracted their ire. Though their activity as internet trolls has waxed and waned over the years, it’s always played a role in the MRAsian movement’s larger mission: to tilt the broader culture more in favor of a supposed silent majority of Asian men. Because of their attempts to conceal their identities, it’s difficult to determine definitively whether r/aznidentity’s members are involved in particular instances of harassment. But there’s no doubt that moderators have encouraged harassment in the past, and Asian women have repeatedly become the targets of viciously sexist trolls shortly after being called out on r/aznidentity. The subreddit was designed not just as a place to vent, but as a community that could be activated for change. And its members contend that the conversation about race that’s played out during the pandemic has validated their worldview. That, in other words, now is their time.
“Despite all the racist accusations about us being racists, incels, hate sub, wumao, toxic asian men, this sub is the ONLY place that has consistently called out discrimination against Asians,” reads a post about the Atlanta spa shootings in March, which has more than 1,000 upvotes. “Everybody here was saying how discriminated we are, in popular culture, in institutions, at our workplace, in literally every facet of our life.”
To much of this community, two of the biggest stories about race in America in recent memory—the protest movement following Floyd’s murder and the attacks on Asians during the pandemic—underscore the subreddit’s thesis that America’s racial discourse has excluded Asians. (To them, the attacks are a prime exhibit for how little attention anti-Asian racism gets.) In this thinking, racial justice is a zero-sum game, and the increased focus on the Black experience has relegated Asian suffering to the bottom rung.
This resentment at being overlooked is then compounded by what members of r/aznidentity see as a biased refusal by the media, the public, and law enforcement to acknowledge that Black people are preying on Asians and escaping accountability. Another moderator, who goes by Asianmovement, told me that political correctness is what’s preventing the American mainstream from recognizing the role of Black people in the wave of anti-Asian attacks. “I believe that it is being underscrutinized by the mainstream, and I believe our users also believe it is being underscrutinized by the mainstream,” he said.
The moderators have pinned a massive “Crime mega thread” to the top of the subreddit, and members post stories and mug shots of assailants who happen to be Black and cite dubious Black-on-Asian crime statistics. (Studies indicate that three-quarters of the people perpetrating anti-Asian hate crimes and offenses in the U.S. have actually been white, with the caveat that hate crime data is notoriously piecemeal.) One of the most popular r/aznidentity posts from this year reads: “Black teens gang rape and murder mentally ill asian woman. No coverage from national media. Just another day in the United States of America.”
“The men in this forum truly see themselves as the ultimate victim, and so they see the erasure of Asian people in the United States as Black people’s fault,” said Julia DeCook, a professor at Loyola University Chicago who wrote her 2019 dissertation partly on the group’s development. “They think the only people who get attention for their oppression and the issues that they face are Black.”
It’s a cherry-picked analysis that elides contrary evidence, downplays solidarity between Asian and Black community leaders, and dismisses complicating questions of class and mental health. It’s also a stance that feeds into well-trodden model minority narratives.
“Asians, if anything, have proven that in an imperfect system that favors elites, it is possible to be able to build your own prosperity. You can, within 1 generation, pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” one r/aznidentity user wrote in a post about anti-Asian hate crimes. “This puts us in direct conflict with the racial narrative of the oppressed BIPOC and why the AA community is so damn split.” (Some members, however, are wary of how the attacks might be used to advance a partisan agenda. “Liberals try to justify violence against Asians when the attacker is black. Conservatives will downplay white on Asian violence,” a popular post from this year reads. “In the end, Asians still suffer.”)
Vexed discussions of Black “privilege” are not new to the subreddit. But in the past year, the resentment has given organizing energy to a group that has long found ways to cause ripples beyond its niche forums and target the group’s favored enemy: progressive Asians (“boba liberals”). “Boba libs literally value black feelings over Asian lives,” a post from May reads. This anger is especially pronounced against left-leaning Asian women who, by voicing a desire to combat anti-Blackness, are supposedly making their already-significant betrayal that much worse. These men “claim that Asian women basically just want to be white supremacists,” said DeCook. “They’re using this not only to solidify their victim status, but to also solidify and justify their misogyny.”
Aside from moderators like Asianmovement and others, the most prominent member of r/aznidentity’s ruling junta is its chief founder, a mod with the handle Archelogy, and formerly known as Arcterex117. He first reached out to me in 2019 when he found out I was interested in writing about r/aznidentity, offering to provide a perspective “as someone who conceived the subreddit.”
Before he started r/aznidentity, Archelogy was a member of an anti-feminist subreddit called r/asianmasculinity, which itself was an offshoot of the infamous men’s rights subreddit r/theredpill. (Members of r/theredpill created r/asianmasculinity to discuss issues facing Asian men from “a strong redpill perspective.”) Archelogy, who identified himself to me as South Asian, became interested in establishing his own subreddit while reading Alex Tizon’s book Big Little Man during a vacation in Cabo San Lucas. He said that the memoir, which examines how Asian American men navigate gender and race, spoke to the subtle bias he himself had faced in his professional and personal life. Archelogy and two like-minded Redditors, including Asianmovement, subsequently started r/aznidentity in 2015 as “an activist subreddit” after the mods of r/asianmasculinity banned them for being too political.
Archelogy told me that the criticisms r/aznidentity has faced boil down to an attempt by “white media” to “discredit a fast-growing, bold Asian community that won’t be passive like past generations.”
“We are an anti-racist subreddit which fights Anti-Asianism like hasn’t been done before,” he said. “We think deeply about race but we don’t polish our words or use stale academic language.” Case in point: He recently wrote, in a post criticizing progressive Asian Redditors, “It’s almost like the women and ‘men’ there have ingested so much white semen that there’s been some genetic transfer.”
The official r/aznidentity guidebook, written by Archelogy and other moderators, advises members to create sock puppet accounts on Twitter as a way to guard their anonymity while making it seem like their accounts belong to users with nothing to hide. The guide instructs members to use profile pictures of “decent looking” Asian men from Google image searches for these fake accounts.
Archelogy said this subterfuge is smart and necessary. “Activism,” according to him, is “more practical to do online and do so anonymously, until these viewpoints become part of the mainstream Overton Window of ‘acceptable’ discourse.” The goal of this army of fake Twitter accounts is to flood the mentions of their enemies and make it seem like their ideology is more widespread than it is. As the guidebook contends, “Over time, this can wear someone down.”
Huang, the besieged Yale student, eventually had enough of the harassment and decided to strike back. She dug around and uncovered the identities of several of her worst tormenters, and was surprised to discover that many of them were professionals with successful careers. “These men were not just some incels in their parents’ basement. Usually they were well-educated, high-income Asian men who had jobs in tech and master’s degrees in CS and engineering, successful and established people with a lot of power,” Huang told me. She proceeded to contact them directly, demanding that they cease their attacks. “When confronted with the reality and the harm that they were causing, they were always just so frightened. The anonymity emboldened them,” she said.
This was a rare example of accountability for the Men’s Rights Asians. While society has become more alert to the dangers of men’s rights movements and social media platforms have cracked down on hate speech, r/aznidentity has proved exceptionally nimble at escaping consequences.
After the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Reddit began banning communities that fostered hate speech, like r/incels. To avoid a similar fate, r/aznidentity moderators erased potentially offending posts and advised members to stop using incel language. Men’s rights terms like cuck and red pill, once common in the sub, were discouraged, even though the more niche terms like Lu and Chan remain. The mods also denounced harassment, seeking plausible deniability when it came to the troll campaigns.
These were mostly superficial changes, but they allowed the forum to escape sanctions from Reddit. A couple of months after Charlottesville, a moderator for r/asianamerican—a more progressive Asian American subreddit—wrote about the experience of being harassed by MRAsians for her interracial relationship. One comment posted about her read, “this subreddit has to have standards and to allow self-hating Asians to moderate it is unacceptable.” According to her telling, members of r/aznidentity flooded r/asianamerican with demeaning posts—and when moderators tried to crack down, some MRAsians circumvented the referees by buying sponsored r/aznidentity ads that showed up alongside regular posts on r/asianamerican.
In 2018, the author Celeste Ng similarly documented how MRAsians had hounded her and other Asian American women in a piece for the Cut. She interviewed 13 women who’d been harassed by MRAsians for having non-Asian partners and multiracial families. One of Ng’s harassers told her that her mixed-race child would become the next Elliot Rodger, the half-Chinese college student who sought revenge on women for not sleeping with him by killing six people in 2014. (When I asked Archelogy about this, he called Ng a “self-hating Asian” and suggested that the harasser who went after her child could well have been “a white troll.”) MRAsians, who rail against miscegenation, often cite Rodger as proof that relationships between Asian women and white men are doomed to produce violently dysfunctional children. The actor Constance Wu referred to these trolls as “Asian incels” after they attacked her because one of her previous boyfriends was white. And members of r/aznidentity, as Archelogy put it, have proudly “humiliated” and “whacked around” actor Ken Jeong, deeming him an “Uncle Tom” for the way he portrays Asian men on screen.
David (whom I interviewed before he disappeared from Reddit) told me that r/aznidentity does not condone coordinated attacks online, though he also argued that the community has been unfairly accused of harassment when what they are actually doing is highlighting real issues of discrimination against Asian men. “No one has a call to action to harass somebody. If there’s a thread out there, I will delete it,” he said. “Outside that, I don’t control people.”
Not much is known about the members of r/aznidentity, who guard their privacy carefully; none would tell me their real names. Asianmovement conducted a census in 2018 to get a picture of the membership, which at the time was about 16,100 users (it’s grown by nearly 28,000 since). According to figures that Asianmovement shared with me, most members ranged from 18 to 24, though there was a significant slice in their late 20s to mid-30s. About 70 percent of them resided in the U.S., and more than 50 percent of them had college degrees. Roughly 37 percent of the members were students, and about 9 percent worked in software.
David, currently in his mid-30s, told me he initially began looking for subreddits focused on Asian men after struggling with online dating. “I always assumed that if I was to find my place in society—I think this is something Asian guys always talk about—I had to make six figures, have muscles, be really whitewashed,” he said.
By his late 20s, David had found his six-figure job and was living in the “nice part” of his East Coast city. Yet he’d also spent two years paying for Match.com, sending messages to women a couple times a month with no luck. “I’d really never recognized how Asian men aren’t really idealized in the dating scene,” David said. “I only received maybe one or two messages back from girls. That’s what led me down the rabbit hole.” From there, David began consulting pickup artist groups, which eventually led him to r/aznidentity.
Asianmovement similarly told me that romantic troubles precipitated his path to the subreddit, blaming “internalized racism” among Asian women. “In my own personal life, I’ve been told by Asian women that they wouldn’t date me because I was Asian,” he said. “That’s what inspired me to look online. … You can’t really talk about this with your Asian female friends at the end of the day.”
Archelogy succeeded in cultivating a community of like-minded Asian men, but he has always aspired to extend r/aznidentity’s influence beyond the bounds of Reddit. Over the years, however, each time the subreddit tried to take its mission to the real world, its misogyny has hampered its reach.
One of those efforts was a site that Archelogy aggressively touted called Kulture, which launched in 2015, about a month before he founded r/aznidentity. Kulture described itself as a watchdog organization that tallied cases of “media oppression of Asian-Americans.” At first, Asian celebrities like chef Eddie Huang and director Jon Chu even followed Kulture’s Twitter account. But it soon became clear that the site was obsessed with how Asians were depicted in sexual terms, frequently calling out shows and movies that depicted relationships between Asian women and white men. Kulture also objected to media that contained gay Asian men, arguing that these portrayals were emasculating. Critics took note of how Kulture demonized female sexual agency, and after a brief flurry of publicity, the site never really caught its stride and hasn’t published anything since 2019.
As a larger initiative, Kulture had the whiff of vaporware. Its purported founder and editor, Tim Gupta, initially gave a couple of written interviews but then vanished from the internet—perhaps because he didn’t exist. The profile picture on Gupta’s Twitter and LinkedIn accounts actually belongs to another person, a Mumbai-based product manager at Google who told me he had no idea why someone would steal an image of his face for their accounts. Meanwhile, a set of $1,000 grants for projects aimed at promoting Asian masculinity as part of a “Kulture nonprofit” never materialized; the nonprofit did manage to raise tens of thousands of dollars because of Archelogy’s appeals on r/aznidentity, according to the organization that handles its bookkeeping. When I asked Archelogy about Tim Gupta, he simply said that Gupta had edited Kulture, but declined to comment further.
Users on the subreddit have also tried expanding their reach with YouTube channels, podcasts, and even a GQ-inspired Medium publication for “the modern wealthy and educated Asian American man” called Emperor Magazine that ran articles about Japanese whiskies and “self-hating” Asian women.
There’s one project that did come to fruition, however. In 2018, a user called the0clean0slate posted in r/aznidentity, “Believe or not, hot women want us in porn.” He went on to explain that he was crowdfunding and staffing a porn shoot with the goal of promoting a more virile image of Asian men by increasing their numbers in adult films. He even got an Asian American porn website called AsianSchlong to help with distribution and enlisted Masayoshi Mukai, a Japanese American porn star better known by his stage name Jeremy Long, to advise participants. Mukai chimed in on the Reddit thread: “Can’t wait to see a new generation of Asian Schlongs in the industry.”
The0clean0slate raised $3,197.96 from the subreddit and ultimately released a nine-minute porn video on sites like Pornhub. Featuring a professional porn actress and an Asian male co-star making his debut, the video was shot in Los Angeles by a crew that included five Redditors who’d donated to the effort. The plot follows a white female Twitch streamer in a relationship with an Asian man. After reading derogatory comments about her partner online, the woman exclaims, “No, his dick ain’t small. Fuck you!”—and streams herself having sex with him to stick it to the racists.
But there was a hitch: The female character was a thinly veiled reference to a real person, a white Twitch streamer who had faced actual online vitriol for marrying an Asian man. She wasn’t happy with the pornographic portrayal of her harassment; according to the0clean0slate, her manager filed a copyright notice with Reddit and insisted that the video’s creators never mention the streamer’s name. They complied. But the porn itself is still easy to find on tube sites. The r/aznidentity members behind the shoot were bent on promoting a more virile image of Asian American men. The woman they dragged into their crusade was collateral damage.
According to the International Adult Film Database, the Asian male actor never appeared in an adult film again. Then, about six months after the shoot, Masayoshi Mukai—the legendary Jeremy Long—abruptly left the game too.
In September 2018, Mukai wrote a lengthy public statement announcing his retirement. He’d entered the adult industry in order to combat stereotypes that desexualize Asian men, yet he described an emotional toll from the work that had driven him to abuse drugs and eventually crash his car a year earlier, killing a close friend. After the accident, he chopped off a section of his left pinky in accordance with the Japanese atonement ritual of Yubitsume. Mukai wanted to normalize Asian male sexuality, in part by guiding r/aznidentity’s porn shoot, but explained that he’d ultimately been consumed by his demons.
Mukai said he voluntarily elected to serve a 10-year sentence on charges related to the incident and reported to a California jail in January 2019. (Mukai did not respond to a letter sent to the wildfire cleanup camp where, according to California’s Inmate Locator database, he is currently incarcerated.) In his retirement statement, he offered a piece of advice to his sexually frustrated supporters. “There’s a ceiling to the amount of sex that will fulfill your life, and it’s quite low, and a place once reached, pretty disheartening,” he wrote. “And those who have an unsuccessful sex-life at the heart of their unhappiness will quickly realize their unhappiness is grounded in something else.”
In June 2020, after nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Reddit once again revamped its policies on hate speech, harassment, and coordinated trolling. As a result, the site removed roughly 2,000 subreddits. R/aznidentity was not one of them. Some r/aznidentity members fretted over the purge, but others were confident they’d sidestep enforcement. One member said it would be bad optics for the site to ban a subreddit for people of color amid the flare-up of racial unrest. “I think this sub will be spared only because the current mods made efforts in cleaning it up well,” another member wrote.
David said he wanted to redirect the anger that pervades the subreddit, telling me when he was still a moderator that “the best I can do is to make sure that there’s not another Elliot Rodger out there.” But in the guide outlining their “Core Views,” moderators continue to blame “self hating” and “brainwashed” Asian women for upholding white supremacy with their romantic choices. David told me he believes he “has a right to analyze” Asian women’s relationships. “It’s really delusional to think that Asian women being fetishized and sexually violated and surviving centuries of abuse by white men is liberation for us,” Huang said. “The goal of that subreddit is for Asian men to be seen as desirable by the white gaze.”
The surge of violent attacks against Asian Americans over the course of the pandemic has, unexpectedly, knitted together two different threads of what MRAsians hate about progressivism: empowerment of Asian women and an emphasis on the experience of Black people. Braided together, it’s a kind of warped, photo-negative intersectionality.
For the mods of r/aznidentity, this moment is an opportunity to rally an increasingly engaged membership around the forum’s peculiar ideology. “Our subreddit has received a great deal of attention from other Asians and we have received a huge upshot of activity,” Asianmovement told me. “Many on r/aznidentity have known the true face of white America for what it really is—a veneer of racism hidden in politically correct speech.” Archelogy told me that coordination for an activism campaign known as “Phase 2” now happens in a private Slack, outside the public Reddit community.
Assaults on Asians continue to be a trending topic on the forum. As with any complex issue, it’s easy to sell an ideology if you offer simple answers and obvious villains. In a March essay on the surge of anti-Asian violence and resulting resentment of Black people, writer Jay Caspian Kang described “an ascendant Asian-American conservative movement whose main appeal came from upending the carefully constructed, nuanced narrative about the place of Asians in the American racial hierarchy.” While members of r/aznidentity would hardly describe themselves as conservative—they are largely anti-Trump, for one thing—the subreddit’s blunt and regressive polemics have certainly amassed a following. As Kang writes, “Who will sound like the truth-teller, and who will sound like the out-of-touch liberal who talks vaguely about the need for unity?”
While r/aznidentity has ambitions to intensify its crusade, Huang said she has hope some members will eventually free themselves from the myopic worldview of the subreddit. “People on the subreddit do experience real racial trauma,” she said. “I just think that the subreddit is not the place where they should be looking for solidarity and compassion and community.” She described a thread about former MRAsians that she came across in an Asian American Facebook group. It contains several accounts from young men who once believed in the MRAsian philosophy, often as teenagers, but then realized their anger toward Asian women was misguided. In that group, she read a nuanced discussion about Asian men needing healthier spaces to express their frustrations and the ways in which gender norms fueled their anger. “It was really encouraging,” she said.
Huang, for her own part, is taking a hiatus from posting on social media. “Being doxxed to that extent made creating content that much more painful and traumatizing for me,” she said. The harassment largely died down over the summer, and she’s used this respite to assist on-the-ground community organizers who are combatting anti-Asian violence. Huang does plan to eventually resume her online activism, defying those who sought to drive her off the web. “I can assure them, I’m not going away,” she said. “Even if I’m taking a break, I will be back.”