Content Warning; This goodbye contains discussion of language appropriation, white privilege, and racism.
Twenty-one years ago I spent around three weeks trying to decide on a domain name for my first website. I considered so many choices, the vast majority of which were unavailable.
I wanted something super short, memorable, and representative of me.
Around the same time I was working on a series of drawings that incorporated Chinese characters, specifically Mandarin hanzi. I used a visual hanzi dictionary for reference, and was looking through it for art inspiration when I came across the character 雷 (léi) which translates to thunder, I loved the aesthetic of the character and it was made up of thirteen strokes, my lucky number. I thought the “phonetic” spelling might make a cool domain name, but léi was not available.
In hindsight I should have stopped there, but past me felt I was onto something so I continued searching and found 虎 (hŭ) which translates to tiger. I thought this was “cool” because both myself and my first son were born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of Tiger. It was perfect. I rushed to the registrar and léi hŭ combined was an available domain name.
I bought leihu.com, right then. I didn't know, and would not realize for a very long time, that buying leihu.com wasn't a very cool thing to do.
At the time of domain registration I was a practicing Buddhist and deeply interested and invested in expanding my cultural horizons. But. I was also an oblivious and privileged white man and as such wasn't truly considering the long term impact of my choices.
I've long considered the name choice and some of my early design decisions as homage or appreciation of a culture I adore, but I'm not a part of. Harmless, right? As I've gotten older and learned more about the realities of racism, and the unearned privileges that allowed me do inconsiderate things without real consequences, I came to understand the choices I made were at best problematic and at worst emblematic of colonialism and harmful to the Chinese community.
I'm very embarrassed by the amount of time I spent thinking that a white man “branding” himself online with a Chinese name was acceptable.
For most of leihu.com's existence I didn't even think about it at all. No one has ever pointed it out or said anything about it to me.
As I spoke to folks 1 about this specific decision I discovered most people, even some Chinese language speakers, didn't realize that leihu.com was hànyǔ pīnyīn. This in no way excuses my behavior or choices. It only serves to illustrate how easy it was for me to not realize the name and my use of it to be inappropriate.
I came to this understanding in the last months of 2021, the year leihu.com turned twenty. Since then I've been working on a solution. I started talking to folks, making plans, and determining a path forward.
In full disclosure, I reasoned with myself that since it wasn't coming from a place of hate it wasn't really a problem. However, I quickly recognized that because I have so much time and effort tied to the domain, I was just trying to give myself an excuse to prevent the loss of something I had built, loved, and curated for twenty years.
Grasping at anything I could to prevent the loss.
Historically I've been a late bloomer, and this is no exception. But now that I know better, I must do better.
What's the plan?
My plan is to transition to this domain (artisticoutlaw.com). The content transfer is complete, but unfortunately the email transition from leihu will take a long time as I have 560+ Internet accounts tied to leihu.
That said starting on July 11th leihu.com will be taken down and replaced with a landing page pointing to this article, it will only serve as an email domain until I get all my accounts changed over, my goal is to have this done by July 2023 at which point leihu.com will no longer exist as an Internet destination.
I will be making donations to charity groups that help and support the Chinese community.
At the time of this writing I am still researching this to make sure my donations go to reputable non-profits. Update: I have made donations to The Oakland Asian Cultural Center, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
If you have any further donation suggestions, please email me.
In closing, I want to sincerely apologize to the Chinese community for appropriating your language for personal branding purposes. It was a bad decision made by a clueless past me. And while I'm not perfect and will likely continue to make mistakes born of ignorance. Whether I'm externally corrected, or as in this case realize for myself that I've fucked up, I promise I will always listen with humility, sit with my mistakes, learn from them, and “fix” things however I'm able.