By David J. Park, DO, FAAFP, FACOFP dist.
2022–23 ACOFP President-Elect
I decided not to wait. I decided not to wait until I got a call that my father is in the emergency department with an intracranial hemorrhage because he was slammed into the street. I decided not to wait until my wife is hit with a metal pipe and sustains a facial laceration, or until my sister gets facial bone fractures from a rock in a sock, or my daughter gets spit on with demands to go back to China. These intolerable acts of Asian hate have actually happened to others in this country, and I can no longer wait. It is time for me to speak up and act. It is time for everyone to speak up and act.
My story is similar to millions of other Asian-Americans who have declared the United States home. I immigrated to this country with my parents in 1975 as a young child and became naturalized as a citizen of the United States as soon as I turned 18. I couldn’t wait to no longer be a foreigner with permanent resident status (green card) and to also legally change my first name from Jiyong (pronounced with a long “O”) to David. I studied and passed the required civics test, performed well on my interview and then took an oath of allegiance to the United States. It was a very proud day for me! I was officially an American, and I earned it.
To be completely transparent, I couldn’t wait to change my legal name for a deeper, more personal reason; I hated my Korean name. You see, starting in second grade, kids started calling me Jiyong Ching Chong. It rhymed (at least with the way they mispronounced my name), it caused laughs, and so it stuck. And it hurt. But as I think back now, I bet it hurt my parents a lot more when their seven-year-old son would come home crying because he hated his name and his identity.
Let there be no doubt that systemic ethnocentrism and xenophobia exist in the United States. The social plague of disdain and discrimination against people of non-white European descent is as old as the history of this country. For people of Asian origins, historical records show Chinese immigrants being victims of discrimination and exploitation starting in the mid-1800s. This plague continues today being manifested in a broad spectrum of words and actions at varying levels of intensity. On the mild end, Asian-Americans are marginalized or unseen due to implicit bias. On the extreme end, violent attacks are leading to injuries and death. I must say it is painfully tragic that many Americans have become so emboldened to willfully and openly display such hateful behaviors today.
Who is to blame? It is not one person nor one political party. It is not one group of people nor even one race of people. We are all to blame. I am sure we have all thought, said or done something prejudiced for which we can be accountable. I bet we have all laughed at an offensive racial joke or witnessed teasing or bullying and did nothing to intervene. I admit I am guilty of all of the above, but I have committed to change.
So what do we do? The answer is quite simple at a very high level but concurrently extremely complicated in the details. The answer is that we have to change our culture, because culture drives behavior. For the purpose of simplicity and for us to take some initial steps, I offer you an acronym as simple as ABC for immediate action.
- A = Ask. Ask yourself if acts of hate in America are OK. Ask yourself if you may have any biases or prejudices. Ask yourself what you are going to do about this.
- B = Back. Be brave and provide back up to any potential victim of hate, especially if it is happening right in front of you.
- C = Commit. Care about this social issue and commit to change.
Please join me in these first steps of ABC and encourage others in your circle of influence to do the same. I ask you to remember our commitment to care for our patients with unconditional positive regard, and the fact that every person on Earth is potentially our future patient.
I decided not to wait, and so I am speaking up and acting now. In reality, I am embarrassed I waited too long. So, if you are still waiting, then please join me in waiting no more and take these first steps of ABC.