Leonard Yang

I am an Asian-American, born in Hawaii and raised in the Midwest – Peoria, Illinois. I was transferred to a nearly all-Caucasian (three Asians, including my brother and one African-American in a school of over 300) to an inner-city school, mostly African-American, when we moved just before the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

I was immersed in the sounds of Motown and a culture unlike any I had experienced. I crossed the race line separated by police during the race unrest at the high school parking lot untouched by either side, and I witnessed the mob mentality on each side. I have experienced prejudice from whites and blacks. I have exhibited racially insensitive behaviors unintentionally and, regrettably, intentionally in the past of which I am ashamed. After examining the times that my thoughts and behaviors have fallen short of what I believe to be righteous, I have a better understanding of myself and my fellows.

In this divisive environment where there is no privacy and a binary judgment of right and wrong prevails, we must step back and look at a given situation without emotion and from all perspectives. The confrontation between various groups and the Catholic boys with the MAGA hats is instructive. Note how the dialog changed as more information was revealed.

No one is perfect. I think we should withhold judgment until more is known. This entails looking for past behaviors and positions that support or refute an alleged offense. Interview the subject and associates and, finally, view the matter in its context, and most importantly, do so impartially – which is the most difficult part, it seems.

A couple of years ago, a second-generation African-American nurse who was universally respected in our hospital emergency department thought it would be funny to dress up like a “porch monkey” for Halloween. Her friends – me included – squashed that idea pretty quickly. My mother, who is Japanese, loved irony and thought that I would be adorable to dress as a cannibal in second grade at Halloween. She is artistic and dyed long johns black and made me up in blackface and necklace and handed me a large bone from the local butcher. The staff at school — all white — thought it was cute and creative and presented me to the other classes, much to my mortification. I can tell you that Mom – a nurse – may not be politically correct but she is not prejudiced to race – maybe to dishonesty and cruelty but not to race.

I just toured the African-American Museum yesterday. I was struck at how the stereotypes that seem so garish and objectionable now were so mainstream when I was growing up, and how unconsciously I was not offended as I am now.

I graduated from medical school in 1980. We were still weeding out the sexist and racist messages from medical education during this time. Most physicians then were white, male and middle to upper class. I can tell you that this environment predisposed to conservative and judgmental biases for many of my classmates has, fortunately, been changing with the times. Medical practice can also change a person’s perspective in a good way if one listens and seeks to empathize and not judge one’s patients.

I suspect that Dr. Ralph Northam is in the empathetic group. The year 1984 was a long time ago – a generation and a half if not two. I have changed a lot have and grown more inclusive and objective since graduating from medical school. What has Dr. Northam done and said since then? I think that we should look at this in total context.

Leonard Yang, a medical doctor, is a resident of Winchester.