It was a four-worded question that packed a punch: “Is this patriot enough?”
This is the question asked by Lee Wong, chairman of The West Chester, Ohio Township Board of Trustees, as he held up his shirt to reveal large, jagged scars across his chest.
These scars mark the time Wong served in the U.S. military.
A video clip of Wong’s speech circulated online and I was one of the millions who watched it and was moved by his words.
“People say I don’t look American enough or patriotic enough. People question my patriotism ... they can’t get over this face,” said Wong, 69, who retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years of active service.
“I want to show you something [...] because I’m not afraid,” he said as he removed his tie and then unbuttoned his shirt. “I don’t have to live in fear, intimidation, or insults.”
After pulling up his undershirt, with his scarred chest exposed, the veteran declared “Here is my proof [...] now is this patriot enough?”
His question made my heart seize.
There are many people, like Wong, walking around carrying invisible scars from their battles with hate.
Although the scars on Wong’s chest are from his time in the military, his painful question — “Is this patriot enough?” — revealed the scars no one can see.
I know I have mine. Plenty of my friends and family have their scars, too.
So do our coworkers, the people who stand ahead of us in fast-food lines, and fellow customers as we wait for our oil changes.
The help-line representative helping you figure out what’s wrong with your online order; the waiter who brought your refreshments to the table; and the grocery store cashier who just asked you to enter your preferred customer number on the keypad to get your store discount, probably have scars, too.
In the first few moments of the video, when Wong said, “ For too long we have, I have, put up with a lot of [explicative] in silence, too afraid to speak out, fearing more abuse and discrimination,” that’s when my heart began to hammer.
Although he spoke calmly and controlled, behind his words, I could hear that raging ocean of emotional turmoil caused by the discrimination his face brings — a beautiful face he had no say in receiving, but has to constantly justify.
Wong didn’t simply take this moment to empty his pain onto the dais where four other board members sat watching him, though. He also expressed his pleas and hopes for healing humanity.
“We are all the same, we are equal,” he said.
But the most compelling portion of his soliloquy was when he admitted “even I have mindless prejudice.”
Months ago I pleaded for us to address the elephants in the room and lay bare our real feelings, motivations, frustrations, and hopes when we dialogue.
Lee Wong did just that.
The rawness of his pain and admission to subconsciously contributing to the plague of prejudice is precisely the kind of conversation we need to have.
“Prejudice is hate,” Wong said. “That hate can be changed. We are human. We need to be kinder, gentler to one another.”
I have said this before, we must heal together but to do so we must have honest conversations.
We have to be willing to admit our faults and strive to improve our characters.
But we must also, as Wong said, “be kinder, gentler to one another.”
Imagine the outcome if we could demonstrate that one simple act.
Reach Marquita Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org