Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 2

Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 2

Mom and Dad’s wedding picture (1945)

Background: To reiterate from my previous blog post, Theresa and Ed Wynne are my deceased parents. My father died in 1966 at the young age of fifty-six and my mother forty years later in 2006 at eighty-eight years of age.

I recently came up with the idea of having imagined exchanges with them about my memoir as a unique way to illuminate the foundational aspects of my life’s journey in “understanding racism”. So, I have developed these conversations in ways we may have talked with each other when they were still alive… and perhaps they are whispering in my ear now! I have also attempted to frame the dialogue in a way that provides some insight on who I think they were as people of the times they lived in, as well as the significant influencers they were as my parents.

I plan on adding similar blog posts for each chapter and perhaps beyond, so these conversations will be continuing. Chapter 2 of my memoir is titled ‘The 1960s: A Cacophony of Change’.

Ed: “So, now onto the crazy 1960s and the title of this chapter is aptly named. The ‘people and events’ section at the beginning sure covers a lot of territory and you overlooked one I thought would be listed: the Beatles! They sure were a trip at the beginning of the so-called “English Invasion” with their long hair!”

Bill: “Don’t know how I missed that one, Dad, but there were many others that could have been included as well. My objective in providing these lists for each chapter was to help readers relate to the times that I was personally experiencing and “change” was a huge part of that decade for myself and the entire family as you well know. We all still miss you!”

Theresa: “The assassinations, Vatican II, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, protests, and on and on sure made it seem like the whole world was losing its collective mind but I guess in many ways every decade has its moments. It’s just that some may seem more personal than others.”

Me: “That’s a great point, Mom, and since this is a memoir of my life in ‘understanding and combating racism’, and as pointed out in the book, upon reflection while I was writing it this decade was a complete recollection blur in developing my understanding about racism back then. We discussed some of this in my previous conversation with you both and it was symptomatic of the times I guess, but it still doesn’t excuse my lack of empathetic awareness for the plight of our Black brothers and sisters. Note that “Black” or “African-American” are the terms used today vs. “colored” or “Negro” in your day, but were eventually considered offensive and outdated by most Blacks and society. This is a sign of improved racial awareness but there is still a very long way to go.”

Ed: “You realize that we tried to expose you to the world through getting you involved with programs like ‘Boys State’ as you mentioned in this chapter and also through your education. During this decade you graduated from three notable Catholic institutions which your mother and I sacrificed greatly for you and your other siblings. The nuns at Blessed Sacrament, the Jesuits at McQuaid, and the Franciscans at St. Bonaventure were all excellent educators. You speak to it in your book but please explain in more detail how they all failed you?”

Me: “Trust me, I understand how real the financial sacrifices were for the both of you and the time you put into our education. But it wasn’t just me who they failed and the Catholic education institutions were hardly alone since the same can be said about the public school system throughout the country continuing through this day. The information failure was systemic and intentional on the part of those writing the history/social studies text books and most educators were wronged too.

This tragedy is portrayed in James Loewen’s national bestseller ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me –Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong’. I hold the Catholic educational system a notch more accountable due to its purported social justice mission. So yes, I was Catholic educated to the bone but yet unaware, untaught. Therefore, I did not understand what was really going on and the deeper roots related to things like the Civil Rights protests and the racial disturbances (aka riots) including even in Rochester just were not taught at any level. It took many more decades for me, with focused intentionality, to be more participative, informed, and even unguarded in what I didn’t know.

Theresa: “Ok, so how do you explain and justify what’s going on in your world today by moving to the other extreme and having ‘Critical Race Theory’ (CRT) taught to the children including your grandchildren?

Me: “Well, CRT will probably come up in more depth in a later, more relevant chapter but briefly and to get to the point that many people are confused about due to apparent political influences, CRT (or THEORY) is NOT being taught in the primary/elementary school levels and is intended for graduate level study and perhaps in some cases undergraduate courses.

In direct contrast, it is the true and authentic HISTORY, however, that has been introduced for today’s primary/elementary students to learn and study vs. any theory. BUT it is being erroneously labeled by some as CRT to mask this important history for the purpose of not wanting to inform our children at a basic level that this country has had challenges in portraying our racist past. This includes the horrible history of this country’s treatment of Native Americans, Blacks, and other minorities.

So, I applaud many of our local schools and schools across the country in the expansion of their curriculum to include the true (hi)story of how America came to be. And I too have been directly involved with introducing this history into the Fairport schools where are grandchildren have already told me it is being taught.

I hope you can now see why I am so passionate about the true history of our country being taught in our schools basically because I wasn’t.  But that’s enough said for now on this important topic since you might have questions on some other related topics in Chapter 2.”

Ed: “Yes, we do. Why did you find it necessary to include the personal details of our purchase and your mother’s eventual selling of the Park Avenue house? Our family attorney basically saved your mother and the family from a financial catastrophe and kept a roof over all your heads at a very stressful time.

Me: “I understand both your feelings about this but I felt it was a very important story to tell for a variety of reasons. But first a little background. Early in 2020, about the time I was beginning to entertain the possibility of writing a book, I thought the primary focus would be on privilege and the overall benefits and rewards of just simply being born white.

So, I began mulling over how privilege might have manifested itself in my growing up years and I recalled the story of how Mom was able to avoid not only bankruptcy but also losing the house after your sudden passing through some timely legal intervention. But I did not want to rely on just anecdotal recollections or my own memory.

That led me to do some research of County records on both your purchase of the house/funeral home in 1946 and eventual sale in 1969. I was able to locate and make copies of records that disclosed what had been buried in family lore was factually accurate based on the signed documents, the timing of the filings, and one dubious signature.

Theresa: “Well, I was only following the advice and direction of our close attorney friend and we were all able to get on with our lives which had changed suddenly and dramatically after your father’s passing.”

Me: “But wouldn’t it be fair to say, Mom, that even if you weren’t aware of all the details of what the attorney did, that the outcome came at the expense of some other friends and associates?”

Theresa: “I suppose but I was just trying to do what I thought was best for the family.”

Me: “Again, that’s perfectly understandable. However, I felt my recollection as to how this situation came about was important to share in the memoir as an early and significant family example of privileged access in my life that even many whites did not have. Since I was planning on including the concept of privilege in the book, I had to be honest and open about my own past. I hope you can understand that.

There are other examples of privileges at the time that I mention later in this chapter and in our first conversation, I explained the concept of ‘redlining’. Do you recall that?”

Theresa and Ed: “Yes.”

Me: “Well, even though there are aspects of redlining that still exist today believe it or not, things began to change a little for the better after the 60s due to federal Civil Rights legislation. One of the outcomes that I referenced in the book is that in 1988 that Mom sold the house on Winton Road to a Black couple. As I wrote in this chapter regarding this sale: “… so broader access to housing was beginning to open up despite the persistence of redlining.”

It should also be noted that as Mom will recall, your next-door neighbors for many years was an Hispanic family that you and our family embraced. So, I wanted to conclude this part of the conversation commending your spirit of placing a high value and respect for the underdogs that came into your life no matter whether neighbors, friends, or family. It is one of your most endearing and enduring qualities and memories in my mind.”

Theresa: “Thank you for that thought, Bill; it truly means a lot.”

Ed: “Your reflective questions and responses at the end of the chapter struck me in many ways and helped me to better understand privilege, the advantages you were born with, and those you nurtured on your own and perhaps some with our assistance. I wish I could have been there to help you even more.

Me: “You were definitely there in spirit, Dad. As life goes, and despite the great loss by your passing, it opened up new paths and doors for all of us in many ways. As I describe and upon reflection, when I was writing the book the questions and responses you mention, it opened my eyes even more as to how systemic white advantage thrives in our culture vis-à-vis the contrast with the disadvantages of “others” in our midst. That doesn’t mean that many of the advantages that this country offers are not generally available; they just aren’t distributed or able to be accessed equitably even with something as basic as voting rights. And it goes deeper than that as I describe by even “simply” being born male and contrasted with so many relative inequities for females in comparison such as equal pay for equal work.

Since you brought this up, I’d like to repeat some of what I wrote on pg. 62 towards the end of this chapter based on a couple of recent comments I received at a BLM silent vigil and a library program I did. The first was more/less a question or challenge by a young white male wondering why we were standing there with our signs and flags ostensibly since he doesn’t see any racism in his life. The second was the disclosure by an older white male that he had experienced reverse racism. This is similar to things I’ve heard from friends and family over the years as to how they were profiled by police. I’ve listened patiently to these comments and in some cases got into discussion when I could. But this leads me back to what I wrote in the book:

“… I do not want to simply equate or limit the concept of privilege to material or financial benefits. There are many other important benefits of privilege, such as not being (routinely/regularly/relentlessly) subjected to abuse, mistreatment, injury, or death by law enforcement, not being acknowledged yet closely watched upon entering a store, not being followed on the street because of the clothes you are wearing, and so on. Whites simply do not have to (routinely/regularly/relentlessly) think about these as privileges, yet it is a matter of life and death for Blacks and other POC if they do not!”

Theresa: “Wow, that’s pretty powerful and unfortunately seems to be reflective of the times you are living in from what we know. Again, we are proud that you are standing up for the “others” in your world … the perennial underdogs and scapegoats… and hope others will join you on this journey.

 I think we are running out of time right now but I just want to say that we both appreciate you remembering our neighbor Jim. He was like a younger brother to your father and I wasn’t aware of what he told you at your high school graduation.”

Me: “As you know, I integrated my remembrance of him into the “advice to my younger self” question at the end of each chapter and Jim’s wisdom was very important at the time as I was soon to leave the nest for college. I visited his grave on the anniversary of his death last year so please tell him I said hello!

Before we close this second conversation, I would just like to refer a link to you related to our first talk and especially to Dad’s point about the Irish. It further describes the Irish experience in the 1800 and 1900’s when his family emigrated to the states and contrasts it to the trauma of Black slavery. I thought you’d find it insightful.” ….

Theresa & Ed: “Thanks, Bill … talk to you soon about Chapter 3. We can’t wait.”

Special note: I am posting this on Mothers’ Day in honor of my mother.

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