Background: To reiterate from my previous blog posts, 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 came up with the idea of having imagined exchanges with them about my memoir and post-publication happenings 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 3 of my memoir is titled ‘The 1970s: Courage’.

Theresa: “You did a very nice job in this chapter discussing the concept of courage hopefully prevailing over the fear that can sometimes overwhelm people. Why did you pick this theme for the chapter title?”

Bill: “As I recollect in beginning to write this chapter of my life in the 70s, there were many life altering crossroads that were present at the time as described in the book. The Vietnam War presented several of these such as the decision to remain home with the benefit of a hardship deferment or to serve our country like the both of you did, Mom’s brothers, and Bob. As you may recall, I was reclassified at least once so there were choices to be made of either helping at home as you continued to pick up the pieces as a single mother or to sign-up. As a result, there was a mix of decisions and choices within this volatile period of time in the early 70s that brought to mind the Cardinal Cushing quote at the beginning of the chapter. It may appear that choosing between military service and staying back home was a ‘no-brainer’ and that it was an easy choice, but it was not for me.

There were other intersectional decisions that presented themselves at that time as well in both my personal and professional life that brought me to the ‘edge looking over’, so I think the title was aptly named.”

Ed: “Since the publication of the book, have you come up against any situations or received comments that provide any cause for concern, or fear? After all, from what I have heard the antiracism topic you chose to write about is one that is a very visible one with all that’s going on in the country and the world today”.

Bill: “Thanks for asking, Dad. I can tell you that the rewards of writing this book and talking about it far outweigh any risks or consequences. In fact, these three underlined words are the basis for book presentations I am currently doing. I can best summarize this in a statement a friend of mine made a few months ago:

‘Count it all joy that you have written a controversial book, a book certainly relevant in our current chaotic times; and you’re making a significant contribution to move understanding, empathy, and equality forward. Hopefully, this will make your book a classic, must read, for generations on the long road to justice, equality, peace. Your children and grandchildren for many generations will learn courage from and take joy and pride in you and Sandy!’

But I’d like to get your thoughts on the concept of ‘today’s chaotic times’ since you had much chaos and disruption within both of your own lifetimes.”

Theresa: “I appreciate you asking because typically people living in their own times think that the world is a much darker place than their parents or grandparents lived through. Your father and I as well as your grandparents lived in a period of two world wars, a pandemic, the Great Depression, and all the associated consequences. Now we have the benefit of history to see that this roughly 30-year period eventually resulted in an economic boom for this country that was arguably like no other. Perhaps something similar in a positive vein will happen now 80 years later for your children and grandchildren.

Me: “I sure hope you’re right but it is very difficult to see with the many anti-democracy movements of the day, the gun violence, the continuing virulent racism, working our way through our own pandemic, and perhaps even more tragically moving towards both a civil war and a world war at the same time. The combination of each these and other serious issues appears to be historically unique given how technology can move these discussions to a very heated level virtually instantaneously. So, to return to my book’s focus on racism since that’s a primary over-riding issue in today’s world, I would like to get your perspective on some similar things that might have happened during your lifetimes.

Ed: “OK. But I must first say that the racism you are experiencing as a country today was something we never really saw and our experience was similar to what you’ve written about during your growing up years. What you referenced in our last conversation about the differences between Irish and Black discrimination was very enlightening; but the things you mentioned, such as the world wars when we were living through that 30-year period, more or less pulled people together into a general survival mode with everyone working together to get through. With the benefit of your historical hindsight today, what might we have missed that influenced racism during our lifetimes?”

Me: “Let me amplify some of the words you used to respond to your question; i.e., “saw” and “everyone working together”. At any given point in time, I think it would have been very challenging to actually “see” things like the 60-year ‘Great Migration’ of over 6 million Southern courageous and resilient Blacks beginning around 1910 and continuing through 1970 moving into Northern and Western cities in order to escape the horrors of Jim Crow laws and overall oppression. Over time as numerous cities’ Black population soared, obviously the outcomes of this historical human movement of people eventually became more apparent and resulted in new racism horrors but in different forms.”

Theresa: “Well to respond to your question about some similar things in our lifetime, just like you described in your book about how you didn’t “see” the racism around as you were growing up, we didn’t either and failed to realize how even movies and books at the time were adding fuel to the fire of racism. As just one example, the infamous movie ‘Birth of a Nation’ and its grotesque depictions of Blacks and the “good guys” of the KKK was horrible. Even the President at the time, Woodrow Wilson, had a viewing of it at the White House if you can believe that. Then there was the book made into a movie, ‘Gone with the Wind’, and its attempt in false narrative form to capture the glory of the genteel Confederate South during the Civil War which also included demeaning, racist portrayals of Blacks.

Me: “I’m glad you brought those examples up because it demonstrates how these false portrayals contributed to today’s narratives of Blacks as lazy, ‘welfare queens’, criminals, and worse. So the movies and books of your times such as the ones you mentioned is harbored in our residual memories today 100 years later. These basic human conditions, and the horrendous labeling and demonizing of Blacks that happened as a result, reside in a minority of our overall population irrespective of skin color. Over the years these ideas and others have been increasingly identified as foundational to ‘White Supremacy’.

Ed: “Now wait a minute; this may be a step too far. I realize you talk about this in your book but please explain what you mean by ‘White Supremacy’? We weren’t white supremacists!”

Me: “One of the best definitions I can give you is from a book a former acquaintance of mine wrote titled ‘Black Fatigue’ (Mary-Francis Winters; pg. 41). She says: “This (white supremacy) is a term that is really misunderstood. When people hear ‘white supremacy’ they think the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and avowed hate groups. While these groups openly admit their hatred for Blacks, Jewish people, immigrants, and so on and are prone to perpetrating violence against them based on their beliefs that whites are superior and all others should be eliminated, they by no means (my emphasis) embody the definition of White Supremacy.”

She goes on to say “White Supremacy is the ideology, whether conscious or unconscious — explicit or implied — that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions can also be defined as a political or socioeconomic system in which white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, at both a collective and an individual level. White Supremacy means that white ideals are the norm and, by default, every other group’s beliefs are abnormal. Just as the term ‘supreme’ conveys, whiteness is ‘superior’ to all others.”

You can also refer to a definition I have in the Preface of my book on pg. xvii. Does this explanation resonate with you in any way?”

Theresa: “Well as your father indicated, the term white supremacy was one we didn’t see or talk about at all. As we chatted in our initial conversation about the first chapter of your book, we were more or less absorbed into our own little corner of the world and didn’t really consciously think about “white ideals” as the norm, probably because we didn’t have to. I suppose similar things are still happening today.”

Me: “Part of the title of my book, ‘Oblivious American’ says a lot. In fact, I’ve suggested to people that I did not have to state it as ‘Oblivious WHITE American’ since that would be redundant! Seriously, Blacks understand white supremacy much better than us whites do since they literally have to for their own survival after living with and enduring it for centuries. And I’m sorry to say that white unawareness, indifference, and continuing dreadful policies has very tragic consequences, such as the recent massacre in Buffalo in a Black neighborhood.”

Ed: “Are you saying that somehow, other than the fact from what we’ve heard that the shooter was white, that whites in general are responsible for that?” How is that”

Me: “Yes in response to your first question, and to respond to your second one, let me explain with some historical context; and I apologize for the lengthiness of my response, but it is very important to understand some history. Here goes.

Very briefly (believe it or not!) from ~ 1600 – 1900 there was the introduction of slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, then came a period of deconstruction involving violence, the birth of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and the infamous Jim Crow laws.

Then roughly from 1910-1970, the Great Migration began (which I mentioned previously) of over six million Blacks from the segregated oppression of the South to virtually all Northeast cities, the Midwest (most notably Chicago), and California due to the oppressive economics; also, they were induced to move due to ‘Jim Crow’ Laws, segregation, related violence; and they were attracted to the job opportunities in other parts of the country created by World Wars I & II. This was perhaps one of the greatest migration waves ever and it happened WITHIN this country. Unfortunately, it also led to extreme white violence in places like Chicago, NYC, and Tulsa early on and many more cities in later years including Rochester as you recall.

In the 30s & 40s, ‘Redlining’ laws policies were introduced throughout the country creating de facto and de jure segregation regarding housing. Then there was the GI Bill that excluded Blacks leaving them unable to create their own individual wealth and equity like white families could resulting in enormous economic disparities compared to whites continuing through today.

Then in the 50s-60s, the Interstate Highway system was built providing whites access to flee the cities (i.e., ‘white flight’). Additionally, there was a misallocation of federal funding known as ‘Urban Renewal’. School desegregation was federally mandated in 1954 but essentially never happened due in part to the previous policies of the 30’s/40’s; this has resulted in even worse segregation today in many of our cities with one of the worst being Rochester which eventually contributed to the 1964 riot. There was some good news during this era with Civil Rights legislation but much of those gains are being eroded today which is a whole other story.

From the 70s to the present day, the impact of all the aforementioned in combination prevailed in the form of over-riding systemic racism; cities and schools became even more segregated and impoverished; wealth disparities got worse resulting in the incredible poverty within many of our cities (Rochester and Buffalo among the worst); the so called ‘war on drugs’ resulting in  ‘mass incarceration’ exacerbated the situation further; political divides deepened and are becoming even worse; health disparities were further revealed and exacerbated with the COVID pandemic; there is renewed, aggressive voter suppression occurring across the country taking much away from the Civil Rights reforms of the 60s; and now gentrification of  much inner city housing is happening as whites now see affordable housing opportunities in the cities; as a result, once again Blacks are being herded into further poor housing options, if available at all, resulting in over-crowded conditions and contributing more to  homelessness problems.

Bottomline: all of this history in combination created a perfect formula for a perfect storm! Using Buffalo as the most recent example of a resulting tragedy, this unfortunate situation in our urban centers across the country could be called PLANNED SEGREGATION OR RESIDENTIAL APARTHEID within a WHITE SUPREMACY oriented culture!

As the Buffalo shooter fully described in his lengthy, so-called Manifesto, the root cause of his actions is WHITE SUPREMACY …. aka RACISM. I’m not claiming that … he did, and he used other shooting incidents as his model for Buffalo … and this could have easily been Rochester!!

He identified and targeted a major city neighborhood location on the Eastside of Buffalo where over thirty thousand Blacks have been basically “herded” into over generations due to the previous mistakes of the past as outlined above; this is also similar to today’s situation in Rochester’s Northeast and Northwest neighborhoods as well.

So, this brief overview is the REAL BASIS and HISTORY as to ‘WHY” Buffalo was targeted! The shooter knew that this was a key location he could violently target due to it being heavily populated by Blacks.

 I could also get into the issue of having over 400m guns in this country, 20% more than we have people, but that’s a whole other topic that unfortunately will once again be greatly debated due to the recent Texas shooting at an elementary school. This is among many other mass shootings/murders since and horrendously continuing and becoming recurring nightmares across the country.

One of the young store employee heroes of the Buffalo massacre said: “They are targeting Black people again, and I don’t understand why.” Perhaps what I’ve just outlined provides some background and answer to his question. And the story of his heroic actions that day exemplify the thin line between courage and fear with courage prevailing in this case and simiar to the children and teachers at that Texas elementary school.

Another quote from a Buffalo Black woman: “This supermarket you’ve been reading about is literally a half a mile from my house on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo  … half a mile. This kid didn’t have mental health issues. He wasn’t confused. He wasn’t extreme. He wasn’t evil. He was racist. Plain and simple.”

Does this, believe it or not, brief overview provide some response and clarity to your question?

Theresa: “Speaking for the both of us I’m very taken aback by all this so we will have to reflect a bit more and perhaps get back into it in future conversations. As the title of Chapter 3 states Bill, thanks for having the courage to speak out about all this. Perhaps it might help open many white eyes and ears in the divisive times your world is now experiencing including most importantly your church and political leaders.”

Me: “That is my fervent hope. Thanks for listening and I look forward to future conversations with the both of you.  I’ll leave you for now with this latest poem by Amanda Gorman, a renowned, young Black poet who eloquently portrays how courage can overcome fear through love.”

Hymn for the Hurting

Everything hurts,

Our hearts overshadowed and strange,

Minds clouded and made dumb.

We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.

And yet none of it is new;

We knew it as home,

as horror,

As heritage.

Even our children

Can’t be kids

Can’t be.

Everything hurts.

It’s a hard time to be alive

And even harder to stay that way.

We are burdened to live these days,

And at the same time blessed to survive them.

This alarm is how we know

We need to be changed –

That we must differ or die,

That we must prevail or try.

So though hate cannot be ended,

It can be transformed

In a love that makes us live.

May we not only mourn, but give:

May we not only hurt, but act;

May our signed right to bear arms

Never blind our sight to shared evil;

May we choose our children over chaos.

May never another innocent be lost.

Maybe everything hurts

Our hearts overshadowed and strange.

But only when everything hurts

May everything change.

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