Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 8

Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 8

Background: To reiterate from 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 imaginary dialogues with them about my memoir as a unique literary technique to help illuminate the foundational aspects of my life’s journey in “understanding racism” as well as other discoveries since publication.

So, I have developed these conversations in ways that we may have talked with each other as if they were still alive… and perhaps they are actually whispering in my ear right 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 influences they were as my parents.

Similar blog posts have been written for each chapter and after completing this cycle, I am considering continuing them in this conversational style. Chapter 8 of my memoir is titled ‘2020s: ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’.

Ed: “Well, your journey finally gets to the 21st Century’s version of the ‘Roaring 20s’ of 100 years ago and its economic growth and widespread prosperity… although by the looks of it, as well as the title of this chapter, this century’s storyline so far hasn’t been fun and games by any stretch with a lot of ‘bad and ugly’!”

Me: “That is so true, Dad. As I said in the book, in my lifetime and likely all others born post-WWII who are still alive, in my opinion we have never had a period with so many dramatic and consequential events crammed into just these first three years into the 20s so far … and we still have a couple more months to go. Simply rereading the ‘People and Events in the News’ section at the beginning of the chapter makes me wonder what lies ahead down the road through the rest of this decade.

Theresa: “I also see that you snuck in another blog post since our last conversation … the sculpture depicting your book is beautiful. Can you tell us more on how it came about and your thoughts on how you portrayed it?”

Me: “When I was speaking at the local ‘Writers & Books’ location in May, Sue Begy (a local artist) was having an exhibit at the same time. I never talked to her that evening but I picked up some information on a project she was working on titled ‘Wishbones’. So, a little serendipity was at work here since I never would have known about her project if I hadn’t been speaking that night exactly where she was having her exhibit.

 I then followed up as described in the blog post and was overwhelmed when I first saw what she had created, not only for the sculpture itself but her thinking behind it; i.e., representing my thoughts on racism described in the book in such a visual way as simply the ‘tip of the Iceberg’ regarding the depths of this scourge still enduring with us after over 400 years.

I felt that it should be presented in a way that best complemented not only its beauty but its rich symbolism. Since it is relatively small and startling white in luminosity, with some guidance from my good friend Judy Toyer, she suggested that the most vivid portrayal would be to have a black backdrop.

Then I discovered that yet another metaphor was created which I have been drawing closer to in thought since writing the book; that is, seeing our white dominated society as being supported and nurtured by Blacks just as in the days of slavery when over the centuries, today’s leading, world-wide economy has been built on the backs of Black folks.

A clear understanding of our country’s factual history supports this view and stretches from well beyond the initial metaphor within the white sculpture and its simple presentation on a black cloth. This second comparison extends the full reality of the Black experience and how it has shaped our country in many rich, beneficial ways if we are truly honest about it.”

Ed: “That’s amazing how again the ‘connections’ we’ve discussed before came to life for you in this way and how you now have such an evocative and tangible depiction to describe your book as well as the work you are doing. How will you now proceed from here?”

Me: “As I just started on my “quest” I referred to in our last conversation, for several reasons I have tweaked my plan a bit from when we last spoke. I am now planning to dig deeper into the amazing beauty of Black spirituality and other aspects of the Black experience that I have discovered over the past few years to see if there is a possible path to better understanding what I am calling ‘white confoundedness’ about racism.

Through learning more about Black spirituality also provides the additional benefit of broadening my spiritual awareness beyond what has been primarily northern European, white male dominated over my life.

This understanding will then hopefully lead to the ‘combating’ part of my book title beyond what I’ve been doing already with the goal of being much more effective than I have been. Since a primary underpinning of the Black experience is premised on the love of their Christian faith, I thought I would start there and perhaps connect with how this relates to the Catholic Church as well.

Again, my good friend Judy suggested I read a book about Sr. Thea Bowman titled ‘In My Own Words’. As described in the book, Thea was ‘a devoted Franciscan (nun), joyful Black Christian, prophetic preacher, and tenacious teacher’. She passed away of cancer in 1990 at the young age of 53 and is currently being considered for sainthood. In reading this book, I am continuing on my path of seeking deeper inner spiritual awareness as well as exploring ways to articulate how this might relate to examining ‘white confoundedness’.”

Theresa: “It looks like your Camino journey taught you well about being adaptive. But what you have described appears to be if not conflicting objectives, perhaps confusing. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Me: “That’s an interesting observation and your question was also brought up in a little different way by my cousin Terry since the last conversation I had with the both of you.

Let me first describe what I mean by ‘confoundedness’. Over the course of this year since I began making book presentations and writing my blog posts, I have received many comments from those who believe they are white some of which perplexed me in certain ways, and when collectively reflected upon suggest confusion, doubt, in certain cases outrage, and with other whites, trauma-like experiences.

Here are some examples that in my view represent the depths of how white racism is sustained today:

  • By those who believe they are white only looking at one’s possible individual Black/white experiences for signs of racism vs. accepting any recognition of (or responsibility for) systemic, structural, and institutional policies or concepts such as voter suppression or outright oppression as being racist oriented. This is a blind spot that many of those who believe they are white share, get stuck in, and could in some cases be intentional in order to avoid a deeper awareness of the racism that goes well beyond personal experiences. An example of this naivete is ’I had/have Black neighbors/friends/coworkers and I always got/get along with them.’
  • Statements like ‘I’ve been profiled too’; or ’I’ve experienced reverse racism in my job’. First, when compared to the routine, systemic nature of ‘profiling’ that occurs to Blacks just by simply living as a Black customer, worker, pedestrian, student, and more is something whites do not have to endure other than perhaps the occasional, uncommon circumstance. The second statement of reverse racism is more/less an admission that racism exists in the first place; and again, the relative frequency compares to the profiling example with Blacks being much more encumbered than those who believe they are white ever have been or will be.
  • Another favorite of those who believe they are white is: ‘I’m afraid of _____.’ Pick your word or phrase but as just one contrasting example I will mention is from the Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book ‘Between the World and Me’. The book is written in the form of a letter to his young Black son about Coates’ experiences living in America. In a mere 146 pages, the words ‘fear or ‘afraid’ were used 63 times in portraying the physical hazards of Black male life. Again, there is no comparison whatsoever to either the daily micro or macro fears that Blacks experience even when just walking into a Starbucks in Philadelphia or bird watching in Central Park … two actual, relatively recent examples.
  • At one of my book presentations, I used this year’s shooting massacre in Buffalo to explain in a fair amount of detail the connection and relationship to the history of White Supremacy in this country. In the Q&A part of the talk, I was then asked if I could explain White Supremacy! I responded to the question in the moment and gave some other examples. I do not think this was a matter of the person not hearing what I had said originally, but a form of denial or perhaps not accepting what I said even though it was factually and historically based.
  • I have already discussed with you previously and it’s in my book as well the question ‘But what can one person do?’; so, I have no comment other than to reiterate this is really an excuse riddled question.
  • Then there’s the classic ‘I don’t see color’ or ‘I’m color blind’; either one is an arrogant statement offensive to Blacks and other BIPOC since it fails to recognize their true and obvious identity.
  • Outright silence and an unwillingness to say or contribute anything when situations arise is particularly confounding.
  • Lastly, and another one mentioned previously that best portrays white confoundedness: ‘I know there’s racism but I don’t believe it’.

Enough said … I think you should be beginning to see my point.”

Ed: “You probably recall in your grammar school days that I was always partial to the nuns who taught all of you so I’m glad to hear that you are learning more about Sr. Thea’s life.  Are you thinking that the insights you are learning about Black spirituality through her experiences will provide some guidance and perhaps help you develop mitigation techniques regarding what you call white confoundedness? Also, what about the social and racial justice teachings of the Catholic Church; can’t they be utilized?”

Me: “First of all and simply stated, white confoundedness is a strange mix of many factors including naivete, defensiveness, obliviousness, fear, anger, outrage, trauma, resistance to change, avoidance of history, denial, silence, arrogance, ignorance, being ill-informed, education/learning gaps, and others. I believe the true antidote to it is premised on the love that Jesus and St. Francis both modeled so remarkably through their lives.  Let me explain further by responding to your question about Catholic Church teachings.

As I describe on pgs. 149-150 of this chapter, the institutional Catholic Church has been missing the boat for years on effective and action oriented social and racial justice that go beyond mere words if and when spoken. As I note, this includes several Bishops’ letters on racism over the past several decades.

However, there have been many individual Catholic priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people who have impacted my social and racial justice pursuits and spiritual life profoundly and now that includes Sr. Thea (see those pages for their names). They are each truly living and human models for me on this journey and the quest I am now on.

Regarding the part of your question about what mitigation techniques or antidotes to white confoundedness I might explore, some initial thoughts include:

  • Values and rights that are universal, common, and transcend race and ethnicity; e.g., freedom, equal rights, equity, inclusiveness, diversity, employment, wealth creation, security, safety, family/children, education, health care, voting, religion, freedom of speech, movement. and love, access to food/nutrition, housing and more. Of these, I believe Education is the key to understanding our commonality and that’s what I hope to contribute to in my work through discussing my experiences and learnings
  • The nature of white racial trauma compared to that within the Black experience to help identify common ground and discussion
  • Explore the concept of ‘fuel and friction’ associated with racism; i.e., what stokes (fuels) white racism and misunderstandings, and what causes the resistance (friction) to dig deeper
  • The four ‘C’s’ for a better world: Courage, Connection, Compassion, and Collaboration (attributions: Richard Rohr and the Winters Group); and each enveloped by Love & Patience as portrayed in the ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ picture with the sculpture itself representing white confoundedness and the Black backdrop perhaps symbolizing a living anecdote. Both the vehicle and outcome of these C’s are found in building relationships

I will expand upon this in our next conversation since that will be the closing chapter appropriately titled ‘Truth, Reconciliation, Hope, and Action’.” For now, I draw your attention once again to the Thomas Merton quote in the Preface (pg. xiii) where he insists that (white) Christians have a moral duty to address racism on a personal and systemic level.

Theresa: “Having been a nurse and given your father’s undertaker profession as well, we are familiar with physical trauma. I’d appreciate it if you could elaborate on what you mean by racial trauma.”

Me: “A book I just read titled interestingly enough ‘Hell of a Book’ (Jason Mott) has a section towards the end of the novel that portrays Black trauma very vividly as follows (pg. 314; note: some words I have bolded for emphasis that I will explain later):

‘Your mama, she wanted to protect you. Protect you from bullets. Protect you from cops. Protect you from judges. Protect you from mirrors that you would look into and see something less than beautiful. She wanted to protect you from the black skin that you should adore and be proud of, but that you’re going to spend your whole life trying not to hate. You’ll hate it yourself and in anyone that looks like you. You’ll secretly see other Black people and hate them for not solving the riddle of the self-loathing you’ve been taught. It’ll follow you through everything in your life. You’ll be angry and not know why. And the anger won’t ever go away, not really. It’ll hang in the back of your mind. It’ll hang in the back of your world, haunting you, guiding all of your decisions. And when you get tired of being angry, it still won’t go away. It’ll just change into something even worse. You’ll take that anger and turn it on yourself and it’ll call itself depression. And, just like anger, it’ll take over your life. It’ll live with you every day. You’ll look in the mirror and hate what you see. You’ll tell that person in the mirror—with that skin that looks so dark—that it’s broken. You’ll tell that person that they deserve less. You’ll tell that person that the good things in this world are not for them.’”

Ed: “I can see why you chose this part of the book since it definitely feels traumatic just listening to you and what makes it more so is that this type of trauma is a day-to-day, minute-by-minute routine experience for Blacks. So how can it even compare to how you are going to describe white trauma?”

Me: “The answer to your question starts out with explaining why I emphasized the words protect, hate, anger, and angry. Some rhetorical questions of my own include are those who believe they are white susceptible to these same actions/ emotions in a racial context? Do they want to protect their own children from violence? Do they ever encounter hate in their own lives for just being who they are? Do they get angry or outraged when situations occur like this in their lives? Can they take that anger, turn it on themselves, and then this brings about stress or depression?

Being called or labeled as racist, privileged, fragile, or a supremacist can also outrage those who believe they are white and could lead to trauma defined as a ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’. Similarly, but I suggest justifiably, Blacks will be outraged by being generally identified without cause as thugs, thieves, criminals, and drug addicts.

Essentially the primary technical difference in this ‘Black and white’ comparison of traumatic experiences is skin pigmentation; however, based on history, I don’t think it can be argued that the overall life experience and impact between races in comparison is much more challenging for Blacks in terms of depth, routineness in daily life, and universality.

But it is very interesting to note that, assuming a willingness to discuss further between the races as individual situations arise, there is definitely some common ground to begin with by using some of these words and many more as an opening for dialogue.

So perhaps this can be a starting point for some ‘sacred conversations’ in the pursuit of common ground! There is much to gain and virtually nothing to lose and this is what I will be encouraging those who believe they are white to do in my continuing work. Perhaps I can be a form of a ‘bridge over troubled waters’. Blacks are just waiting for whites to join them on this journey… but more on that in our next discussion.

Theresa: “We appreciate the way you are trying to make difficult subjects simpler to understand by utilizing your new sculpture in narrative form and presentation, other writers/authors, and your own experiences since the book was published. Every conversation we have had over the past several months has been that way.

But I’m sure, just like the ‘tip of the iceberg’ title for the sculpture, that we’re just skimming the surface. So, just like you concluded each chapter with words of advice from your older self to your younger self at the time, what additional advice would you give readers now based on this discussion?”

Me: “A great segue to wrapping up, Mom, and I’ll simply sign off for now with this quote:

‘Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. … And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.’ – Audre Lorde

With Peace and Love … Bill

PS … I just wanted to comment on my use of the phrase in this conversation of “those who believe they are white” vs. simply saying “whites”. This manner of saying “whites” comes from the readings of authors such as James Baldwin (perhaps the thought creator), Coates, and Mikulich to name just three I am aware of.

Baldwin provided inspiration behind the truth that learning (and believing) to be white is an ethical choice, not a biological destiny. The same thing applies for people who think they are Black … all of us are human beings and all closely related cousins…. or even in some cases possibly siblings! I hope this helps clarify but it also might raise some questions we can discuss the next time.

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Comments ( 5 )

  • Terry

    Bill, Thank you for “conversations with your parents “. In your writings comes an enlightenment of my own. Not related to race but, a journey I am presently going through in my life. Reading these words you write are helpful. They, your words, give hope for all kinds of people.

  • Update Week of 10/23/2022 –

    […] Wynne, author of “Understanding and Combating Racism” and his latest p post;  at Bill also shared the following valuable articles in his monthly email:    a. An appeal for […]

  • Terry Strauss

    Hi Bill, I find your blog post inspiring and very comforting. At times it feels like the whole world has gone crazy. Lies are truth, hate is trying to overcome kindness. I really appreciate the time you spend on these writings. It’s good to know we are not a lone in what our gut is telling us is the right thing to common dency.Thank you again Bill, you rise my spirits with hope for the future. Terry

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