Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 9

Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 9

Black Man Praying

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 this being the last chapter, I will be continuing them in a similar conversational style with others who have also had significant impact on my life.

 In the comments I have received on the previous ones with my parents, these posts have helped illuminate readers on the issues of racism and especially the pervasiveness and endurance of white supremacy through the centuries.

Chapter 9 of my memoir is titled ‘Truth, Reconciliation, Hope, and Action’ where I offer some of my suggestions for turning the curve and moving towards a more just and antiracist world.

Ed: “Well Bill, we’ve finally come to the last chapter of your memoir. You sure have had some journey and I sense by including your mother and I in discussing not only the book but also your continuing awakening, that your work is just beginning. Before we get into Chapter 9, we’d appreciate it if you would expand upon the ‘white confoundedness’ term you closed out the last discussion with.”

 Me: “Yes, just like the priest told me when I ended the Camino 21 years ago that the “pilgrims’ journey” wasn’t ending but just beginning, that’s definitely true now as well.

Without repeating myself from our last conversation, let me take a very simple approach in responding to your suggestion to expand upon ‘white confoundedness’ by looking at ‘Webster’s’ definition of confoundedness.

Synonyms used include bewildered, confused, befuddled, and perplexed; a couple of antonyms are to enlighten or clarify. One Black friend I talked to suggested that the concept of confoundedness could perhaps be a temporary or momentary experience and therefore suggestive of hope in moving towards enlightenment.

I would like to think that’s a possibility many of those who believe they are white are capable of, but in my experience to date, if not a permanent state for the majority, confoundedness is at least something with a great deal of stickiness and endurance.

In my ongoing work whether in presentations, blog conversation posts, and other discussions I will be focusing on this concept along the lines discussed in the last chapter. My hope is to be a form of ‘flashlight’ to help reveal some alternative paths from this darkness of confoundedness that many of those who believe they are white are stuck on.”

Theresa: “In this last chapter, it struck me with what you wrote about the Catholic Church bearing a fair amount of responsibility for this unfortunate state of mind and condition among whites. I was not aware of the history going back many centuries to the 1400’s where the Church provided the legal framework for the establishment of slavery beginning with the papal authority granted to Portugal and Spain.”

Me: “Additionally, this then led to the great sin and crime of white supremacy forming the justification of slavery and the creation of the social construct of ‘whiteness’. As I quoted from the book ‘Unsettling Truths’, “The lie of white supremacy is embedded deeply into the diseased theological imagination of the American Christian mind and serves as a foundation for the destructive sin of racism. … Whiteness is neither a privilege nor a blessing to be shared, it is a diseased social construct that needs to be confronted” (pg.156).”

This is why I believe that my ongoing work is so important and not just simply talking about the book but also the many new discoveries since it was published a year ago. On that same page you will find a list of “17 Deplorable Examples of White Privilege” that I label as “blood diamonds”. I also say that this list represents only the “tip of the iceberg” which interestingly enough (and coincidentally) is the title of the recently created white sculpture representing racism I discussed in a previous blog post.”

Ed: “Another thing that shocked me as it did you was how the Nazi’s in WWII used the American “model” of racism to institutionalize racism in the German Reich. The Nazi’s “looked to America for inspiration” which of course led to the Jewish holocaust. As you know your mother and I both served in the Navy during the war and this troubling history of the Catholic Church going back centuries, that we were unfortunately and no doubt intentionally never taught, was foundational to this horrible catastrophe that devastated the Jews.” 

Me: “The old, familiar saying “that history repeats itself” definitely resonates today, including the anti-democratic forces prevailing which have racism at its core.

As I quote on pg. 158 from the book ‘Caste’, “… his (Hitler’s) actual mission was to exploit the methods of democracy to destroy democracy”. This is happening today in the United States and other democracies in the world. It doesn’t take too much insight to reveal the inherent role racism has within these efforts in the attempt to further advance the wealthy to greater heights, and in this country that also means protecting whiteness.”

Despite the recent midterm election results with the majority of key election “deniers” abandoned and now “MAGA” possibly on a downward slide in terms of influence, there is still a lot to be greatly concerned about in preserving our democracy. We absolutely must stay vigilant and I will continue to add my voice for this cause.”

Theresa: “Regarding your ongoing work, the personal action commitments you list on pgs. 164-168 sure covers a lot of territory. Based on our previous conversations, it appears that many of them are well on their way and integrated into your life. I definitely see that your ‘Rohr’ friend’s description of you being a “contemplative activist” is very appropriate. How are these commitments going and have you made adaptations or added new ones since the book was published?”

Me: “I am happy to tell you that the majority of my activist work as outlined on those pages is either completed or ongoing to one degree or another. Regarding adaptations, an important one is that I have migrated over the past year to an unaffiliated status with any particular Catholic parish for the time being.

This is due to a great deal of disenchantment with my previous parish leading to leaving that community. I am now engaged with two others including the Spiritus Christi faith community which is not formally a part of the Diocese and a small, primarily Black parish in the city, the only one in the Diocese that I am aware of. There is a life, vitality, community, and activist spirit within both that in my view does not exist in the majority of other Diocesan parishes.

New antiracism actions either in motion already or under development include keeping my book presentations relevant and current based on the combination of new discoveries, experiences, readings, and current events.

As an example, and notwithstanding the recent midterm election results discussed previously, I think 2023 is going to continue to be a very important year in expanding the ‘white confoundedness’ conversation. A couple of upcoming presentations will unveil my new talking points and there will be ongoing work to keep the material fresh and promote new audiences.

I am also considering publishing my blog posts as a companion book to the memoir including these conversations with you. Discovering this technique of having conversations with people who are no longer with us and who have greatly influenced my life has helped me articulate my views on racism and antiracism pursuits in a more personal, compelling, ‘down to earth’ way … pun intended!”

Ed: “Who do you think might be next on your list and what will you focus on initially?”

Me: Since I believe the Catholic Church has much to fess up to about its own racist history and that racism is hardly ever preached about from parish pulpits or considered a priority within most parish life, I’m leaning towards the Church’s racist history, its lack of presence currently, and its transformative potential as the focus. This will also include discussing the significance of Black spirituality and its importance within the Church and society at-large.

The person I am thinking of starting out with is my good friend Tony Valente who is featured in Chapter 4. Given that he was such a charismatic priest and social justice oriented (and died much too young), he will be a great, guest “conversationalist” on the subject of the Catholic Church and racism.

Before I close out with some interpersonal and interesting family history as we conclude this series of conversations, I want to make a few brief comments on the significance of this final chapter title, ‘Truth, Reconciliation, Hope, and Action’; let me take them a word at a time each with a brief statement for reflection:

  • Truth — just like I said about the Catholic Church, it is time for this country and its citizenry to fess up to the truth of our racist history
  • Reconciliation — this connotes restoration of friendly relations, reuniting, and bringing together; but do we have the will to move even further towards turning hate into transformative love?
  • Hope — do we also have the will to turn despair into hope? Please reflect on the picture highlighted at the beginning of this blog…  a Black man praying; can you see and feel the hope within might be his despair?
  • Action — we have already discussed this regarding MY actions and personal commitments but each of us likewise has a responsibility to step up

Our previous conversations speak to each of these to some degree or another as does this chapter, so for those reading this blog, please consider rereading the previous blog posts.”

Theresa: “The picture of the Black man praying is very powerful to me and I can feel a variety of emotions on his part as well as my own just looking at it. Since I was a white person in life, or perhaps as you’ve been saying “believing I was white”, I realize I too was definitely confounded about racism with many mixed emotions. Is there anything you’ve read recently that perhaps captures these feelings in a Black context to help those who think they are white understand what I’m trying to say?”

Me: “The book I quoted from the last time we talked (‘Hell of a Book’ by Black author Jason Mott) has a closing that I feel is tremendously poignant and I believe speaks volumes about what you are asking, as well as provides a great conclusion to this series of our conversations. It reads as follows:

“I walk over to the kid and open my arms and he looks frightened for a second, like he doesn’t know what I’m doing. But he knows exactly what I’m doing and he’s afraid of it. Hell, so am I. But I’m also tired of being afraid. My whole life I’ve lived afraid. My whole life I’ve been afraid. I’ve been running. I can’t remember anything else. Same goes for him. And I know it because he and I are the same. Me and everyone who looks like me are the same. We all carry that same weight. We all live lives under the hanging sword of fear. We’re buried under the terror that our children will come into all of the same burden and be trapped, just like we were. So we stay put, running in place. Most of all, people like me fear that we can’t do anything to break the cycle.

And I don’t know if we can or not. I just know that we have to try.

That I have to try.

The Kid knows it too. I can see it in his eyes. Finally, he wraps his arms around me and I hug him tighter than I’ve ever hugged anyone in my life. Hugging him is hugging myself. Finally, after a lifetime, I am the unseen and the undeniable all at once.

I’m sorry I tell the Kid.

“Are we gonna be okay?” The Kid asks.

Quick as a whip and honest as a dollar, I say to him “Never can tell, kid. But we’re gonna damn sure take a shot at it.”

Me: “I hope you both feel like I do that these could very well be the words of the Black man praying! The combination of his trauma and perhaps hopeful aspirations is very visible in my eye and captured so inspiringly in this picture.”

Ed: “You know that I carried my feelings on my sleeve but that picture and these words have moved me to tears. So, Godspeed with the important work you are doing and we look forward to hearing more about it in your future conversations with Fr. Tony and perhaps others. Now let’s get on with the family history you mentioned.”

Me: “I’d love to and let me start with more recent times before I go back a century or so earlier with some other new discoveries in the family lore category.

Unfortunately, and perhaps fortunately since you know where you are now and those of us living on this earth don’t know anything about that until we join you, November is the month of both of your passings we remember so well. There are also two other notable passings this month, your good friend and next-door neighbor Jim, and Mom’s Aunt Mary (aka ‘Minna’).

On the more positive side, November is also the birthday month of our youngest son and your grandson, Andrew, as well as the first anniversary of my book being published a year ago. So speaking about mixed emotions, this month has a virtual boatload including so many memories surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday, the day Dad passed away!”

Theresa: “You sure have a good memory and we appreciate you remembering us and the others especially since mortality can be hard to think about for the living. But trust me, we are all doing fine where we are! Now tell us about the new family lore?”

Me: “First let me say that the information I am about to share is on Dad’s side, specifically about his mother’s family, although there is a possible connection with his father’s side as well which I will explain. These new discoveries came about due to my subscribing to two DNA related genealogy sites and newly found relative discoveries made through their DNA matching technology.

Without getting into a lot of detail that will likely bore the casual reader, I was recently able to identify Dad’s mother’s grandparents’ names through the help of two distant, living, Irish relatives I have never met but was notified of a DNA match through the ‘Ancestry’ site.

 Additionally, I discovered through some old newspaper articles that Dad’s grandfather, Rody Dooley, was arrested in 1888 for unlawful assembly while protesting the Protestant led government assisting a wealthy landowner from taking over Rody’s farm in Ireland.

As a result, he along with several others apparently were imprisoned for 30 days and Rody continued to fight the government to have this rectified and his property returned. His persistence eventually resulted in him amazingly getting his property back 20 years later, a few years before he passed away.”

Ed: “Wow! … I never knew this history. So it looks like some of your activist genes could have been part of the Dooley stock through me. Who would ever have guessed that?!”

Me: “It gets even more interesting in that the RIC, or the Royal Irish Constabulary, made the arrests. You always told us, Dad, that you had Wynne relatives in the RIC and there is an outside chance that a member of your father’s Protestant family arrested your mother’s Catholic father!

 Now your mother was just one year old at the time and your father not too much older, but it sure makes for a fabulous tale about their families with several different possible storylines. This includes a classic juxtaposition of the Catholic Dooley being the protestor and perhaps a Protestant Wynne being the arresting policeman! Since we were raised Catholic, you can see who eventually won that battle!

Theresa: “I find It very interesting that this story highlights the historical conflicts in Ireland between the Catholics and Protestants, the British and the Irish, and the wealthy vs.those not so wealthy or poor. And then it strikes me further that the related issues of this history are very similar to the ongoing, enduring racism we have been conversing about for the past several months.

To amplify this even more, Bill, I see an ironic connection between what happened to your great-grandfather years ago and the struggles you and your world see and are encountering today. It is truly amazing how history repeats itself and how humans fail to learn from the past about the struggles their ancestors faced, including those who believe they are white being cursed by slavery and racism as well.

If only those of you living today could see what your father and I see that there can be heaven on earth … you among today’s living don’t have to wait!

Just like the Irish Protestants and Catholics, Blacks and whites begin with the premise of all being human beings in the image and likeness of God. We are all one!”

Me: “What a great perspective and way to conclude this series of conversations. I will say one last thing that EDUCATION and AWARENESS are the starting points for any transformation and this must all be guided by love.

Enough for now and I will be in touch one way or another! … and just to let you know, I am posting this on my website today on Veterans Day in your memory and honor.”

Theresa & Ed: “We really appreciate that, Bill!

As the writer, you understandably have the last word (and obviously do anyway since you are writing all this!). But we both want to say that we truly appreciate the thought you have put into these conversations and including us in your continuing “work”.

And just to add to the family memories, congratulations to you and Sandy on your upcoming 50th wedding anniversary in a few months. We are overjoyed by this and will be there in spirit as you celebrate with your family on the Mexican adventure you are planning.

Many thanks and with much love!”

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Comments ( 2 )

  • Terry

    Hi Bill, Your words give so much comfort. Knowing human beings like you,are bravely stepping up to sharing love and understanding of each other. I, as are so many, are going through some very emotional times. But, as long as we have positive and righteous people like yourself, there is always hope. Your continued readings and diligence to a great human cause, gives us new found life. Thank you, Terry

  • W.E.Wynne

    Terry … I am grateful for your kind and generous words regarding the work I am trying to do .. it means a lot and fortifies my spirit.

    All the best… Bill

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