Dear Leslie Mac:

I’m sorry you have not responded to my April 23 message to you, but meanwhile I’ve decided to take another approach. As you know, your live video on April 13 critical of my previous day’s blog post went viral, taking my post along with it. You characterized my post as “trash” and “fuckshit behavior” and characterized me personally in a number of ways, even though I doubt that either of us had heard of the other before my post. You even created a hashtag: #LiesYouTellMel.

When your social-media criticisms began, a minister friend of mine, who is a strong believer in the Unitarian Universalist anti-racism program, told me you were a “very important person” and advised me to delete my post. I chose not to delete it, thinking that what I said was what I said, and when my mind was clearer I could follow up. So I posted Apology on April 14 and then, more important to me, My White Privilege on April 16. I have not heard anything more from you since April 13, the day of your video, but I continue to hear from some of your allies.

In the meantime, I learned that you really are a very important person. You are founder of the Ferguson Response Network, co-creator of the Safety Pin Box, and a member of the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) leadership team.

But the fact that you’re important came through even more strongly in another way. I can’t count the number of emails, Facebook messages, blog comments and blog posts from other UUs, lay and clergy, that used language similar to yours in relation to my post and me. Some told me that I was endangering the future of UUism. Many asked me to watch your video with an open mind and heart, and all of them used your language to describe what I had said, even if they were not the words I actually used. Maybe that helps explain what I see as speaking my own truth to power. In this instance, I think you have the larger share of power.

I have watched the full 18-minute video at least five times and learned a couple of big lessons from it, but I prefer to begin my rebuttal with your personal attacks on me, most of which come toward the end of the video.

You repeatedly call me “Loudoun County, Virginia, Mel Pine” and declare that, based on the county where I now live, I must be “cool” with three recent acts of apparent racism here. I’m sure you’ll object to the word “apparent” before “racism,” but that’s because of the third incident you brought up — the painting of swastikas and the words “white power” on a historic black school in Ashburn. If you continued to read about it, you’d have found this article from the Washington Post as well as others that appeared after the five vandals were caught and sentenced.

The vandals were boys 16 and 17 years old, so the Post didn’t publish their names, but the Post did say that three were “minorities” and the words “brown power” had also been painted on the walls of the school. The prosecutor in the case explained that the vandalism was directed against the Loudoun School for the Gifted, which owns the old schoolhouse. She said one of the boys “had left the private school on unfavorable terms.”

You also failed to mention that, before the vandalism, students of the Loudoun School for the Gifted, as a volunteer project, had been raising funds and working to restore the schoolhouse so it could stand as a reminder of the area’s segregated past. Here’s a quote from the Post article about what happened after the vandalism:

An outpouring of support followed from community members who volunteered on a “community restoration day” to help undo the damage and from people around the world who donated through a GoFundMe page, giving more than $60,000. [Washington NFL team] owner Daniel Snyder pitched in an additional $35,000.

My wife and I were contributors to the fund.

When you decided that I’m “cool” with racist acts, you assumed that my vantage point is from the whitest, most comfortable parts of Loudoun County, and not anywhere near where the black folks live. My neighborhood is mostly white, but when you asked on Facebook when was the last time I or any of my friends had shown compassion for a black person, it reminded me of the last time a blog post of mine went viral. Called Do a Good Thing That Matters, it helped raise funds for an older African-American couple who had lost their small historic home, about a mile from mine, to a fire. They couldn’t afford both homeowner’s insurance and health care, so they had dropped the insurance before the fire.

You made a number of assumptions about me based on my gender, skin color, 800 words I wrote, and where I live. You assumed that I was “cool” with racist acts but not acts of compassion, like restoring the schoolhouse or helping a black couple afford housing. And you assumed I was cool with racism but not with the voters of my county who elected a black woman chair of the Board of Supervisors (had to include that bit of county pride).

Mel Throwing Dart
No, this is not a staged photo. It’s an example of how I and an accompanying photographer chose to spend our free time, having fun, while on assignment in Mount Hagen in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is not the behavior of a white guy who fears being under the control of persons of color. Photo Copyright 1989 Jon Love.

You said I don’t want black people in my church and just want blacks to “shut the fuck up.” That’s especially mind-boggling because I began my post explaining that my first UU church, in the 1980’s, was Community Church of New York, whose membership at the time was about 50% African-American, and that the black members were the backbone of the church. You chose to leave that out. If I like living inside a white church bubble so much, why did I choose that as my first church home, serving on committees and the Church Council there? If it wasn’t so far from where I now live, I’d gladly make All Souls in Washington my church home.

You also say that I only feel compassion for “some people,” meaning the two white lesbian ministers who were denied a position at the church. Yes, at that point my compassion was with the white women, but it’s not an either/or proposition.

Ask your Philadelphia friends about North Philadelphia, where I spent a lot of time, and about Powelton Village and Germantown, where I chose to live. Ask your New York City friends about Jackson Heights, another place I have lived. Those are not the choices of someone who wants people of color to “shut the fuck up” and go away. Try calling me “North Philadelphia Mel Pine.”

What broke my heart, though, was what you did to what you called a poem I had written, which is a worship resource on the UUA website. It’s a litany of gratitude, called We Thank Them All (since removed from Worship Web; see here). You read it through once as written, honoring and thanking those who come to a religious community with needs to fill and those who come to a religious community with a need to fill others’ needs.

You said the “poem” seemed pretty good but was all a lie, and you read it again, inserting “white people” into every line. You said that’s what I really mean — to thank only white people. You even lectured me on making my true intent clearer. I was going to insert an anecdote here about an incident in the community I first wrote that for, but that’s not needed. You found the words in my post violent and hateful, and then you spoke yours. You told me I “have no morals.” Anyone can read my words and listen to yours using the links in the first paragraph of this post.

The litany of gratitude is the only worship resource of mine published by the UUA, and in my mind, as well as the minds of your video watchers, it will never again express what it was meant to express. I have lost a friend — words I wrote in love, now stained by hate after unnecessarily being dragged into an argument they had nothing to do with. But you’re clear that you don’t find my pain worthy of consideration, because it can’t compare with black pain. And don’t even think of replying that I don’t know what it is to lose a black friend to racial violence, because I do.

Now let’s turn to the words I wrote in my blog post. I have listened to that part of your critique with an open mind and heart. (I can’t say I did the same for the personal attacks.)

My first learning was how deep the racial divide, and racial pain, can be, especially between people who don’t know each other. I know that should seem obvious, but it came through vividly here. I can certainly see that my saying, for example, that I don’t feel safe in church can be offensive to people of color who feel unsafe everywhere in our shared white culture, especially if they think I mean safe from them, which I don’t. On the other hand, you were clear that I should not feel safe in UUism if I engage in this sort of “fuckshit behavior.”

The second learning was how much one’s perspective when reading influences what the reader gets from what’s read. In my blog post, I never mentioned the role of race in the issue because it was about the way decisions are made in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). It was not about what faction I agreed with. And, yes, we all fall into factions, a word you find offensive. I’d say that I’m in the faction that wants to be sure we maintain a spiritual and compassionate core and not become only about social/political action. I’m also in the faction concerned about losing members who agree with our principles but not always and at the same moment with our means to achieve them.

My main objection to this process was the charge that a new hiring and promotion policy be worked out in the 10 weeks before the next elected president takes office. If the new president participates in that process, she will have more ownership of it. This feels to me like working in haste and shutting her out, along with any opinions that might be expressed at the UUA General Assembly. That decision has been made, however, and I am not asking for it to be reversed. I am shining a light on the way important decisions are made by a small group of people with very little understanding by the members of congregations.

I did respond directly to one of your demands. And “demands” is certainly an appropriate word here since you expressed it as an order in all caps on Facebook.

I removed the photo of the three interim co-presidents of the UUA from the post. You made the demand because you didn’t like my using their black faces along with my racist rant. I chose to agree to your demand because their image was the only way someone unfamiliar with the current issue could infer that it was about race.

Getting back to the way perspective influences one’s understanding of what one reads, as I said earlier, roughly 100% of the criticism I received was couched in your words and not the words I used. I accept that my language could have been clearer. Since most of my regular readers are not UUs (which is why I began with “pissy” language about Buddhism), I was summarizing and expected maybe 100 reads. I had no idea the post would get more than 3,500 readers who were indeed interested in the underlying issues. If I had understood that, I would have used more words for clarity.

Many respondents say I’m lying, mistaken, or in the case of your white ally the Rev. Ashley Horan, “sadly misguided” about the facts, but those comments are never attached to words that I actually did use, with one exception that I’ll return to. Most of those who think I’m wrong believe  I said BLUU and other groups “forced” the resignations of UUA leaders. That was your word, Leslie Mac. I don’t believe that BLUU, etc. demanded or forced resignations. But there can be no doubt that their demands “led to” (the words I used) the resignations.

Where I am correctly quoted is in the use of the word “coup,” which understandably some interpret as “coup d’etat.” I could have been clearer. I meant a brilliant streak of hard work and creative approaches that led to one faction (a group that wants something) getting what it wants. You may not like that rephrasing. I understand your feeling that you are merely getting the UUA to live up to what it has promised and failed to deliver, but your ally Rev. Horan describes exactly the coup I’m talking about in the paragraph she tags “1.)” in her April 13 blog post, Enough of this F*%kery, Already, White UUs.

There’s much in Rev. Horan’s post that I’d like to discuss, but this letter is already too long. I invite others seeing this open letter to read Rev. Horan’s post and reflect on her characterizations of me and my beliefs based, as far as I know, on your video and my 800 words. And reflect also on her being an ordained minister in fellowship with the UUA.

One very small point is Rev. Horan’s saying I use “words like ‘coup’ and ‘attack’ and ‘threatened’ several times” in my post. I mention it only because it goes to my point about the perspective one brings to what one is reading. By my count, I used each of those words once, with “attack” only on this occasion: “I never felt personally attacked. I was accepted. No one suggested that I was a racist” at Community Church of New York when I disagreed with African-Americans there on whether Mobil Oil should pull out of South Africa.

And, finally, an addition about Mobil and South Africa, an anecdote I used from the 1980’s. Usually, when I tell that story, I conclude by saying that I was wrong. Mobil eventually did pull out and the boycott worked. In general, I don’t like boycotts. They are a blunt instrument with heavy collateral damage and seldom work. The two big exceptions, in my mind, are the boycott of South Africa and the much earlier grape boycott by the United Farm Workers. I left that part out, again, because I was summarizing an anecdote about accepting each other in our “search for truth and meaning.”

We are a more polarized nation now than we were in the 1980’s, and we UUs seem to be falling into the same pattern. It’s exactly what I feared in my March 19 sermon. Some feel called to fight, fight, fight, or to resist, resist, resist. I understand and respect that. But both my Buddhism and my UUism tell me we should not be replacing radical acceptance with radical exclusion. We need to accept each other with loving kindness in our many diversities.

In our beloved church community, I believe the mantra needs to be accept, accept, accept.

— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)

Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine

 

26 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    Thanks, Mel. There is a lack of awareness of how to be a productive contributor to public discourse and good, as well as institutional process. Someone needs to email folks to explain why hot language isn’t helpful. And perhaps you got some feedback on how your perception of the vote for the interim team was not correct. That’s how we help each other.
    It’s a shame that Leslie didn’t reply to you. I wish we had some wise folks in this discussion who could vet all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      Thank you, Anna. I don’t mean to quibble but I do need to be clear. I have no objection to the vote on the interim team. My objection is in the charge to them — what they are asked to do in 10 weeks. I watched some of the most recent Board of Trustees meetings and find each of the three to be perceptive thinkers with great experience. They may indeed be the “wise folks” we need to “vet all of this.” That’s why I keep writing and am committed to attending GA, but I admittedly am fearful that the softer voices will be drowned out.

      Like

  2. In our religious language as Unitarian Universalists, we’ve discarded much of the notion of sin. One way of thinking of sin is as transgression from a divinely dictated order as interpreted by a patriarchal clergy. A better one, perhaps, is to think of the names of sins as warning signs and guard rails on the road of right relationship.

    You, Mel, have been accused of a few sins: Pride, Lying, Not Acknowledging Your Iniquity, Racism (which I’d say is a modern name for “Speaking Against God’s Children), Haste. If I read this post as an examination of conscience, I conclude that you have confronted some of these and either found no wrong or corrected the wrongs you found. I think that is spiritually honest.

    Another sin which bears consideration in this discussion is that of Calumny. I think it a loss to Unitarian Universalism that I need to define it here; it’s a very valuable warning sign for which we all should be on the lookout and one which many times all of us ignore. Calumny is damage to the good name of another by the accusation of a fault or transgression of which one is not guilty. If someone accuses another of a fault, one needs to be able to substantiate it entirely, because in right relationship the accusation is not a sentence of the soul, but rather a loving warning of how one has wandered off the path of living faithfully.

    You and Leslie Mac are both UUs. I call you both as gently and as lovingly as possible to answer the questions that our third principle proposes: “Do you have respect for one another? How are you encouraging the other to spiritual growth?”

    -Brian Sullivan, UU Congregation of Rockville (Maryland)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Didi is a hot mess says:

    Leslie Mac now making threats against you on behalf of her husband. What on earth is this woman doing in UU in the first place? Not a UU, but been tracking her and her buddy Didi Delgado on social media for a while. They are serious lunatics. Nothing religious, spiritual, or positive about either one…

    “Those of you who know Mel Pine would be wise to tell him to stay away from my husband at GA in June “:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      Can you tell me where she posted that?

      Like

    2. Those of us who don’t know you wonder in what way threats of violence qualify you to in any way consider yourself Unitarian Universalist.

      Like

      1. olavvi says:

        To whom are you referring?

        Like

  4. Parker Rice says:

    Beyond disappointed in these comments so far, and in anyone invoking the UU Faith as a way to perpetuate racism and misogynoir. We white UUs have SO much work to do. Mel Pine your intentions are irrelevant, yes irrelevant, when you continue to do harm and perpetuate white supremacy. Your analysis is a hot mess of respectability politics and an individualized lens applied universally. It is not Leslie Mac’s job, or any other person of color, to educate you, or even listen to you while you are continuing to do harm. It is apparent that you and many others still do not understand this. There is nothing whiter than looking right past all of our racist impact on an individual or community of color, and professing the need for mutually respectful conversation-the idea that we deserve to be heard and understood at this stage of the game. Talk about abusive tactics. Thank God Leslie has not wasted the emotional energy to engage with you-and anyone calling for her to do so needs to check themselves and do a lot more work before chiming in-or perhaps realizing there is no need in fact to chime in unless it is in the service of dismantling white supremacy. Because we are all about the truth right? 😑 Mel Pine and all the rest of us, get to a white supremacy teach-in, and then get to 70 more, and then reassess our harm and impact. This is a disaster. We are a disaster. A racist, misogynist, violently ignorant and self-centering disaster. Speaking softly and invoking peace and understanding changes none of that.

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    1. I am not white and could not disagree with you more.

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    2. michael says:

      thank u!!

      Like

  5. michael says:

    wow, this is an oblivious response.

    white-splanation.

    if you are hurt, be hurt in private, and ask for other white folks in your community to help and guide you in an accountability process as you attempt to reconcile and grow as an ally to communities of color.

    this is more like digging your heals in, using logic, trying to get the upper hand–when you need to be quiet and be humble.

    you lack a lot of awareness, and the proper response is to ask for help, not to argue and prove leslie wrong.

    i’ll be praying for u, but very disappointed at how oblivious and stubborn. this was a poor choice.

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  6. The “I have black friends so I can’t be racist” photo says everything. Mel, you have an extraordinary opportunity to learn and transform here. This is the appropriate time to use your Buddhist practice to bring calm and peace to YOURSELF as you are being held to account. The ego is fighting, defending, resisting, and reacting. It is terrified. Do your practice. Repent. Learn. Grow. Transform.

    Like

    1. michael says:

      thank u!!

      it doesn’t matter how eloquent the response is if what you’re supposed to do is shhhh

      Like

  7. Tracy says:

    Just some feedback that you may want to consider:
    You may feel that this post is your chance to say to Leslie what you want her to hear or to allow the public to “hear your side” or even to explain what you “really meant” but it all just really comes across as playing the victim.

    It comes across as you trying to get people to feel sorry for you because the Angry Black Lady was mean to you. And that you are just misunderstood and misrepresented. A mantra maybe you could learn is Perception is Reality. It doesn’t matter what you meant or intended, only your impact and how it was perceived.

    Equally as important is your entitlement not just for her to educate you as a Black Woman but your entitlement to her period. If you sent her a letter and she did not respond, that’s it, the end, drop it. She doesn’t want to talk to you and is under no obligation to give you her time or energy. That does not mean you get to openly harass her in a public forum to try to guilt or shame her into responding to you. That is just utter manipulation.

    I would advise you to just let it go. Drop it, go home and do some work on yourself. Maybe subscribe to Safetypinbox.com and listne to some White Privilege Podcasts and be silent for a while. Be reflective. Find a group of more “woke” (for lack of a better word) white people to help you on your journey and hold you accountable while you do some much needed work.

    I hope you consider my words.

    Like

  8. Lisa B. says:

    I have a question… is anyone on this blog and its comments participating in the “Undoing Racism” workshop in New Orleans before GA? I HIGHLY recommend it! I have done it twice, really amazing option to sort out ALL of our issues. Please, be respectful, assume good intent and stop flaming the fire, there are clear issues in our association, maybe if we confront it, we can get through it! Us white folks need to educate each other and ourselves about the racism that we all participate in, knowingly or unknowingly. Love to all!

    Like

  9. As a white person engaged in the struggle to end white supremacy, I feel like I should read the whole exchange and respond, but two things make me think my time is better spent on people who are actually trying:

    1. Your “apology,” which was astonishingly far off the mark.

    2. The white savior photo you chose for this post. What on earth.

    Sorry. I have a certain amount of life energy and I’m going to spend it where it has a good chance to make a difference.

    Like

    1. melhpine says:

      I’m also conscious of my time and would not reply if the “white savior” didn’t bother me so much. I knew I would be criticized for the photo, but my blog layout calls for a dominant photo with every post, and anything I could think of would be criticized.

      In this case, since you want to try to come to terms with your own racism, think about why you believe the other people in the photo are the ones being saved. Since 1975, PNG, or more formally the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, has in fact been self-ruled. As far as I know, it had no white ministers, prime ministers or presidents when I was there or since.

      As I explained, this is what the white photographer and I did for fun in our spare time — wandered and interacted with the people. We were there on an assignment for Mobil Oil, but none of these people knew anything about that. My T-short didn’t mean anything to them. They’re smiling because some white guy showed up and not only joined in their game but was doing well. I was in fact winning their money at the time this photo was taken. (I kept playing until I was behind.)

      You may not be aware that PNG has very limited police and rescue resources, and in the absence of those resources justice is administered under the law of retribution. That’s why the government advises both citizens and visitors, if they should strike a pedestrian while driving, NOT to stop and give aid but to roll up your windows, lock your doors and drive to the nearest authority, which is usually quite far.

      This photo is taken up in the mountains, near a road with trucks that you can also see. but my photographer and I wandered to other more remote places in this very fragmented country, where about 850 languages are spoken because so many villages exist in isolation from each other, and in hostility with each other. During the mornings, when we were working, we also had a helicopter and pilot. When we landed near a village on a very hot day our Australian pilot refused to leave the torrid cabin of the chopper because he didn’t trust the residents of the village. The photographer and I did.

      The photographer and I were alone — no weapons, no security — on an island known for its violence (think Michael Rockefeller) where one never sees anything like a police car and without being able to communicate with more than a word or two. We were in thier country and trying respectfully to benefit from having some contact with the residents. If anything, they were graciously saving us.

      Like

      1. michael says:

        mel with the mansplanation and the whitesplanation–FOR THE WIN!

        is there anybody on this blog that actually knows Mel who can tell him to stop, who can tell him that he’s doing everything wrong? Mel the fact that you don’t have the humility to be quiet and hear feedback and let people hold you accountable at all, but you can’t stop defending yourself and trying to make everyone else wrong, it makes me feel terrified for what your actual role is in your own community as a spiritual leader. It’s clear to me that you don’t have really insight about what spiritual leadership is. spiritual leadership is about modeling humility for others. The best thing you could do for your entire community is to show them what it’s like to be wrong and to let others tell you about it. We all struggle with that, but what kind of person are you in your community if when people try to tell you how hurtful you are being you can’t help but try to use a lot of words and make them wrong and prove your point. What you are modeling is really how to be unaccountable. I hope others are not listening to you.

        Like

      2. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words says:

        “My blog layout calls for a dominant photo with every post, and anything I could think of would be criticized.”

        This might be a more absurd excuse than, “My dog ate my homework.” Do you know how many innocuous photographs there are in this world? Just look around your doctor’s office lobby or bank or anywhere else that subscribes to the market for run-of-the-mill abstraction and seascapes. Or how about just a blue rectangle. A world of choices and you went for the white savior picture, and a ridiculous and inadequate rationale, too. Your inability to be humble and own up to ANY missteps, wrongdoing, or harm is both generally inexcusable and out of sync with your purported belief systems.

        Like

      3. Mel, it isn’t about the photo or the circumstances. It’s the choice of putting it on this post. If you don’t get what the problem is, maybe just listening and sitting with what people of color say for a long while will help.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Peace Paul says:

    Hi Mel, I really appreciate your willingness to stay in the discussion despite the incredible amount of negativity that is being directed at you. Dialogue is often uncomfortable and you are engaging with quite a bit of grace. Namo Amida Bu!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. melhpine says:

      Thank you, Ananda. Reminds me of an draft article I think I forgot to send you. Will do so by email.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. pjlazos says:

    Wow, this makes my heart heavy. I wonder if we will ever cross the racial divide. I just read Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me,” and it was brilliant. There are so many things outside the obvious that we, as whites, don’t realize about growing up in a black body, but that also doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in educating myself as that is the only way the problems ever can be addressed. Such a difficult situation for everyone. I hope that you all can see your way clear to amicable resolution. That does seem to be the plague of our nation lately. No one understands anyone else and we’re all just mad and not listening to each other. If I had to look at where it all started, I’d say Roger Ailes had a big hand it in, but it’s not enough to say that. The Kabbalists say we are all complicit in the atrocities that we turn our eyes to avoid seeing. Good luck out there. :0)

    Liked by 1 person

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