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).
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