The president of the Maine State Bar Association apologized Friday for not intervening when a lawyer said that sexism in Maine is a bigger problem than racism during an online panel discussion earlier this week.
Leah Baldacci, an Augusta lawyer who is the daughter-in-law of former Gov. John Baldacci, made the comments during a regular online discussion Monday, sponsored by the organization.
“As we all know, black men were given the vote before white women in this country. I feel that sometimes, racism overshadows sexism, when ultimately in the state of Maine, I believe that is our greatest issue,” Baldacci said Monday.
She also made several controversial remarks about white privilege, which refers to the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people. Baldacci said that describing people as having white privilege is racist.
“I realize I fell short in my duties as moderator on that day,” Thaddeus Day of North Yarmouth said in a video message. “I was caught off guard by her statement. … It was a mistake and I apologize. There can be no privilege based on race.”
In response to Day’s apology, Baldacci said that her comments were in response to diversity training programs all Maine attorneys are required to attend not any statement about racial injustice issued by the association.
“When you accuse a group of attorneys of having ‘white privilege’ at the beginning of a [progrm] on discrimination, you create no oxygen in the room for a discussion on how we can help make the world a better place,” she said late Friday. “The phrase ‘white privilege’ is also, by definition, a racist comment, as it states that all white people are privileged and categorizes a whole race as being guilty of bad faith.”
Her comments Monday roiled Maine’s legal community and were widely shared on social media. They came amid the latest national debate over racism in law enforcement, spurred by the slaying of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis Police Department officer.
“Baldacci’s statements were breathtakingly ignorant on just about every level,” Portland lawyer Tina Nadeau said in a letter addressed to the panelists. “The ‘plight’ of white women is not comparable to the historical systemic devastating racism that continues to haunt black people in America.”
Baldacci said Friday that she has been reviled for her opinions on social media by people she has never met. She also declared that she is not a racist.
“Not only do I abhor racism, I also believe sexism, ageism, pedophilia, and adultery are evil,” she said. “I do not, however, believe that name-calling, trolling, and bullying those with different perspectives will help the collective mission of ending evil. Often, I find that conservatives and liberals have the same goals, they just differ on how the goals should be achieved.”
Monday’s discussion centered around a statement issued by the bar association on June 12 in response to Floyd’s killing.
Baldacci said on Monday that she wanted to offer the perspective of “a millennial and a female and an attorney who is boots on the ground.”
Day said on Monday that he appreciated Baldacci’s remarks and praised her for “having the courage to speak up.”
Baldacci’s colleague, Roger Katz, said Friday on Facebook that he and his law firm, Lipman & Katz, do not share Baldacci’s opinions. Katz, who has served in the Maine legislature, said that “as a white man living in Maine, I see it as my duty to listen, learn and speak up on issues of racial justices.”
He also said that he recognized he has had advantages in life because he is white.
“I am a lucky man,” Katz said. “I was born in the greatest country in the world at one of the great times in history. Lucky. Two loving parents. Lucky. But I was also born white. Lucky there too. Call it white privilege. Call it starting the race of life a little ahead of others because of the color of my skin. Whatever. But let’s recognize it. Let’s own it. And let’s change it.”