Archdiocese of Chicago

Catholic Chicago Blog

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Glimpse of a “Post-Racial” America

By Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

On November 4, 2008 our nation elected its first African American president and on November 5, we were talking about a “post-racial” America as if this one historic moment had the power to erase three-hundred years of racial discrimination and oppression.

It did not take long for us in the aftermath of the election to realize that for the majority of people of color in this nation nothing had changed, in fact, the election of a black man to the highest office in the land spurred an increase in hate crimes from the east coast to the west coast, on college campuses and in second grade classrooms. Racism continues to raise its ugly head of fear and hatred regardless of how much progress we have made as a nation.

Thirty years ago this November the bishops of the United States issued their pastoral letter on racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us. In it they write, “Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structure. We would betray our commitment to evangelize...were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel.”

In his 2001 pastoral letter on racism, Dwell in My Love, Cardinal George writes, “People who assume, consciously or unconsciously, that white people are superior create and sustain institutions that privilege people like themselves and habitually ignore the contributions of other peoples and cultures.”

Several weeks ago, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, those, who have been “habitually ignored,” black and Latino Catholics, came together to share their stories and common struggle to overcome racism and anti-immigrant sentiments in this country. Too often their voices are not heard or drowned out. Too often they are invisible and treated as second-class citizens. On that day they would not be ignored nor their voices silenced. On that day they stood linked arm-in-arm along with many of their white sisters and brothers as they marched from St. Eulalia Church in Maywood to the Broadview Detention Center to stand in solidarity with those who are illegal immigrants and their families.

It was truly an evangelizing, transformative moment, with black, white and brown, united together by a faith that is greater than its human failings. A faith that calls us to be one as the Trinity is One. A faith that compels us to work to transform our church and its institutions. A faith rooted in the Eucharist, which is at the heart of racial justice. It was a glimpse of what a “post-racial” America could and should look like.

To learn more about the Archdiocese of Chicago’s commitment to the work of anti-racism, or the upcoming “Catholics Praying for Racial Justice” pilgrimages, visit the

Office for Racial Justice’s website


Friday, August 21, 2009 2:32 PM

Dear Sister,

While I have been disappointed by the sense of racial divide in the Church. This is often an activist approach and you have a beautiful example here. I have found another one, so I will quote it form this week's edition of Catholic New World, which underlines your statements, even if the commentary so far, would pick it apart.

"Three gatherings, three ways of discipleship in one universal church: moving from meeting to meeting was like making a pilgrimage among people whose faith tells them they are not captured by nature or history or genetic determinations, as the world often tries to convince us we are. Rather, they know that they are free in Christ Jesus, whose disciples they are. May God bless them and all of us in and through this same Jesus Christ"
(Francis Cardinal George,OMI 8/2009 C.N.W.)

This resonates your meaning here also. To be a true charism it must be universal, like our Cardianl and you have so stated. I feel the appropriateness of "Lord it is good for us to be here!" as we celebrated the Transfiguration of Our Lord, last week.

Clarissa K.

Friday, August 21, 2009 9:03 AM

Dear Ed G.

You were taken aback by a comment that you attributed to me and that is "that nothing had changed for black people in America". You quoted me incorrectly. What I said is "that for the majority of people of color (not just black people) in this nation nothing had changed".

According to the Applied Research Center's 2007-08 Legislative Report Card in Racial Equity in Illinois Blacks and Latinos have the highest unemployment rates. The earning gap continues to widen with whites earning an average of $71,000 annually compared to $44,000 for Latinos and $39,000 for blacks. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately uninsured. Twelve percent of whites are uninsured in Illinois compared to twenty-six percent of blacks and thirty percent of Latinos.
These are just a few of the stats that support my statement.

As regards documentation of an increase in hate crimes please see my response to Francine.

Thank you for you comments. They are always welcome.

Sr. Anita B.

Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

Friday, August 21, 2009 9:01 AM

Dear Francine,

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and comment.

You challenged my statement about an increase in hate crimes following the election of
President Obama in that I did not give statistics or references. There are several web sites that I believe will provide you with the substantiated facts. Two that I would recommend are:

The Southern Poverty Law Center
The Associated Press

The Associated Press reported on a disturbing number of racial incidents following the election of President Obama.

"Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting assassinate Obama.' Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars. From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders."

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes reported that "there have been hundreds of incidents since the election, many more than usual."

I agree with you that a very important part of eradicating the sin of racism is that of transformation. Our faith calls it to just that. Most people of color while having been victimized by racism do not view themselves as victims. There is a difference.

You asked me to look into my heart and examine my own personal views. I do that each and every day knowing that I stand in the need of God 's merciful forgiveness and love. I trust that you do the same. I would only ask that we not judge one another but that we remain open and are willing to listen and to learn. If we work together we can transform our society and our world.

Sr. Anita B.

Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

Thursday, August 20, 2009 10:35 PM

Regarding the comments on "black on black crime", let's be clear about about a couple things.

First, the large majority of crimes upon white people are committed by white people. The same applies to Latinos and other racial/ethnic groups. But we never hear anyone talking about "white on white crime."

In general, crimes are committed by people who live in proximity to the victims. And given the fact that so many of our neighborhoods and communities are still highly segregated, it's easy to see why this pattern exists.

Michael R.

Thursday, August 20, 2009 2:13 PM

In her well written piece, Anita Baird faces the subleties of denial with the power of truth. We cannot pretend that all is well in our nation because we overwhelmingly elected a man of African heritage. President Obama was elected on the basis of his leadership skills and the plans he proposed for our nation. Anita casts light on the reality of racism in the United States. She does not stop there. She also irects that light on reasons for hope; hope in the integrity of right minded people, such as herself, to step forward and defy the evils of discrimination and division by actively uniting in a bold statement of mutual respect. I dare to trust that one day the infinite dignity of every man, woman and child will be honored. Truth, when proclaimed, will bear its fruit. Thank you, Anita.

Miriam Najimy

Miriam N.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 2:48 PM

Dear Tom S.

While I am acutely aware of the tragic reality of "black on black" crime and its tremendous toll on the African American community, it is not the cause of racism but rather the tragic outcome of racist policies that have resulted in years of neglect and abandonment of impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods, inferior education, poor and inadequate housing, lack of job skills training and jobs.

The lack of access to decent schools, health-care, and jobs are quality of life issues that speak directly to the dignity of the human person, of every human being. Too often those who have been victimized by racism and discrimination are solely blamed and held accountable for the ills that ravish their communities without getting at the root cause of the disease. I believe that we must all take responsibility for the ills of our society and as Christians speak out against the evils of racism and work to transform our systems and institutions to insure that everyone, rich and poor, white, black and brown, will have equal access and opportunity otherwise we will continue to be a part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 7:52 AM

There is as much ‘white on white’ crime as there is ‘black on black’ crime. What needs to be addressed are the root causes of crime….and the number one cause is poverty. What causes poverty? I believe the biggest reason is a lack of access to quality education (beginning right at the lower grade school level). If you cannot speak or write effectively you cannot communicate properly in society. If you cannot communicate well, you cannot: get a job above minimum wage (if that), you will not be able to support yourself let alone a family, your future prospects will be very dim. This leads to despair which leads to desperation which leads to crime. Access to education in our society is contingent on $$$. If you live in an affluent neighborhood, you get quality education. If you don’t, tough luck. How do you get to live in an affluent neighborhood? You get a decent job. How does that happen? Education. Education. Education. The Archdiocese of Chicago has done an outstanding job helping fund quality education for many of those living in poorer neighborhoods, but Catholic schools cannot withstand the increasing operating costs and will, I’m afraid, be priced out of the market sooner rather than later. For people to live together peacefully and fruitfully, there needs to be an overall sense of fairness and equality at the very basest social level. How that will happen I do not know. What can we do? Support your local Catholic school, if possible; volunteer to work in local literacy programs or at your local grade/high school; be a Big Brother or Sister; support your sharing parish; support politicians who work to fund education in a fairer and more equitable manner than local real estate taxes.

Margie G.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 10:54 PM

"It did not take long for us in the aftermath of the election to realize that for the majority of people of color in this nation nothing had changed, in fact, the election of a black man to the highest office in the land spurred an increase in hate crimes from the east coast to the west coast, on college campuses and in second grade classrooms. Racism continues to raise its ugly head of fear and hatred regardless of how much progress we have made as a nation."

Nothing had changed for black people in America? The election of a black president changed nothing for black people? This is a strange comment.

And it spurred an increase in "hate crimes" across the nation? Sister, do you have documentation of this?

I am proud that our country and the majority white population voted for a blck man for president. However, I deeply regret that he is an ardent prponent of abortion on demand, and through many of his initiatives is attempting to force abortion on the country, whether they like it or not.

Ed G.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 10:06 PM

I am speechless after reading your statement,

"It did not take long for us in the aftermath of the election to realize that for the majority of people of color in this nation nothing had changed, in fact, the election of a black man to the highest office in the land spurred an increase in hate crimes from the east coast to the west coast, on college campuses and in second grade classrooms. Racism continues to raise its ugly head of fear and hatred regardless of how much progress we have made as a nation."

Any statement that reaches such a conclusion should have been preceded by a listing of specific events and it was not. Where is your evidence for such a claim?

Part of the process of eradicating racism is that all involved in the process are transformed so that no human being is objectified by others and equally important that individuals also do not perpetuate the process by perceiving themselves as an object/victim.

I would ask you to look into your heart and examine your statement and what it reflects about your personal views. Oftentimes our biggest obstacle in changing perceptions is ourselves, not others.

Francine J.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 6:27 PM

I think Sisters comments help to bring light to the fact that just because we have an African American president, the institutional racism that plagues our national and local governments and even our Church is still present. But on another note, sometimes I feel we only look at the racism that is emitted by whites, us people of color can sometimes be just as racist in our day to day dealings with white society, even if it is because of the past sins of white America against us. I think as a Catholic and universal community of faith we should pray for an end to ALL racism in all forms and from ALL peoples...God Bless!

Devin J.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 1:59 PM

Sister Anita's comments have many truth's, it is extremely sad that racism still exist. However I feel that Sister ignores racism caused by the African American Community itself. The majority of crime in the inner city is "Black on Black" crime. We can debate the causes of this, but can not ignore the fact. I believe Sister's efforts would be better placed as father Michael Phlegar has done and work within the African American Community to address the problem. Remember the old phrase, "Physician heal thyself".

With the help of God maybe someday racism will be something in the past that we will only read about in history books. But until the African American Community can come to grips with the problems that effect them the most, Please don't blame these issues on racism.

Tom S.

Monday, August 17, 2009 8:14 PM

I appreciate and welcome Sr. Anita's insightful commentary on racism in America today. Racism is still prevalent in our society, yet it's a subject that is often emotional and controversial for many people. But to ignore the subject only allows the status quo to perpetuate itself, including the false belief that racism is no longer a problem (the mistaken view that America is "post-racial").

In addition, the wide racial gaps in education, employment, income, wealth, health, and housing, along with the persistent bias in the justice system, underscore the realty that America is not yet “post-racial,” and we must continue to work hard to confront and dismantle racism wherever it exists.

Michael R.