I write in response to Kevin Landry’s guest column (“Time to move on from a cancerous past,” July 11).

I think Landry is correct to point out the biases and discrimination New England’s Franco Americans have faced. However, Landry makes the specious claim that if systemic racism exists “then not only are institutions racist, but the motivations behind a person are racist.”

This claim is wrong not just because it blurs the important difference between “institutional” and “individual” biases, but because Mr. Landry reveals a desire to be innocent, rather than introspective about how social inequality comes to exist.

Mr. Landry trumpets this innocence when he only points out that Franco Americans, like many immigrants, were not privileged, but succeeded by hard work. I have no doubt that Franco Americans worked hard to succeed, but if Mr. Landry was more introspective, he might wonder about the kinds of “invisible” support Franco Americans received.

An example of this invisible help is the low interest mortgage loans available to whites, especially to veterans, after World War II and that continues to this day through racially-biased banking and lending practices. The availability of these loans led ethnic Americans who had identified, for instance, as Polish, Italian, or Irish, to see that being white had a practical value in America. The government guaranteed these mortgages by maintaining racially homogenous neighborhoods, which meant shutting Black people, including many Black veterans, out of home ownership and the accumulation of wealth that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

The point here is that individual, hard-working people applying for mortgages did not have to be “racist,” to use Mr. Landry’s word; rather they had to be able to identify themselves as white — and not Black — and as not-Indigeous, in a state like Maine. The ability that some people have to identify as “white” and not as “Indigenous” or “Black” is how institutional social inequality can be enacted, and that ability is not about an individual’s feelings toward non-white people.

Charles Nero, Lewiston

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