I was disheartened to read Kevin Landry’s column from July 11th,”Time to move on from a cancerous past.”

As a Franco-American myself, it is frustrating to hear members of our community use our history of discrimination to minimize the ongoing issue of systemic racism. Mr. Landry argues that just as Franco-Americans have suffered historical hardships but accomplished much since, we as a society should celebrate our modern progress instead of focusing on the United States’ racist history.

In Mr. Landry’s words, it’s “time to move forward, resolve any racial inequality where there is, and not dwell on a cancerous past that is not reflective of today’s America.”

There are two central falsehoods implied by this point of view — the first, that Franco-Americans no longer suffer the consequences of our historical discrimination; the second, the implication that this “cancerous past” of racism is no longer relevant to the modern day.

Neither is true.

As to this first claim, the University of Maine’s 2013 Contemporary Attitudes of Maine’s Franco Americans demonstrated that Franco-Americans continue to lag behind our Anglo-American peers in earnings and income. More than 35 percent of Franco-American households earn less than $20,000/year, a third of Maine’s average household income today. Only 20 percent hold a college degree, as opposed to a third of other Mainers, and 80 percent are first-generation college students.

Sixteen percent of Franco-Americans in the study were uninsured, double the state’s current rate. This is neither an accident nor a coincidence. It is the result of intergenerational poverty brought about by decades of economic exploitation in the mills and shoe factories, years of housing and employment discrimination, and an internalization of the belief that we did not deserve better than what we had — that we were nés pour un petit pain.

This is historical suffering — yet we continue to live with its consequences, 150 years after first arriving in the states. Our past has built our present.

For this same reason, it is not simply “dwelling on the past” when we discuss historical racist violence. Slavery, Jim Crow, the Klan, lynchings, redlining, medical experimentation — these are a fraction of the historical forces that oppressed and impoverished Black Americans — and Black Americans continue to suffer the contemporary consequences.

It is not a coincidence that the average wealth of a white household is 10 times higher than the average wealth of a Black household, that white homeownership is nearly two times the rate of Black homeownership, that Black neighborhoods are purposefully overpoliced and Black people incarcerated more frequently and severely. It is the cumulative effect of centuries of racist violence and exploitation that weigh down Black communities, not to mention the contemporary violence, discrimination, and low wages they continue to face.

America’s racist past has built our racist present.

Timothy St. Pierre, Brunswick


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.