Many letter writers have claimed that "inner-city" Baltimore's problems stem from its "culture." Most recently, a writer discussed "root issues such as the breakdown of the family and the widespread drug/thug culture that is tolerated by the people living there" ("The root causes of what ails Baltimore," Dec. 30).

As a white homeowner in Baltimore, I believe it is critical to challenge such views. To anyone who scoffs at terms like "structural racism," please try to imagine that there may actually be some truth behind them. The same cultural impetus behind slavery, Jim Crow and segregation is at work today.

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I also believe it is important to be transparent. When the letter writer said "inner-city," she is referring to poor, black communities. She argues that poor, black people need to change their ways if they want better jobs, education and housing. Poor, black parents need to be more "responsible." Poor, black youths need to be "ready, willing and able to learn." Poor, black job-seekers need to dress "appropriately" and be more "reliable."

The message I take away from this and other letters is this: If you're poor and black, then you are the problem; your "culture" is the problem. This is an insidious and deeply damaging message.

The reality is that black "culture" did not create today's entrenched poverty. Instead, the primary cause of concentrated black poverty has been white policymakers. There is no escaping that historical fact, and history is repeating itself through today's policies and patterns.

Of course I also believe in personal responsibility and hard work. I believe we all — especially whites — have a personal responsibility to do the hard work of learning and listening with an open mind. Googling "redlining," for instance, might be a good place to start.

Tommy Landers, Baltimore

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