Dear Dr. Comer:

William Raspberry's syndicated column identifies the growing number of unemployed black youth as a potentially permanent underclass of citizens. Do you think Jesse Jackson's "pull yourself up by the bootstrap" rhetoric is fair to black youth facing such bleak unemployment prospects?


Dear M.D.

I think the important question is not whether it is fair but whether it is helpful.

Through his PUSH-EXCEL project, the Rev. Jackson is encouraging black young people to take pride in themselves as individuals, as members of the black community and as citizens of our society. He reasons that people who have pride should achieve and behave at their highest academic and social capacity. It seems to me that these are good things to do whether one has a job or not. In fact, one's best change of getting a job is to have pride, achieve and behave well. Incidentally, behaving well does not mean that one tolerates injustice.

Encouraging or permitting young people to underachieve and excusing poor performance because times are hard or racism exists is to condemn them to dependency, poverty and abuse. It also reduces the number of black people who will develop the skills needed to function well in the complex society to today and tomorrow. This, in turn, reduces the number of people available to effectively fight racism.

Encouraging and permitting black youth to do less than their best is not fair to them or the black community and not good for society as a whole. Let the adults fight for opportunity. Urge the children to prepare themselves.

I am really confused by do-nothing logic. There is no way of knowing what life will bring. But not doing everything one can do to develop oneself is foolish. Under changed conditions in this political and economic system or even a new one, undisciplined, poorly prepared people will not do well.

Do-nothing logic is so different from the spirit of the black community of yesterday.

A negro spiritual says, "Keep your hands on the plow, hold on."

Black parents advised their children, although living in a sea of racism, to "prepare yourself-your time will come."

Black porters and domestics saved their nickels and dimes and sent five or six children to college.

Without weapons or war, blacks overcame overt segregation laws and practices that powerful racists said would never fall. Ann this happened because the black church-based culture preached pride and determination.

Concern about blaming the victim usually exists when a question like yours is raised. I think it is important that it be understood that poor black families and youth are victims of the ravages of slavery, illegal laws and violence which closed generations of black people out of political and economic opportunity. Today's poverty and unemployment are related to yesterday's racism.

But as Jackson has put it, "Nobody is going to help us, but us." Because this is true, an overemphasis on placing the blame, except to point up the moral responsibility of society to develop needed legislation and opportunity for blacks, is not helpful.

Poor, uneducated but determined black people of yesterday have left an important legacy of hard work and determination for black young people of today. It is important that better educated black young people of today not confuse the issues. The black community has come too far to let that happen now.

If time is to run out before the community reaches its goal, let it run out on the 2-yard line rather than the 50. Without black young people doing their best, it will be the 50.