Dear Dr. Poussaint:

Why do you and other writers imitate the news media in downgrading the Negro by referring to him as black?

Do we refer to the Chinese and Japanese as "yellow" or "Yellows"? Do we refer to Native Americans as red men in daily conversations?

A noted female singer of your race objected to being called black and got a few lines in the news.

Will you please, in the future, use the word Negro? It might start a trend. -- D.T.

Dear D.T.:

You apparently feel the world black is derogatory and prefer the designation "Negro" for Americans of African descent. As you know, the word negro means black in Spanish. Therefore it really isn't a more respectable term if you literally dislike the label black.

Many blacks in America learned to accept the term Negro as dignified and respectable because it was more palatable than the word nigger. Black Americans preferred negro because it camouflaged the more direct, explicit meaning, black, which so many black people were ashamed of since white Europeans considered blackness as inferior, evil and savage.

So it was a psychological step forward for African-Americans to accept being black without feeling ashamed or demeaned. Black is not ugly and can be beautiful as the other racial colorations are.

Many psychologists believe that accepting the word black was liberating to many black people and has improved their self-concept. However, I know that many black persons, particularly in the older generation, are still uncomfortable with the new awareness. A well-known black civil rights leader said he would never switch from the word negro to black.

Some time ago, a black, 50-year-old policeman wrote that although he intellectually felt the term black should be used, he actually felt sick to his stomach whenever he used it. He said that when he was child, "black" had only derogatory connotations.

While the term black is not unanimously accepted by blacks, it's accurate to say that the vast majority of black people accept it as an appropriate label.

I can't suggest what Chinese, Japanese or Native Americans should call themselves. There are many instances in which national identity supersedes racial identity. For instance, in Africa one would be more inclined to say he was Nigerian or Senegalese rather than "I'm black."

In America, many foreign blacks will indicate they are Haitian or African to mark their identity. This is perfectly legitimate and acceptable. In the U.S., the term black connotes both a racial and national identity primarily for the descendants of slaves.

People have a right to be called what they wish. If anyone refers to a person as black, he can simply interject that he prefers to be called "negro."

Dear Dr. Comer:

I know that black children are as intelligent as white children. But I think that black leaders, newspapers and others encourage an attitude of "what for" or "you don't have to listen to anybody" and that this lowers motivation. -- J.F.

Dear J.F.:

In the past there were two big problems for black students. One was the reality of limited opportunity after obtaining an education. The second was the fact that the black community was controlled. Black leadership has been hammering away at every limit to opportunity and to unfair, racially determined controls. This was, and still is, necessary.

But many black leaders are now aware that in addition to attacking these problems, they must challenge and motivate black youths who are not being motivated by their families and the social networks to which they belong.

The EXCELL program of PUSH, and certain Urban League and NAACP programs are designed to challenge and motivate black youth to develop and help themselves. Almost every black fraternity and sorority has scholarship and other programs of motivation. Black and white educators in public school systems are developing programs to motivate excellence and personal responsibility. Individual blacks do the same. Our family doctor never charged my family for medical care so that my four brothers and sister could attend college.

Unfortunately, high unemployment and resultant problems for black families and neighborhoods have made the motivation of many black youths a difficult task. People with power in business and government must help by providing more employment opportunities and by addressing other problems that have resulted from high unemployment in the past. Black leaders must help and are helping, but real opportunities will have the greatest impact.