A striking parallel comes to mind in considering the handful of black lawyers who obtained equity in multi-million dollar downtown development projects here for little or no up-front money.

It's the time over a century ago when hundreds of thousands of white citizens were encouraged by acts of Congress to go and stake off hundreds of acres of public land and lay claim to it -- free.

In the late 19th century, it was frontier time -- geographical frontierism.

Today across America, blacks are at the frontier, gaining a measure of real political power for the first time.

Unfortunately, in the case of blacks, the same standards that have worked for whites using political power to achieve economic power suddenly aren't operative. What used to be the normal course of business now is suspect.

Blacks are bucking the status quo even if they are only slightly hammering away at traditions and even if the immediate benefits are only for a few.

They are outsiders trying to get in. Because their presence and influence are uncharacteristic, their actions stand out and attract attention.

White developers, because of their years in the business and their connections, do not customarily put up front money. Blacks, on the other hand, who were kept out of the game in the past and do not therefore enjoy such access to capital, are perceived by some to be asking "something for nothing" when they try to play the same game.

Speaking of Americans getting something "for nothing," many of us have watched with fascination as the government bailed out Penn Central and Lockheed and is now trying to do the same thing for Chrysler. In fact, it seems that the little guys are the only ones practicing free enterprise and not being socialized.

It is too early to know what the furor over "equity without dollars" will amount to, but it is important that the city's fledgling and incomplete efforts to turn political power into economic power for minorities not come to a halt. The black voter should also carefully scruntinize how this new leverage is used.

Black politicians like Mayor Barry must realize that they cannot operate in as freewheeling a manner as the next guy. It is axiomatic that they are going to face tougher scrutiny as they make their first attempt at flexing political and economic muscle.

For if this is the oldest game in American politics that has been played by the Jews, Italians, Irish and WASPs, it is clear that the rules change when it is expedient.