Dear Doctors:

I am a 26-year-old black female with a master's degree in clinical psychology. I have just read "Behind Closed Doors" (Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, 1980) and was appalled at their findings on race and family violence. According to their research, blacks were significantly higher among racial groups in committing wife abuses; husband abuse was twice as common in black familes, compared to white familes.

I know these findings were based on a select group and there were other compounding variables, such as class, but the fact remains that there was a significant difference. Not until my personal encounter with violence did I begin to think there is in intrinsic pattern that is latent in black men and manifests itself during certain situations. For example, a number of my black women friends have admitted acts of violence, as well as abuse, committed toward them and their children -- anything from a push to the use of a weapon.

Are black men and women literally "enemies?" What has happened to the solidarity we once had during times of crisis? Do we still take out the injustices in our lives by attacking those closest to us, as was proposed by Grier and Cobb in "Black Rage"? -- A Reader

Dear Reader:

The answer to your last question is, yes.

You have described one of the most serious problems in the United States today. Family abuse is most often a result of increased societal stress. It is not a problem inherent in black culture, but affects blacks more because they are more often the victims of inflation, inadequate educational opportunities, unemployment and underemployment.

In addition, blacks must address these issues, like all other families, in a social climate that is often, intentionally and unintentionally, racist. The everyday obstacles to earning a decent living, combined with racism, create a stress level that can be a near knockout blow.

Yet, society expects black families to provide the same kind of support to its members that familes under less stress are able to provide. As you note, many black families were once able to provide an amazing amount of support under excessively stressful conditions, but few are able to do so today. At least two factors underlie the difficulty:

First, the effects of science and technology have knocked the least prepared -- for historical reasons, a disproportionate number of such persons as black -- out of the job market. Previously, the black defense against poverty and racism was a remarkable sense of community -- the type of mutual support, sharing and spirituality that existed in the Deep South and southern transplant communities in the North. High mobility has greatly reduced the sense of community.

Secondly, many blacks have come to accept the belief in "individualism" that is characteristic of society at large. In so doing, there is a tendency worth as individuals, families and community with that of whites. This often results in frustration, anger and disappointment -- and negative feelings and actions being directed at those they are closest to, as Grier and Cobb pointed out.

This problem will not be solved until the economic status of minorities is improved and there is a reduction in racism. We must also reject the myth that we only are as good as what we own, or the position in life that we achieve.

In the meantime, it is important for society as a whole -- and critically important for the black community -- to reestablish the sense of community that existed prior to high mobility.

Dear Doctors:

Do black people ever truly like and trust white people? I am white, and over the years have had under my supervision a great many black employes. I believe I have dealt as fairly with them as with whites. But it has always bothered me that, almost without exception, I would experience a gaze or look that I could only interpret as hatred -- even from blacks who were not under my supervision, but middle and upper-income persons. Why? -- A Reader

Dear Reader:

Unfortunately, the condition discussed in the previous question has made it difficult for blacks to truly trust whites -- and even other blacks. Indeed, black and white experiences make it impossible for you or anyone to be free of race consciousness and prejudice. Often, a white person who infrequently deals with blacks in position of authority may not be aware that their attitudes, statements or acts are racist. Blacks, on the other hand, with a need to know who it is they're dealing with, are tuned in to telltale signs -- the discomfort of a white in an all-black setting, a lack of respect shown to a black, even if he or she is a highly paid, highly educated executive, are such a common occurrence as the last seat that is taken on a train or plane is usually the one next to a black passenger.

Obviously, there are degrees of racism and trust. Indeed, all whites do not like or trust each other, and this does not inhibit interaction. Historical factors and current inequities cause black and white interaction to be more charged.

It is difficult to control our race-related thoughts. In fact, it may be unrealistic to believe that black and white mistrust, indeed distrust among human beings, will ever be eliminated.