Letters to a columnist are treasured whether they bring flowers or arrows. Time restraints permit few personal responses, but occasionally a letter motivates me to share its contents.

The Rev. Bill B. Wilson of Silver Spring, who described himself as one of the "countless numbers of white citizens who involved himself in the civil rights movement in the sixties" was disturbed that I called Harold Washington's victory in Chicago "a win for all."

Few whites admit it publicly, he said, but " . . . there are more people seething with resentment and feelings of being betrayed than you can imagine. And if the blacks do not soon recognize just how profoundly offensive their constant attacks on the whites are to all but the most simple-minded, the black portion of this population is going to discover that 'majority rules' can be very ugly . . . if one happens to be in the minority."

Then he challenged me to differentiate between "racial pride and racism."

These days, he finds racial pride exclusive to blacks and racism "apparently reserved exclusively for whites . . . and otherwise indistinguishable from racial pride in blacks."

Dear Bill,

There is a difference between pride and racism. One is not immune to racism just because one's skin is black. By the same token, a white person can experience racial pride without it crossing the line into racism.

The question is where you draw the line.

I think the line is crossed when one's pride in race becomes unreasoning, blinding, superior, hateful and discriminatory against others. It's similar to pride in one's family receding into clannishness, or pride in one's religion receding into religiosity.

One may well be proud that his name is Jones, but if the name Jones makes him feel he ought to have advantages over people named Smith, Jones is becoming clannish.

Racism, like classism and sexism, is one of those all-inclusive terms that is used to cover a multitude of attitudes, subtleties, individual acts and institutional patterns. Its complexity has filled many books.

Webster's dictionary defines racism as a doctrine without scientific support that claims to find racial differences in character, intelligence, etc. that asserts the superiority of one race over another or others.

Feminist Katherine Simpson calls racism in America, "the curse of white culture, the oath of an evil witch who invades our rooms at birth . . . . Whatever the cause, the virus has infected us all."

At one time in this country, blacks were incapable of racism in a practical sense.

They lacked the power to exercise it. You have perhaps identified a time in which this may no longer be true.

As blacks move into positions of power with the election of big-city mayors and talk of a black presidential candidate, perhaps it is now possible for blacks to exercise racist practices.

But other factors intervene. The power of blacks is limited--their economic status is substantially below that of white Americans.

Joblessness is three times as great, average income lower than that of whites in general. While blacks have made many gains in the past 15 years, they still lack the power to practice racism on a grand scale even if they wished to, and I don't think an 11.7 percent minority would seriously wish to anyway.

For example, black mayors have shown a willingness to be fair to all their constituents.

Lyndon Johnson once said, "Whites stand on history's mountain and blacks stand in history's hollow."

Black pride exists in part because blacks historically have been so systematically dehumanized and made to feel inferior that pride was one way of overcoming the tremendous burdens of living in this society.

Many understandably feel resentful of a white culture--as distinguished from well-meaning white individuals--that restricted their mobility and held them at the bottom. This pride, so necessary to survive centuries of deprivation, sometimes may look excessive to nonblacks. But there is a world of difference between pride and racism.

Keep writing.