A couple of weeks ago, something painful happened to one of my daughters, leading me to ask her permission to write about it.

My daughter, a graduate student, was leaving her part-time job in Georgetown and being escorted to her car by two fellow workers, both white.

Standing on the corner of a main juncture were three black youths. One of them stepped up to her, blocking her path, and said, "What are you doing going out with these . . . white boys?" The youths did not touch her and she kept walking, maneuvering around them, although she was deeply frightened.

The same youth who had spoken to her grabbed one of her companions by his tie, and the man defensively put his hands on the youth's shoulders. "Don't touch me," the youth said to him, adding, "I could kill you."

As my daughter turned on her heels to seek help, a black cab driver pulled up, got out of his car and stopped the confrontation by stepping between the two men. The other man who was accompanying her stopped trying to intervene, and the other two young black men pulled their aggressive friend away. Both groups then dispersed, and my very shaken daughter was walked to her automobile.

I was angry and frightened when she told me about this incident. In this violent world in which we live, women are at risk constantly, facing dangers in simply going about their daily activities. She might have been physically hurt; her life ruined in a hostile situation -- her companions too.

Then I gave a silent mother's thanks to the cabdriver who felt responsible and caring enough to intervene and defuse the situation. In the end, I was relieved, thankful that the situation had not escalated into violence.

Naturally her father, her friends and acquaintances and I have given my daughter a lot of support to deal with the residual emotions. But I was so upset and pained by it all that I wanted to better understand what's behind such racial hostility.

One black male friend was irate. He said, "While I always like to be on the side of the brothers, I'd say if one of those white guys had pulled a gun and shot one of the dudes who stopped your daughter, I wouldn't have said he was wrong. Nobody has the right to do what he {the youth} did."

A clinical psychologist tried to place the incident within the larger context.

"There you have young men standing on a corner, they don't have jobs and feel their lives aren't worth a dime," said Edwin Nichols, an expert on social culture. "Many like them come from generations of women who had kids at 15, and who are grandmothers at 30. None has been socialized and developed. Their sons have no model of the role of a man but what they see on television, where the message is that it's all right to be violent against women. They are crippled, unable to interact, and all they feel they have a claim to is their women."

Nichols was pointing to the black anger, confusion and worthless feelings of some youth. That night, they also felt rejected by a black woman. Exacerbating the situation, he said, was my middle-class daughter's lack of social coping skills in dealing with the youths.

"Black people once had differences between them that were not based on economics as they are today. The differences were based on how one was raised within one's home and how one behaved," he said. "Then, the church was the common arena where black people of all backgrounds learned to interact."

Not so today, he said. Economic differences, life in middle-class suburbs and private schools combine to provide middle-class blacks with a different experience from their less well-off peers. In addition, many black families no longer go to church.

As for young middle-class blacks, Nichols feels they need to learn new coping skills, including a whole repertoire of black language, to overcome class differences to defuse tense situations. He would like to see the church assume a paramount role again as the vehicle by which blacks of different classes can learn to communicate with each other again.

I listened to these sociological explanations, agreeing that they are important. Yet I felt that some other sparks are needed to ignite change within these young men, for they have to be held responsible for their actions and stop this horrible terrorizing of women who have a right to walk the street with whomever they please without being accosted.

My daughter's being in shock was a strong version of my own reactions. While I understood the causes of this confrontation, I was still angry that somebody had shattered her trust in the world. I was especially saddened that it was black youths who caused this trauma to her.

For underlying all our difficulties must be the basic respect we owe ourselves and each other just for surviving in these troubled times. The black youths should take pride in themselves, who they are and the strength they show. But that strength should be used to enhance life, not to terrorize and detract from it.