William Raspberry's May 11 op-ed article, "Celebrating Victimization," was on the right track but stopped short of a satisfying destination. Yes, focusing on victimization polarizes people and undercuts any sense of community. Why does the "victim" mentality persist? Mr. Raspberry's suggestion of political aggrandizement or self-pity is incomplete. It persists because little effort has been made by anyone to replace it with mechanisms for healing.

We Americans are pretty good in the long run at changing our legal infrastructure to address societal wrongs. We frequently delude ourselves, however, by believing that that's all we have to do.

The civil rights movement won changes in our laws. It even won changes in many hearts. But it built no bridge to help heal our society or advance a sense of community after the legal war was won. It's 1990. That bridge remains undesigned and unbuilt.

Why? We excel at looking backward. We're reminded year after year, especially around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, of the famous civil rights battles. TV images of beatings and jails, dogs and fire hoses, speeches and marches, deaths and burials haunt us and remind us. The confrontation felt horrible. The victories felt tenuous. We were all victims; we all suffered. It really happened. We shouldn't forget.

We also shouldn't think that, once we've poured the legal foundation, we've built the whole house. Mr. Raspberry quotes Julius Lester, saying, "there is no right to be free from racism, antisemitism or sexism." Well, do we have a right to be free from cancer, heart disease or air pollution? They exist. They're awful. We apply therapies and look for cures.

We, alone, can't cure our "isms," as Mr. Raspberry calls them. But can we muster the compassion, dignity and insight to develop some effective therapies? Let's come up with some positive alternatives to "victimization" -- and let the healing begin.

MARK WRIGHT Washington