Of all the absurd and hypocritical criticisms that have surfaced recently against Mayor Barry, the most baseless contends that he has evoked racism as a defense. In her op-ed piece {"Thoughts on Mayor Barry," June 18}, Meg Greenfield uses just this erroneous foundation for her argument. She asserts that the mayor "seized upon" racism to explain his current legal dilemma.

But try as she might, I believe Miss Greenfield will never be able to cite an instance where she actually heard Mayor Barry blame his troubles on racism. On the contrary, Mayor Barry consistently has said he does not think racism is the cause of his troubles. He has, however, raised the possibility that politics play a part in his prosecution -- after all, one Republican prosecutor or another has been going after a Democratic mayor for nearly 10 years now.

What Miss Greenfield has no doubt heard is other people identifying racism as a likely factor in this scary turn of events. I use the word "scary" because we now have another indication of just what can happen to people who fall out of favor with the powers that be. The potential jurors have reflected the fear; most said they are worried about the privacy issues that the mayor's case raises.

But back to Miss Greenfield's contention that Mayor Barry has tried to hide behind racism: Number one, black people do not have to try to hide behind racism; it's so pervasive, it blocks us naturally. Many African Americans -- including Mayor Barry -- have spent a major portion of their lives trying to achieve the seemingly impossible feat of getting out from under it.

Regarding Mayor Barry's case, many whites have genuinely tried to address their own prejudices and move beyond them; others have focused so myopically on denying racism as a factor here that they have failed to see the other profound issues surrounding this case.

All but the most naive know that racism permeates every aspect of our society. That undeniable fact must be fully considered and understood before it can ever be erased. Generally, it seems that the people who refuse to acknowledge racism are white -- and they are also the only ones who have been able to really be racist in this society (the word itself implies having the power to act upon and benefit from one's own biases).

But being the optimist that he is, and having been steeped in the civil rights tradition where everyone sang "black and white together someday" with belief and fervor, Mayor Barry still does not blame his problems on white people as a whole. When Mayor Barry accuses The Washington Post of unfairness, he is not talking about white people. He has gone on to say that if a black-owned paper had published similarly unbalanced and incorrect articles, he would have criticized that paper as well. When Mayor Barry says the prosecutor has been overzealous, he is not lambasting white people. I'm sure he would have made the same statements about a black prosecutor, had that man behaved the way U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens has behaved.

For those people who are denying racism while simultaneously accusing Mayor Barry of hiding behind it, I offer this well-worn adage: "Thou dost protest too much."

LURMA RACKLEY Press Secretary, Office of the Mayor Government of the District of Columbia Washington