Roger Wilkins demonstrated by his recent article in The Post {"White Racism Is Still the Problem," op-ed, Dec. 5} that he ascribes all problems that beset black Americans to white racism. His article contains 17 paragraphs that discuss various facets of white racism but not one line of comment on what black people may be doing that is inimical to themselves.

Although movement toward full participation in the American Dream has not been as rapid as black Americans have sought to make it, it has been going on since the Civil War ended in 1865. An example of this uniquely American phenomenon may be noted by comparing the opportunities for advancement open to people of African descent in the United States and England over the past 140 years. Prior to the Civil War, escaped slaves from America found refuge in Canada and England after passage of a more stringent Fugitive Slave Law by Congress in 1850. In England, escaped slaves were often lionized by abolitionist groups. But today, British Commonwealth members from the Caribbean and Africa, as well as native-born black Englishmen, are far behind their American cousins in economic, educational and political advancement.

Continuing the comparison: I was born in Georgia during the early part of this century and grew to adulthood in North Carolina. When we traveled on the highways by automobile, there were no facilities at rest stops that black people were permitted to use. In 1986 I drove through Georgia to Tallahassee, Fla., and met nothing but kindness at rest stops and restaurants. In 1973 I was invited to attend a luncheon meeting of the Kiwanis Club in High Point, N.C., my home town. Most of the power structure of the city was present, many of them men whom I had served as a waiter in the late 1930s.

One of the many complaints lodged by Wilkins concerned the paucity of black people as CEOs in large business firms. But milestones such as the recent acquisition of a controlling interest in Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., by black publisher Earl G. Graves and Earvin "Magic" Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers are conveniently ignored.

During World War II only a few of the minuscule number of black officers in the military services were promoted beyond the rank of major. Today a black general, Colin Powell, is serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Yes, there should be more black officers in the American military in comparison to the number of enlisted men and women, but let us not write off the case of Gen. Powell -- a rare event for one of the big Western powers.

In my view, the problem with this emphasis on white racism as the main obstacle to the economic advancement of black Americans is the defeatism it engenders, especially among the approximately 40 percent who are at risk. They simply give up on finding or accepting a job, perhaps seeing no promise in it because it is too low on the ladder. Compare this with the work ethic demonstrated by poor immigrants from Asia and Latin America. The recent closing of the Latin Investment Corp. in Northwest Washington, to give just one example, revealed how well some immigrants have utilized the opportunities available in America. According to The Post, more than 2,000 customers have come forward to report their accounts. Amazingly, the average for these accounts is $5,664; even more incredible, one woman, a cook who immigrated from El Salvador 10 years ago, reported an account of $50,000.

It is strange that Wilkins saw no inconsistency in blaming white racism for erecting an insurmountable wall that prevents the economic progress of black people without explaining why this wall has been penetrated by so many black people. These are individuals who, in most instances, have graduated from high school or college or even hold advanced degrees.

Since black Americans have not become largely involved in either business or industry ownership, the one avenue open is education; however, many young black people, especially men, are rejecting this route today. The seminal study of this problem was made at McKinley High School in 1987 by Athelia Knight, Washington Post staff writer. She has laid the groundwork for groups or individuals that wish to turn this monumental problem around.

Yes, racism is present in America, as well as every other country that I have visited. It may be called antisemitism or tribalism or ethnocentrism, but for the victim it has the same effect. This exists not only in South Africa but in what is called black Africa too. However, America is attempting to correct this problem.

The writer, now retired, is a microbiologist who taught in the Department of Botany at Howard University from 1977 to 1987.