William Raspberry is a perceptive writer on race in America. In his May 7 op-ed column, "If They'd Been Black," in which he ruminated on black and white reactions to the Littleton shootings, he said that the core belief for most black Americans is the abiding racism of white Americans. It is doubtful that deep in their hearts few white Americans could disagree, no matter how much or how little they might wish it were not so.

Unlike Donna Britt, however, most would dispute its power. In her May 7 Metro column, "America? Lucky, by Birth," she said that "America helped shape Aundrey Burno," the subject of the documentary, "Thug Life in D.C." To her great credit, however, she also contrasted immigrants who gladly take the low-paying, entry-level jobs to build productive lives with those who thoughtlessly squander the gift of being born here.

People of goodwill hope that this situation is the darkness before the dawn when some American blacks may realize that racism today has little more power than what they give it; that it no longer is a sufficient excuse for not embracing the blessings that, as Ms. Britt recognizes, this nation can bestow.

Black men must realize that their actions shape people's attitudes toward them as much or more than racism. As James Baldwin found to his surprise when he fled to France to escape white racism, people could dislike him for himself. That is true for all of us.

MAX PIEPER

Burke