Eugene Robinson [op-ed, Oct. 25] thinks that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a worldview different from other African Americans because she doesn't understand the African American experience. As a white American, I, too, have trouble understanding the African American experience as defined by Robinson.

I have trouble understanding what is wrong with confronting racial inequality by overcoming barriers and achieving great things, by remembering and honoring the struggles of the past, or by simply building self-confidence and self-esteem as a child by learning to play Bach fugues on the piano.

Whatever a majority of African Americans may feel about George W. Bush and his policies, how does Rice's being a Republican make it so easy to dismiss this extraordinary woman's rise from segregated Birmingham to one of the most powerful positions in this country? Do you have to be a Democrat to be an authentic African American? If that is what Robinson believes, who is really inside the bubble?

-- Stefan Silzer

Oakton

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William Raspberry ['The Price of Low Expectations," op-ed, Oct. 17] suggests that we address the problem of high incarceration rates in the inner city by sending fewer criminals to prison.

And how will lowering the penalties for drug offenses, as well as petty theft, larceny, shoplifting, etc., show that we now have higher expectations of black men?

Seems to me that it will show just the opposite. Shrugging off inner-city crime is, to use Raspberry's words, treating people as they are rather than as they ought to be and could be. In addition, Raspberry might ask those who run stores and other businesses in the inner city -- in fact, you could ask anyone who lives there -- whether they agree with him that the above-listed crimes are not necessarily dangers to their communities.

-- Roger Clegg

Sterling

The writer is general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity.

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I'm a middle-aged white man who has spent years working with inner-city, at-risk homeless youth in Minneapolis, most of whom are black. And whether they are gang members or just kids without a father, they all look up to me. Why? Because unlike William Raspberry, they don't care about racial demographics.

Imagine if 1,000 men of any race from Bethesda -- the place of my birth -- made a serious commitment to mentor 1,000 of the District's at-risk youth. Imagine the improvement not just to the lives of these youths but to their families and community. Now imagine 1,000 mentors from Silver Spring and another 1,000 from Falls Church, etc.

But, of course, that will never happen because for some reason, people such as Raspberry can't get it into their racially biased skulls that these young people are looking for male role models of any color.

And as long as people such as Raspberry keep harping about the barriers of race, with the implication that only black men can help black youth, why would any self-respecting white man (or Asian or Latino) make an effort to scale the Raspberryian wall?

-- Mark Tarnowski

Minneapolis

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Reading Wil Haygood's Oct. 30 front-page article on Rosa Parks, one would have to believe that African Americans haven't come far at all since Parks's protest. A quote from a janitor is supposed to show how she has changed lives? Yes, many in the black community are struggling economically -- the janitors, mechanics, barbers, sanitation workers, waitresses, bus drivers and baggage handlers can all attest to that. But what about the lawyers, doctors, accountants, businessmen and women, educators and all the other white-collar African Americans in Washington? Were their lives not affected as well? Did he even bother to ask? It was a great disservice to the black community to represent just one slice of the stratum that is the African American experience.

-- Michele P. Leonardi

University Park