The controversy surrounding the arrest, trial, conviction and sentencing of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry brought to the surface many deeply held racial beliefs. In the wake of this period, a black family and a white family agreed to talk to The Washington Post about their views on race relations and their perceptions of people of a different color. Above are Shireen Dodson and Leroy Fykes, with daughter Skylar; at left, Bob and Sarah Steck. Both families live in Northwest Washington.

When 10-year-old Leroy Fykes III plays, he plays rough. On his predominantly black block of Emerson Street NW, the boys play tackle on the grass, even on the sidewalk, where the unspoken code of conduct is the harder they fall, the better. It is roughhousing, pure and simple. To Leroy's father, it is amusing.

But when young Leroy plays with white children, the father is concerned that the boy's aggressiveness will cause misperceptions. Even child's play, he believes, can have racial ramifications.

"Leroy is aggressive and I'm always concerned his aggressive nature will be misconstrued," said the father. "I'm always concerned that when white folks see him playing with their kids they'll think that he might be hurting them."

In Fykes's view, many whites think blacks are confrontational. Fykes assumes that whites can too easily misperceive blacks, so he does not readily trust them. It is but one in a long string of assumptions that Fykes, 44, and his wife, Shireen Dodson, 39, make about whites.

Fykes, a high-level General Accounting Office official, and Dodson, the comptroller of the Smithsonian Institution, both work with whites and socialize with them. But with the exception of a few white friends, with whom Fykes and Dodson believe race as a barrier has been implicitly obliterated, they view whites as people of whom blacks must be wary.

When they are confronted with a situation that touches a racial nerve or involves a racial issue, the assumptions that usually lurk in the backs of their minds leap to the fore. In an interview, they were asked to describe these assumptions. They rattled them off easily, as matters of fact.

"They think you got where you are because you're black," said Fykes.

"That you're the token," Dodson said.

"I think they also think that we don't have high moral standards," said Fykes.

"I think they think we're not serious too," Dodson said. "That we're very fun-loving and partying all the time. That we don't work hard, don't have a really solid work ethic."

"Yeah, and when you work your way down the social ladder, they think we're dangerous too: a threat, physical threat," said Fykes. "And that we're confrontational. And that we lack finesse in terms of what's needed in the business world."

"I assume that they really don't listen to you or really like you or respect you," said Dodson.

"That they don't care. That to me is probably the worst one," said Fykes.

"Those are things you're clearly going to come across on a regular and consistent basis in your day-to-day interaction with white folks," he said. "Those attributes may be spread over a spectrum of {white} people, but they're there."

At business meetings attended primarily by whites -- not necessarily those at the GAO, he said -- Fykes sees his assumptions borne out.

A black person, he said, may express an idea and that idea is given short shrift if any shrift at all. "Five minutes later, it's repeated by someone white in the meeting and it's a great idea," said Fykes.

Blacks are handicapped by several factors, including the negative perceptions of whites, said Fykes, to say nothing of the handicaps of historical discrimination in education, housing and business. He is quick to add, however, that while he recognizes these handicaps, he does not feel locked out.

"When I say I'm handicapped it means that basically I've got to compensate for situations because . . . I don't have access to the same jobs, the same money, same opportunities, same neighborhood, with the same amount of effort," said Fykes.

"But the notion of always having to work harder than others creates a lot of tension . . . within myself because that offends my personal notion of fairness."

When their children are unhappy, they often whine, like any other children, "That's not fair."

"Our response is: 'Life's not fair,' " said Dodson. "We instill that in our children. Life's not fair, so don't go expecting life to be fair."The 'Silent Whites' on the Block

Fykes was raised in Flint, Mich. His father was a cement mason. His mother was a factory worker. Dodson comes from Union, N.J. Her mother taught preschool-aged children. Her father was a salesman for a wine company.

Both lived in segregated black sections of their respective towns. Dodson went to junior and senior high school with whites and felt the sting of ostracism when white schoolmates would not speak to her when they saw her away from school grounds. "That becomes the norm, and you just deal with it," she said.

The couple met while Dodson was a student at Seton Hall University Law School in Newark. Fykes is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and University of California at Los Angeles law school.

They moved to the District 11 years ago because it has a high concentration of people like them: educated, professional blacks.

Nine years ago, they moved to Emerson Street, where in addition to Leroy III, their family has grown to include Morgan, who is 4, and Skylar, who is 10 weeks. The older children attend predominantly white private schools. Fykes and Dodson also consider Greta Fortune, 54, a black woman who has helped run their household for 10 years, part of the family too.

Their neighborhood of tree-lined streets and spacious homes is solidly black middle-class, with a sprinkling of whites. Dodson calls them the "silent whites because they're buying into the neighborhoods for the property values, but they're really not buying . . . to participate in the neighborhood."

Fykes said that these kinds of whites go to neighborhood association meetings, "but to participate in terms of being on the street, actively involved with their neighbors or watching the kids on the street, that's not going to happen."

Dodson and Fykes have wondered about one white couple in particular. It was strange, they said, that the couple appeared -- to Fykes and Dodson, at least -- to maintain a low profile.

"I only see them except getting in and out of their car," said Dodson. "They have two humongous, beautiful white dogs. He takes them in a van to someplace to go walk the dogs. He doesn't even walk the dogs in the neighborhood!"

The white couple down the street, Wayne and Delores Gray, were baffled, then amused, when presented with the perception expressed by Fykes and Dodson, that maybe race has something to do with the Grays' not being engaged in the life of the neighborhood, not even walking their dogs there.

The dogs, Russian wolfhounds, chase by sight and "can really run, need exercise," said Delores Gray. "So he takes them to the {Rock Creek Park} golf course and lets them run. Why wouldn't I walk my dog in a neighborhood? I don't understand."

"It's a big dog, and I'm really afraid," Wayne Gray said. "Kids come up to them and I'm concerned" about the dog knocking children down or chasing them down the street.

As for being "silent whites," the Grays said they did, in fact, feel it was necessary to keep a low profile in the neighborhood when they first moved in 13 years ago. They felt then that they were encroaching on black territory. And they noticed that no one dropped by to welcome them.

The Grays said they are comfortable now. They love the house. The neighborhood is convenient. They don't plan to move anytime soon.

Generally, they said, they keep to themselves. That's just their style, they said, plus they don't have children that would provide common ground with some of their neighbors. Nothing racial about it.

Back up the block, Dodson and Fykes reluctantly acknowledged that perhaps their assumptions had led them astray. The Grays' explanation about the dogs "makes sense," said Dodson. "But I still feel they're disengaged . . . . It could be their personality. Maybe it's perception, because they're white and we're black."

But Dodson and Fykes tell of another circumstance on the block that they believe was "truly racial," as Fykes put it.

One day about two years ago, they discovered that the front steps of the house next door had been painted. Not just painted, but painted a "luminescent" blue, like the bottom of a swimming pool, said Fykes. To Fykes, Dodson and others on the block, it was disgusting. The house, Fykes and Dodson knew, is owned by a white man who does not live in it, but rents it out.

"We hit the wall on that," said Fykes.

"Now that brought up racial tensions because you knew right then that a man who did not live here, who lived on the other side of the park or somewhere, thought he could come into this neighborhood and do anything he wanted to do . . . . Paint that color over there in Georgetown," Fykes fumed indignantly.

"I called him up, and he said, 'Well, I had some extra paint.' "

The steps were re-painted in a more muted color.

The owner of the home, Howard Baucom, a Wisconsin Avenue real estate broker who lives in Chevy Chase, was taken aback when presented with the racial spin Fykes and Dodson put on the episode. "I just liked the color," Baucom said. "I just thought it would be a little different."

"If you paint a house a color that you like, do you see any racial overtones?" Baucom said. When told of Baucom's response, the Fykes were unconvinced.

Broaching a Taboo Subject

Race is an issue that Fykes and Dodson said people don't talk about enough. They see people in the District and elsewhere tip-toeing around the subject of race for fear of what they may awaken.

"It's one of those taboo subjects," said Dodson. "You just grew up with it being a taboo subject and no one clearly articulating why, so you just avoided it and stayed away from it."

The couple said they wish it were not so. Despite their negative views of some whites, they believe it is important for blacks and whites to mingle, get to know one another, to bridge the gaps.

"Unless we get together there's never going to be anything but assumptions," said Fykes.

It is one of the lessons they learned from Leadership Washington, a program that brings together diverse individuals from the civic, business and political arena. Dodson and Fykes participated in it a few years ago.

They made some white friends in the program, people with whom they share common interests, whom they feel they can trust. But prior to Leadership Washington, their non-work-related contacts were mostly black.

They offer a variety of reasons to explain why race remains, by and large, an untouchable subject.

Said Dodson: "I think there's a general apathy on the part of both races, coupled with, in my perspective, the lack of time" because people are so preoccupied with the workaday world.

Fykes takes a different view.

"First of all, I don't think black folks are all that apathetic about race relations. I don't think they have real avenues to make things happen. They're basically on the down side of the issue in terms of getting the connections and opportunities. And, then, the other side is that white folks really don't have the need, so I don't think they really care.

"The thing that's missing is somebody in the middle," he said. "And to me that's one of the real shortcomings that we've had here in the District government. We don't have a political agenda that brings people together. I'm not sure that the politicians that we have had were going to benefit by bringing people together."

At bottom, they said, the issue is trust.

"Until you get trust, how do you come across that bridge?" said Fykes, who is a Republican. Dodson is a Democrat.

That the city's political leadership was overhauled in last week's elections is, Fykes and Dodson said, a hopeful sign.

Mistrust, black to white and white to black, was one of the key issues in the controversy surrounding the drug possession and perjury trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, which became synonymous with racial misunderstanding and racial tension. For many blacks, the case was an assault on black people.

The videotape of Barry's arrest conjured unpleasant, painful images with which blacks are historically familiar, they said.

"I don't know of very many black men, including myself, who have not been frisked or handcuffed or arrested -- on nonsense!" said Fykes.

Fykes and Dodson said they believe the government's handling of the case was racist. But they also said they were angry at Barry's behavior.

Said Dodson. "I think he crossed that line, forgetting that you have to be better, you have to be straighter, and no office, no amount of achievement is going to negate that."

"Black or white, there are certain standards as a public official that you have to meet," said Fykes. "And if you don't meet them then you have to suffer the consequences."

The Protective Shell

Fykes believes that black men have it particularly hard in this society. Too often, he said, black men are seen as potentially threatening, or as individuals whose thoughts, ideals, hopes and dreams are of no consequence. Sometimes, black men aren't even seen at all: they are invisible.

But Fykes said he's always expected exclusion. That is his shell.

As a boy in Flint, he took trombone lessons from a white music teacher in a white neighborhood, and white children yelled "nigger" at him. He said he learned to run, fast.

As an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, where, excluding the athletes, he was one of about 13 blacks in a class of 2,000, "the notion was you were an outsider even at your own school . . . . we were like little tanks. We knew we were going to get banged on {racially} and we didn't worry about it too much."

Over the years, he has learned "to build a much harder shell. My son probably has some shell, but there are some kids who don't have any shell, so the first time they get hit they get totaled out."

The shell of which Fykes speaks is, on one hand, racial pride. But it is also a recognition that the world, for blacks, can be hostile.

To build their son's shell, Fykes and Dodson have made black culture part of daily life. Young Leroy and his little sister have celebrated Kwanzaa, an African-style Christmas. Leroy's music teacher is black. The family doctor is black. The dentist is black. Their church, Zion Baptist, is predominantly black. And Fykes and Dodson have filled their home with things black -- from the prints and artwork on the walls to the books on the shelves to the Egyptian-style figurines on the chessboard.

But Leroy this year entered St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School, which is private and predominantly white. Morgan just entered Beauvoir, the private school at Washington Cathedral. It too is predominantly white. The parents said they did not trust D.C. public schools to educate their children properly.

Although the couple heaps high praise on the private schools, they worry about the impact these white environments will have on the children.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would send my son to Roots," a private all-black school, at least through the third grade, Dodson said. "Black boys need a firm foundation in who they are and their own self-worth and their own self-esteem before they are thrown into these integrated environments."

"Now, is that racial?" said Fykes. "That's just a recognition that you have to have some special supports . . . . "

"Because of race," said Dodson.