A Black Journalist Looks at Civil Rights Today Columnist William Raspberry Says the Next Great Cahllenge for Balcks Is to Take Responsibility for Their Young Generation

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IT'S a hard sell in light of such ongoing racial attacks as the New Year's day burning of a black man in Florida, but William Raspberry insists that racism no longer is the principal barrier to the progress of African Americans.

Using the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a vantage from which to survey the past and future of racial justice in the United States, the respected Washington Post journalist said in a Monitor interview, "Racism is alive and well in America ... but what is a more important barrier to our progress now has to do with our own {black} behavior."

In between commentary ranging from foreign affairs to domestic politics, the syndicated columnist spends considerable space on the opinion pages of 180 of America's newspapers promoting and nurturing the notion that the next great movement in the black community is one of taking "civil responsibility."

Using the civil rights won by King's generation, the next step for blacks is to take responsibility for the generation of children at risk of sinking ever deeper into the ravages of inner-city poverty, violence, and drug dependence, Mr. Raspberry says.

"We've spent a generation essentially telling {black children} that nothing good can happen for them because of racism.

"We thought we were saying it to the racists ... to the political leadership ... to people we could put a guilt trip on {so} they would come and help us. But whoever we were saying it to, our children heard it, and it's frightening to me to listen to some of them talk now about the futility of trying," he says. One of the first black journalists on a mainstream white newspaper, Raspberry has been observing social issues for the Post since 1966.

Talk like this often gets Raspberry branded a "conservative" among black critics, explains Jannette L. Dates, a Howard University associate professor of communications and the author of a history of African Americans in mass media.

But she explains that the effect of Raspberry's columns - which don't necessarily elevate one side of an issue in order to criticize the other - is to steadily chip away at the stereotype of black community thought as monolithically liberal and Democratic.

Those who read him closely find that he labors to cobble reason together in an approach to social problems that often defies political labels, says Derek McGinty, a black talk-show host on local public radio station WAMU.

Indeed, Raspberry's signature writing style - reminiscent of his studied furrowed-brow conversational style - is to wrestle with himself on paper, exposing his own struggle to resolve tough issues.

For example, a recent opinion piece in favor of gun control also included his admission that he probably would like to have a gun in hand if someone were breaking into his home. Also, he frequently argues with a "cabbie" - a.k.a. himself - as a way of airing all sides of an issue. Following the Los Angeles riots, he and his cabbie dickered over shades of right and wrong, the cabbie likening looting to white-collar crime.

Raspberry, who works out of a cluttered private office just off the Post newsroom, says that placing Martin Luther King Jr. …