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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm in a quandary regarding the proper salutation to use in a letter to an organization when there is no specific person to whom to address it.

When I learned to write business letters, I was taught to use "Gentlemen" or "Dear Sir." Nowadays, with so many women in the business world, the chances are that the executive who reads my letter will be a female. Consequently, "Gentlemen" or "Dear Sir" may be inappropriate.

"Dear Sir or Madam" seems a bit risky since most women are not madams. Is there some all-purpose salutation I have not thought of? -- IN A QUANDARY IN OLYMPIA

DEAR IN A QUANDARY: For formal letters, my preference is "To Whom it May Concern." "Dear Sir or Madam" remains the preferred salutation for a formal business letter when there is no specific person to whom you are addressing the letter. If you are writing to a particular department, consider addressing that manager: "Dear Sales Department Manager," for example.

Incidentally, I checked my dictionary, and the first definition of "madam" indicates that it is used "without a name as a form of respectful or polite address to a woman."

DEAR ABBY: I would like to reply to "Not Guilty by Association," the young woman whose father is a racist. "My" racist is not a parent or a grandparent; it's my younger brother.

As children growing up in a racially mixed neighborhood, my brother and I didn't know what racism was. We had a large group of friends of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Some of the adults became so close to us we called them "aunt" and "uncle." Our parents never made any callous remarks or disparaging judgments.

My younger brother recently visited my husband and me and offered to pick up our 5-year-old son from day care. When they returned, my son was in tears. He said "Uncle Matt" said he shouldn't play with "Amanda" anymore because her skin is a different color.

I was furious with Matt, and we have told him that he is welcome in our home in the future, but only if he leaves the racism outside. I refuse to allow him to impose his views on my innocent children, whom I'm raising to see beyond color, religious beliefs or ethnicity.

I'm sorry this is so long, but I feel it has a message that needs to be repeated until racism is a word that has to be looked up in a very, very old dictionary. -- SIBLING OF A BIGOT, NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEAR SIBLING: Your children are being raised to become the kind of citizens the world needs. I hope your brother learned something from the steadfast position you took. I, too, hope that racism is on its way to becoming obsolete.

THINK ABOUT IT: "If you are all wrapped up in yourself, you are overdressed." (Kate Halverson)

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