Lou Nolin feels something he calls the "stigma" of being a white male. It isn't there all the time, but when it is, it is strong. "In both business and in my private life, when I walk into a room or a group of people where there's clearly a majority of minorities, the looks are right there," Nolin said. "The nonverbal cues you get are definitely 'Here comes another one.' "

The stigma is in the way women and minorities, especially blacks, view white males, he said. They feel "that they haven't been given as much opportunity as white men."

And he agrees with them, which is why he feels affirmative action was and, in some cases, still is a good thing. But Nolin also thinks that "in certain areas there's a good chance they're probably getting far more attention than I would consider to be equitable."

Nolin, a 40-year-old manager at a Washington research and publishing firm, gives voice to what authorities in cross-cultural relations say is a growing anxiety, even defensiveness and sometimes anger among white men, who are faced with a shifting cultural and racial landscape, especially in the workplace, in which other groups are increasing in number and more aggressively asserting their identities and rights.

Thomas Kochman, a Chicago-based consultant who has studied and written extensively on cross-cultural dynamics, and several others in his field report that among white males there is a growing feeling of being threatened by these changes. If women and minorities gain in influence and stature, so this thinking goes, then white men lose.

To be sure, the dominance white men have long enjoyed, especially in the upper echelons of most corporations, is not about to disappear. As a group, white males still wield more power and make more money than do women or blacks or Hispanics. But change is clearly underway.

Affirmative action programs, the focus of an often shrill public discourse on race and gender issues, contribute greatly to the anxiety of white men, along with the knowledge that white men constitute a swiftly shrinking share of the new people entering the work force. This is particularly true for white men in middle management, who see an increased number of women and minorities headed their way in the career advancement pipeline, said Kochman.

Nolin, for example, said he already sometimes feels like a minority at his company, such as when he looks around the table at staff meetings and sees far more black, Hispanic and female faces than white male ones. He says he doesn't mind so much, but it makes him wonder about where white males will be in the future.

"What happens when I'm the only one? Should I just offer them my position and leave?" Nolin asked. "I know it sounds ridiculous. But my point is: There's got to be some point where we say enough is enough."

A mix of other racial, cultural and gender dynamics is at work in making white males feel the solid cultural and economic ground on which they traditionally have stood is shifting.

As a new workplace ethic takes shape, "managing cultural diversity," white men are being challenged to confront their own notions, which are often negative stereotypes, about people who are different from themselves.

Implicit in this mandate is a shift in perception about the nature of the American cultural and ethnic mix. Once described as a melting pot, the United States now is being widely described as a tossed salad of identifiably distinct ingredients.

Chris Collie, 45, of Fairfax has attended a workshop on cultural diversity. He said it taught him "to celebrate the diversity as opposed to trying to manage it or trying to protect your own turf." Still, it is a challenge. Collie, who is executive vice president of the Employee Relocation Council, said for instance that in settings where he is the only white in a group of blacks he feels some "discomfort" because "you're wondering how you're going to be able to relate."

In social interaction between various race and gender groups, white males say they are being taken to task increasingly for insensitivities, real and perceived. Collie, for instance, has a black friend who keeps him "in check" by calling him, partly in jest, an "I.W.P." or "insensitive white person," said Collie.

It is so easy for a white male to be labeled as insensitive these days that Lee Ruck, 51, of Clifton, Va., said sometimes he feels that "people have created a society which sort of puts me at risk. . . . I try to deal with people as people, but there are some code words and some issues out there that I don't always feel like I'm in control of or aware of."

"I would imagine that a lot of us white males are social klutzes when it comes to race and gender issues," said Ruck, who is general counsel for the National Association of Counties. "But just because we are offensive or just because we act in a way which is perceived as discriminatory does not mean that we are racist."

And the number of ethnic and gender groups that are becoming more vocal about their grievances and identities makes some white men feel uncomfortable, even threatened. For instance, Nolin said he feels uneasy about what he perceives as the separatist sentiments expressed in the wearing by blacks of Africa medallions and T-shirts that say, "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand."

"It's putting up a wall and saying, 'Here we are, we're damn proud of it and you're not to be a part of it,' " Nolin said. "And my take on that is: Go for it. I personally would not prefer to associate with groups that say, 'We are who we are, and we're gonna stand separate from you.' "

Ruck said that he often gets the sense that members of minority groups are too quick to blame the white men of today for the sins of their forefathers. That message is there, between the lines, in discussions of race. But Ruck said women and blacks all too often send the message explicitly.

"Words like bigotry, racism, are extremely personal and carry with them all the opprobrium of civilized society, and people don't like being on the negative end of comments like that," Ruck said.

"If you, as a proponent for a position advantageous to the minority community are urging my support . . . and the basic reason that you give is that if I don't do it, I am a racist, I believe objection and jaw-tightening and stone-walling {are} highly potential reactions."

Anna Duran, a psychologist who is faculty director of the Executive Program in the Management of Cultural Diversity at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business, said the prevailing mood among the white men she encounters "is anxiety, uncertainty about the future."

One part of that anxiety, said Duran, who identifies herself as Mexican-American, "is that the rules of inclusion and exclusion are changing. They're being expanded."

With dramatic flourish, Kochman calls these societal pressures symptoms of "the decline and fall of the white male."

"Okay guys," said Kochman, who is white, "we are now in a new social revolution in which other people are {relatively} more socially equal and the white males are coming from a relatively privileged position they held. Where everybody was accommodating them and their culture, they have to now push toward reciprocity."

Kochman's message is of the type being heard in much of corporate and academic America since the Hudson Institute's Workforce 2000 report three years ago documented the fact that the work force of the future will be dramatically less white and less male.

The population groups who traditionally have had to claw their way into the "mainstream" -- women and minorities -- are expected to build on the gains they have already made, and by the year 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, white males will constitute only 30 percent of new entrants into the work force, down from 47 percent today.

Fueled by these demographic facts, executives and business consultants are telling managers -- still predominantly white males -- that their prospects for advancement will hinge not only on their professional skills, but on their ability to manage people of all kinds and colors.

Where once white males thought they were supposed to be colorblind and ignore ethnic and cultural differences, now they are being told to recognize that diversity and value it.

For a group accustomed to a place of preeminence in the social, political and economic hierarchy, who now see a premium being placed on the hiring and promoting of women and minorities, this creates for some a "feeling that they're adrift," said William Keller, a professor of human relations at Columbia University's business school and also a member of Duran's diversity team there.

"You hear the reverse discrimination issue," Keller said. "You hear the fact that they're always subject to attack, to charges of one thing or another -- racism, sexism. And so it's a very embattled kind of mentality."

"The white males who have always been in a privileged class now find themselves, in effect, not receiving the kind of undivided attention that they have in the past, and that's a real tension point," said Keller, who is white.

But, said R. Roosevelt Thomas of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, located at Morehouse College in Atlanta, "We're talking about making the mainstream broader, so that it's not defined by any one group, but defined by the needs of a diverse group of people, some of whom are white males. Now when you frame it that way, the white male can see that there is something in it for him."

This means redefining the minority concept, said Thomas, who is black.

To be a member of a minority group, he said, has meant "historically that you are in an organization that has been set up without you in mind or in a country where you were not involved in the founding of that country, so the norms of the culture have not been developed with you in mind . . . " he said.

"When we talk about managing diversity, we talk about the disappearance of minorites in the traditional sense" of them not being among those who define the culture, Thomas said.

Ronald Brown, a San Francisco-based human relations consultant who designs diversity training programs for corporate clients and who also is black, said, "Part of the challenge for white male culture is to see differences as healthy, and not always 'us versus them' or 'them versus us.' "

What is required, said Duran, is the "unfreezing" of basic assumptions that underlie the manner in which white men relate to differences they see in others.

"Their mindsets have been frozen," Duran said, in an historical framework in which "diversity was seen as deficiency."

But, Duran added, the need to unfreeze and reshape attitudes "is true for everybody, by the way. This is going to cause all us of to unfreeze our assumptions."