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President Bush and Congress have overlooked an important reason why they should immediately enact the Civil Rights Act of 1990: to help white men overcome their feelings of inferiority.

Let me explain. Many whites and some blacks now argue that preferential racial treatment creates deep-seated feelings of deficiency and mediocrity in its beneficiaries. They warn that race-conscious practices, in hiring or education, cast suspicion on the competence of those given an advantage.

But if that is so, we need the new Civil Rights Act more than ever, to overcome the sense of inferiority that has afflicted American white men for countless years.

Think of it. For decades, white men have known they've received favored positions in jobs, education and the benefits of a race-conscious society.

Without having to compete with minorities or women, any white man, no matter what his qualifications, had a head start. All he needed was membership in the favored race and sex.

The knowledge that maids, porters, garbage collectors, unemployed teen-agers and cotton pickers were suspicious of their credentials took a heavy psychic toll on white American males. Some even chose to remain unemployed rather than take a job or a place in a prestigious university solely because of their race.

"How would you feel," one said, "if everyone knew you had your job just because you were white?"

Social scientists say white male inferiority complexes began to diminish with the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s, and when blacks and women began to enter the work force in larger numbers.

But even relaxing the discrimination -- which had reserved jobs as diverse as Supreme Court justice, professional baseball manager, big city mayor, U.S. naval officer, professional quarterback, talk show host, serial killer and newspaper columnist and publisher for white men exclusively -- did little to ease the cruel intimations of mediocrity that ran rampant among white males.

These feelings of inadequacy began to return during the Reagan years. Some white men adopted a victim complex, blaming the U.S. government and the courts for mistreating them. Last year's Supreme Court decisions were the final straw.

The court made it harder for minorities to sue against white privilege and harder for women to litigate employment rules that discriminated against them. It guaranteed a return to favored status for white males.

"It's all I can take," a white investment banker said. "I'm sure my gardener was laughing at me as I drove into town this morning. Then the waiter at the club had a funny smirk on his face. I've had it, I tell you!" the anguished Anglo-Saxon mourned.

If President Bush has any compassion, he will move swiftly to remove the awful stigma of race.

These victims have suffered long enough. Free white men!

JULIAN BOND, former Georgia state senator, will be a visiting professor this fall at the University of Virginia.

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