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Cross Colors : Interracial dating is not new, but how couples get together has changed. From 900-numbers to specialty magazines, there are assorted avenues to wander.

March 27, 1994|LYNELL GEORGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Looking for love?

Or, at the very least looking ?

Well, if of late you've strolled, well-worn china marker in hand, through the jumble of newsprint personals, you just might have noticed an emerging theme:

"A Pelican Brief: Seeking Julia Roberts/Denzel Washington chemistry. Successful professional SBM, 28, ISO attractive SWF for adventure romance, friendship & positive relationship."

Or the local female who quite specifically outlines the object of her desires: "Let's start a romantic revolution! Intell., tall, blnde, 43 sks So. Amer., Carib., or Ethiopian prof. 30-40."

Some of these passion plays are downright outrageous, pointed and purposely testing all limits; others are romantic anachronisms--carefully plotted, lush, production-designed daydreams waiting to spring to life. What all share, however, is the desire for companionship, with a twist--crossing often historically indelible lines of race, ethnicity and culture.

In Los Angeles--celebrated Ellis Island West and noted trend and style capital--many taste-making factors come into play. From proximity and bare-bones curiosity to simply the fallout of big city living, singles who feel isolated, marginalized or simply lonely confront days that are top-heavy with work, not play.

Add growing sociological and psychological concerns--such as the common kaffeeklatsch complaint about the shortage "of good (fill in the blank with any hue) men." And communication breakdowns that keep men and women from embarking on, let alone completing, even the simplest dialogue.

Although interracial coupling is certainly nothing new, how people are meeting is definitely changing. From personal ads and highly specialized dating services to cross-cultural mixers, 900-numbers, special-interest support groups and magazines, those interested in dating outside their race have a plethora of avenues to wander.

*

To call this a complex issue would be like saying Los Angeles has had a "spot of trouble" the last couple years. Words don't adequately capture the candor and volatile potential of even broaching the subject of interracial dating--not to mention the public display.

Forget that the "Thin White Duke" himself, David Bowie, and Somalia-born model Iman provide a highly photogenic paparazzi moment, that Connie Chung and Maury Povich can publicly trade a fond smile and kiss, or that it's easy to discern the hottest black super-model by keeping close tabs on who is on Robert DeNiro's arm. As open as many believe the "crossing" climate is, opposition still awaits those who go against this rigid yet often unspoken social norm.

Yet, the trend is growing.

Although data is often difficult to come by, and not always complete or easily interpreted, Dan Hollis, co-editor of New People magazine, says that the U.S. Census shows a "fourfold increase" just in black-white interracial marriages from 1970 to 1990--to more than 200,000 in the latter year.

Perhaps part of this increase, some say, can be attributed to media broadening the purview.

Dr. Lawrence Tenzer, author of "A Completely New Look at Interracial Sexuality: Public Opinion and Select Commentaries," cites a 1991 Gallup Poll, which found that 64% of people 18-29 approve of marriages between blacks and whites, while only 27% of those older than 50 concur.

"That's pretty astounding if you think about it," he says. "But young people today are growing with TV, seeing blacks as professionals as opposed to what their parents saw--mammies, servants. In my opinion, media set the standards. And it is the sole factor affecting change right now."

Toni Burrell agrees that media have had tremendous influence on altering mood and softening the stigma. In her two years as a personals ad representative at L.A Weekly, she's noticed a marked increase in singles open to searching for mates outside their racial or ethnic groups.

"I think people are becoming less selective about physical attributes when they are looking for someone to date," she says. "And if you look at the media, they show interracial couples in everything from Levi's ads to music videos, so it is not a novelty or taboo anymore."

Burrell also notes that it isn't so much about quenching the thirst of a fantasy as some people might think. Singles she serves, mainly between ages 25-40, "are people who are looking for serious relationships and are not satisfied by the quality of people that they are meeting, so they are expanding their horizons. . . . That's why they say 'race unimportant' . . . because they realize that there are a lot of quality people that they may not meet if they are closed."

Burrell, who is African American, met her fiance, Randall Schlesinger, who is white and Jewish, through an ad she placed in the paper's personals three years ago.

She suggests, however, answering ads--any ad--with caution. And with those of the cross-cultural variety, she says, there are other signs to look out for, signals to explore:

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