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.

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.

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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:

"You can kind of tell by the way they're written. . . . They build them up as a fantasy thing, like 'Vanilla looking for chocolate fantasy' or 'Vanilla looking for chocolate topping' . . . rather than someone being open to dating a lot of people. So I say ask questions, ask a lot of questions."

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Just a few hours after sunrise, Kymberly Jean takes long, brisk strides down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. The president of Opposites Attract, an interracial introduction service she launched four years ago, Jean apologizes for her casual attire. That includes full makeup, pressed black jeans, boots, newsboy cap turned backward, and baggy flak-jacket festooned with swatches of African cloth, shells and buttons made to look like coins.

An alarm-red sports car screams out of an alley, interrupting her stroll. It misses Jean by inches, and the driver, flustered and arms flailing, mouths a dramatic apology. She turns to absolve him with a short nod. Pausing, she turns again, time enough to take in the rugged face and tousled sandy-brown hair. Two more steps and she stops again, turns and flashes a brilliant smile.

Kymberly Jean--matchmaker for the '90s--logs in little downtime.

From a mere $500 to a cool $5,000 ("depending on the difficulty of the match"), Jean hopes to quite possibly send you on your . . . er . . . married way.

This whole caldron of a career began, she explains, with a nocturnal image: "I was sleeping and I was awakened about 3 or 4 in the morning with this clear vision. Like somebody just whispered in my ear."

For the most part, her service works like others: "I ask you some questions. . . . 'Tell me a little bit about you? . . . What do you have to offer a person?' Then I give a homework assignment . . . 'cause 80% of the time people don't know what they are looking for. They say: 'Just somebody nice.' And I say . . . 'Let's get a little specific here.' "

Jean digs for cogent details about the client's background: "How you got into dating interracially? Why is that a preference, or is that a fad? Will you date someone of your same race?" Quickly, she develops a profile.

And those who inadvertently communicate dubious intentions, who have their heart set on capturing a fantasy based on racial-ethnic stereotypes?

"I send them on their way," she says.

Jean says she can ferret those out pretty quickly, as well as singles who are simply trying to slip out of a bad dating cycle as if it were a blouse, hoping a different shade may change their luck.

"Sometimes they'll say, 'Well I've never done it, but I'm curious 'cause I hear white guys are really nice . . . they're really generous.' Well," says Jean, her smoky voice turning steely, "they're not all nice and they're not all generous and this is not a toy. Or a game."

Some people, she has observed, are naive about what crossing racial borders entails. When differences within their relationships crop up or tension brews from outside, Jean says, the couples are often ill-prepared to handle the sometimes blusterous attention:

"People think it's a bed of roses, but it's not. I mean when I started dating interracially, people would walk up to us all the time and throw bottles . . . shout things. It's not the piece of cake that people think it is. Now it's a little better, especially here in L.A."

Reasons for crossing vary almost as widely as the choices available to singles in a city that has become a veritable cultural smorgasbord.

And Jean hopes to explore some of those reasons in "The Meeting Room," her half-hour show on Century Cable. "Personalities, the differences, ethics, economics, education," she notes. "I cannot hide the fact that with some people it is sexual. Some people do it for business. Like some guys will marry a certain race of woman because it will make him look better in the law firm."

Making matches that reduce a person to an object or symbol creates a whole set of tangled issues to consider. "I have a problem with doing it for the wrong reason--period," she says. "And if the reasons aren't good enough, I have every right to refuse people." Still, Jean admits, "It happens all the time."

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Sam, who met his wife, Sharon, through Opposites Attract, wasn't experimenting. "It wasn't something new," he says. "I had my first interracial relationship with a black woman in 1986."

Although Sam, 32 and of Italian descent, says he didn't date black women exclusively, the attraction eventually emerged as preference; the appeal, he notes, is a sense of inner strength.

"I was always raised that color never really meant anything, that it was the person on the inside, not the color on the outside," he adds.

Sharon, 44, says she decided to look into the service after seeing Jean on "Oprah." What gave her pause, however, was the stigma that surrounds that brand of matchmaking in general. (And because of that, neither Sharon nor her husband will allow their last names to be used.)

"You don't realize the social supermarket when you are in school," she says. "You just think that life is like that. That new people will come along."

Sharon says she chose Opposites Attract because "(Interracial dating) was what I was used to. . . . Where I grew up, we were the only black family in town. . . . I hadn't been exposed to many black men through my work, where I lived . . . and I thought this might be a way to meet people who are open-minded."

Matchmaker Jean, who has dated interracially for more than 10 years, has come under fire--from the raging talk-show three-ring to threatening calls and letters--for providing an outlet for people who prefer to date out of their race or ethnicity.

"People accuse me of committing genocide," she says. "When I started this, it was not my intention to hurt anybody, to create any problem."

In this supply-and-demand culture, and as an ambitious entrepreneur, she simply recognized a need, Jean explains: "Now it's 'in' to be interracial. . . . More women . . . are saying I need a mate. Regardless of color."

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Michael James, national sales manager for a firm that provides voice-mail service for about 400 publications nationwide and in Canada, believes that the voice-personal phenomenon provides a safe harbor in this tenuous territory that a face-to-face meeting cannot.

"It's doing a little something to break down an image of a person (one) likes to date. . . . Maybe that's one of the reasons why there is more interracial dating going on with voice mail services. . . . By hearing someone, you don't picture this person as being Asian, Hispanic, black or white . . . you have to listen to what they are all about."

With dating services, says Dr. Jonathan Brower, a Westlake Village psychotherapist, "there are the same pros and cons . . . as there are when people meet in general. On the surface it saves a lot of time, it seems as if there is less hit or miss.

"But the problem is that people have, no pun intended, these great expectations that the dating services will lead them to their true love. And when they don't, they feel betrayed and angry."

Whether you're looking specifically for a cross-cultural connection or not, Brower suggests, the approach is not as mysterious as one might think. He believes in a more conventional route: "Do things they enjoy. And there they will come across someone who they have something in common with, get to know one another, spend time together--and see what happens."

But heady with the thrill of finding a soul mate, some couples often are astonished and emotionally ill-equipped when problems roll into view.

"People have a very idealized notion of what love can and cannot do," Brower says. "They look at it as magic. That can't be sustained. There are people who are attracted to other racial groups and ethnicities because they need to be rebellious. . . . That is not a good foundation for a relationship. But it doesn't mean that a couple can't work through that."

Deborah Cook, an L.A. marriage and family therapist, warns that some people are trying to multiculturize without looking at historical factors: "There are a whole set of values that accompany this thing called race and color."

Although sometimes emotionally strenuous and often thankless work, the efforts that interracial couples make to dismantle the walls by the simple act of living their lives, Cook says, are invaluable for the future.

"There is an exciting piece to it," she says. "These folks are on the cutting edge . . . they are the first drop of water in a stream. Whether we like it or not, people are mixing and they are paving the way for other people to."

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Magazines such as Atlanta-based Interrace and New People, in Detroit, want to increase that dialogue.

Candy Mills, 29, launched Interrace in 1989, with very little support. "Not even my husband's," she says with a laugh.

What prompted her to put her money and energies into such a herculean project was her frustrating search for resources, advice and direction. As a young wife in an interracial union and the mother of a biracial child, Mills says there was really nowhere to look for answers to her specialized needs.

"And when the mainstream did, it was something that exploited rather than edified. Spiced up in order to sell papers or get ratings," she says. "There was no balance. I don't have a problem with examining or reporting on dysfunctional interracial families or children. They do exist out there, but there was nothing about those that were functioning quite normally."

Now published eight times yearly and with a circulation of 25,000, Mills and her husband, Gabriel Grosz, 43, want to promote cultural understanding, not necessarily sanction interracial unions.

"I hope Interrace examines the fears of those in interracial relationships . . . as well as those who point fingers and judge from the outside," she says. "I think there is more of a tolerance , but there is no such thing as acceptance when it comes to interracial couples. If that were to happen, we'd have no racism."

Yvette Walker-Hollis, 32, and her husband, Dan Hollis, 35, hope to do their part to dismantle some of those fears come August.

New People, their 4-year-old, 2,500 circulation magazine, will host a convention in Dallas under the banner, "No More Fear," with workshops addressing the range of topics surrounding interracial marriages and relationships. Hollis says they plan to send a strong and resonant message: "Anybody black or white or whatever . . . who has a problem, might as well accept us, because you're not stopping us."

The couple started the magazine fueled by Mills' same sense of isolation. "We became a clearinghouse and support mechanism," Walker-Hollis says, "for people who don't have friends to turn to."

Both magazines traverse the same universe, publishing advice columns for newlyweds and young parents of biracial children, and discussions about transracial adoptions. They also serve as rotating bulletin boards of sorts for support and advocacy groups, as well as providing personal listings and advertisements for dating services.

Although both couples have seen growing interest in interracial relationships through correspondence to the magazines, both Mills and Grosz say many dating services find it difficult to survive. "They are often run by people who don't have training in management," Mills says. Be careful, she warns, suggesting that before you join any dating service, try to get verifiable written references.

"Everyone starts out with good intentions, and it's a great idea," Grosz says. "There is a population out there who wants an interracial connection . . . and I think that there is a need for these dating services. We get more and more (personal) ads from people who are afraid to approach someone of a different race or culture."

Grosz would like to further expand such opportunities and, with today's climate, he's thinks the possibilities could be limitless:

"If someone were to start an interracial night club, where people are not afraid to approach people and aren't worried about being turned down on the basis of race, they would really be on to something."

Dating Rules When Race Is Unimportant

The following is excerpted from "Interracial Dating Turn-offs," by Sandy Cirillo, Interrace magazine, January/February, 1993:

1. Racial slurs:

If you think words such as China Doll or Chief are harmless, cute or funny, you should think twice about crossing the color line. The use or slip of just one racial slur has the power of altering an interracial relationship forever and can often lead to its termination.

2. Imitating/impersonating a different race:

There are many people who purposely and very obviously attempt to sound like, walk like, dress like a particular group of people unlike themselves in order to fit in. If you are not black, you don't have to "act black" to date a black man or woman. Likewise, if you are not white, you don't have to "act white" to date a white man or woman. Be yourself!

3. Assuming stereotypes are true for all:

It is unwise to get into an interracial relationship based primarily or solely on stereotypes, whether they be positive or negative. We date individuals, not a race of people. Thus every person should be appreciated and treated on an individual basis, especially when it comes to dating interracially.

4. Secret relationships:

Don't get involved in an interracial relationship if you are planning on hiding or denying to friends and family that you are in one. It is demeaning and unfair to everyone, including yourself.

5. Shock effect:

Crossing the color line is not a game. If you think the attention, the stares and comments, and the novelty of crossing the color line will make no difference to you and thus jump into an interracial relationship without regard to what interracial dating entails, you need to brace yourself for a hard landing.

6. To have fair-skinned children:

As sad and bizarre as this may sound, not only is this a painfully honest reason why some people become interracially involved, but it also seems to be more acceptable than interracial couples are.

7. Wild erotic sex:

The color of a person's skin has nothing to do with how "sweet" he or she is in bed.

8. Status symbol:

How emotionally and psychologically damaging it has to be to your partner's self-esteem to know that the only reason he or she was chosen was because their skin was darker or lighter. We are much more than color. Don't short change yourself into thinking that any human being can be used as a status symbol for long. Don't give away your identity to a person of a different race. Only you can make yourself acceptable to others.

9. Self-hatred:

If you think an interracial relationship can fill your emptiness, it will only serve to make things worse for you. First you must confront why you hate yourself, why you look down on your own people. Then step back. Now you must fix yourself by yourself (as opposed to being in a relationship). Only then do you have a chance in building a healthy, happy interracial relationship.

10. Being afraid to commit:

It is imperative that you don't commit to an interracial relationship that you may not be able to handle. Only you know how much outside pressure you can take. Discuss this with your partner so he or she isn't left holding your baggage.

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