Young Love Bridges Race Divide
It's A Date
FALLS CHURCH, VA.
Talking across racial lines is a struggle for many Americans. But for teenagers Heather Alsop and David Lee, the dialogue is eased immensely by a common language: love.Skip to next paragraph
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Heather, who is white, and David, who is black, are among a rapidly growing number of American teens who date interracially.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 57 percent of US teens who date say they have gone out with a person from another race or ethnic group. That compares with 17 percent in 1980 (but that poll did not specifically include Hispanics.)
As the United States' minority population surges toward a projected 50 percent in 2050 - a focus of attention at President Clinton's race forum today - some experts say the teen dating trend foreshadows a new era of racial and ethnic tolerance.
Already, polls suggest that teenagers consider race less important, both as an individual barrier and a social problem, than adults do. Meanwhile, interracial marriage is on the rise, with the number of couples quadrupling since the 1970s. Today, nearly two-thirds of whites say they approve of inter-racial marriage.
Other observers, however, are less sanguine. Teenage idealism does not always translate into adult behavior, they caution. Moreover, they point to a sharp upswing in the 1990s of reported hate crimes and continued racially motivated violence, including widely publicized cases of black men being killed or beaten for associating with white women.
"The polls may say one thing, and yet there is other evidence of incredible violence among young generations," says Martha Hodes, a historian at New York University who wrote "White Women, Black Men," an account of illicit liaisons in the 19th-century South.
As for the teens themselves, views of the future remain mixed and, not surprisingly, a little fuzzy. Many, however, are adamant that interracial dating is no different than any other kind - and is here to stay.
"For us, [dating] has nothing to do with color," says Cathleen Woods, an Anglo high school junior whose boyfriend, David Negron, is Hispanic. "You almost never think about it," she says, as the couple leaves the gym arm-in-arm after track practice at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax County, Va.
The northern Virginia county - and Stuart High in particular - reflects the rich melting pot that US schools and communities are becoming as a result of an influx of mainly Asian and Hispanic immigrants. Nationwide, minority enrollment at public schools has topped one-third. At Stuart, the figure is double that, with 24 percent of the student body Asian, 32 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent African-American.
"If you go to my school, you can't be racist, really," says Heather. "There are so many races here - you couldn't get through the day."
Indeed, in hallways filled with ethnic costumes and dotted with signs in Vietnamese, Korean, and Arabic (to name a few), students say they pair up for the same reasons young people do anywhere: shared interests, values, and attraction.