WHAT'S BEHIND THE ESCALATING TREND? AS we head into the new millennium, marrying mitt dating across cultural lines seem to be increasing at record rates. Almost anywhere you go these days, you will encounter mixed-race couples: at the grocery store, the mall, the theater, at a company function, at: a concert, even at church. And while for years the Black man-White woman couple was more prevalent, today many social observers say that the pairing of Black women and White men is just as common. That certainly seems to be the case in cities such as St. Paul-Minneapolis, where interracial couples long have thrived.

But the social trend also is quite evident in other large cities such as Chicago and New York, Atlanta and Detroit, where there is a noticeable and striking increase in the number of mixed-race couples, especially Black women with White mates. In movies, on television and even on Broadway, the theme of interracial love has become en vogue. Wesley Snipes has starred in a number of movies in which his love interest was not Black: jungle Fever, One Night Stand and U. S.

Marshal. The popular sitcom Ally McBeal has the lead character bemoaning a lost love, a Black doctor. Last year, Whitney Houston's production of Cinderella starred Brandy in the title role but the prince was not Black. And a new Broadway musical, Marie Christine, revolves around a relationship in the 1800 s between a Black woman (Audra McDonald) and a White sea captain.' Interracial couples are more noticeable and prominent than ever,' says a Midwest-based author who has observed the changes in social trends for some 40 years. 'But the recent numbers of Black women being escorted by White men is, well, startling, to say the least.' According to the U. S.

Census Bureau, in 1997 there were 311, 000 interracial (Black-White) married couples, more than six times as many as in 1960. Of those, 201, 000 were comprised of a Black husband and White wife, while there were 110, 000 couples in which the husband was White and the wife Black. Some estimate that today 10 percent of married Black men have mates of another race. Some social observers say that the increase in cross-cultural relationships is tied directly to the breakdown of school and residential segregation and the 1967 overthrow of the last laws. That year the U.

S. Supreme Court unconstitutional laws barring racial intermarriage in states. A mixed couple in Virginia had challenged the state's 1924 anti miscegenation statute in response to their being forced by local law officials to live apart, to jail or leave the state. In addition, most grade schools and colleges are integrated, and so are workplaces and neighborhoods. Many middle-class Black kids grow up in affluent White areas and socialize with White kids from kindergarten on.

When they adolescent and teen years, they naturally are attracted to those within the same social circles in which they and in which they are comfortable. Alvin Poussaint, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard School, says there is an increase in interracial marriages this time because Black people are moving more more into what he refers to as the 'mainstream of American society,' and social barriers are dissolving. He and others also say that taboos against interracial dating and marriage are easing.'s ome of the negative attitudes toward interracial marriage have been lifted considerably,' says Dr. Poussaint. 'Today you see young people watching MTV [where they see Whites and Blacks interacting in the music videos]. You see more mixed dating and mixed couples.

This has become less taboo. You also see an easing of a kind of Black-consciousness mentality. There is not the same kind of pressure on Blacks who are thinking about dating or marrying inter racially. That is easing up and allowing people to feel more accepted.

When you go to a Links ball or to the Boule, you see people who are inter racially married. No one tells them that they can't be accepted into the social group because they have married outside the race. Since there is no social sanction in the Black community, people feel free to say, 'I like this person and this is what I want to do, so I'll do it.' 'The specific reasons behind the escalating trend of dating and mating across color and racial lines vary from individual to individual. Some Black women say they were attracted to their White spouses because they had found it difficult to meet Black men on their social and income levels. Others say their mates treat them well and share common interests. Some people seem to simply prefer to date people of another race.

For instance, Robert DeNiro has had two Black wives and has dated a number of Black women, including models Naomi Campbell and Tookie Smith. O. J. Simpson continues to demonstrate a preference for White women, and Whoopi Goldberg consistently dates White guys. While interracial mating is more accepted in today's society, there nevertheless are stereotypes and other negative aspects to be considered. Society in general has a history of frowning on Black-White marriages, and despite integration elsewhere, many people in the White as well as the Black communities do not approve of integration in the bedroom.

In many cases, couples who fall in love and marry outside their cultural group are disavowed by their families, shunned by friends and insulted by strangers. One Black woman who is married to a White man tells how she and her husband were greeted with the proclamation, 'Remember O. J. !' when they encountered a group of Black youths. A city judge who is married to his second White wife said he would rather not be quoted by name in this story.

'Sisters already are I don t want to upset them further,' he said. A Black sports coach expressed a similar sentiment. Many Black women feel betrayed by the Brother who marries a White woman, especially those who show a preference for other women. The problem is exacerbated by Black men who exclude Black women in favor of White women due to what some call 'racial brainwashing.' Black women are annoyed, to say the least, by Black men who say they favor White women because Black women are 'not as feminine,' 'too strong,' 'too demanding,' or 'sexually uptight.'s social psychologist Dr. Julia Hare says that ironically, these same Black men often are the ones who ostracize Black women when they date White men. And Brothers are incensed by Black women who say they marry White men because Black men don't know how to treat a woman.' In addition, many people assume a White man is with a Black woman because of her sexual prowess or that he thinks he owns her.

They assume that a White woman is with a Black man because of his sexual prowess, or that he is attracted to her because she represents the 'forbidden fruit.' Both mindsets reflect our history of being enslaved by Whites. In reality, say relationship therapists and Black women themselves, many Sisters end up dating and marrying White men because they have difficulty meeting and connecting with Black men. Dr. Hare says many Black women, especially college-educated, professional Black women, believe there is a shortage of Black men on their income and status levels. 'Black women marry. White men because they want to make a commitment,' says Dr.

Hare. 'They are maturing and their biological clocks are ticking. They want to find a man who they feel will love them. They realize they have to look elsewhere if they want to start families.' Dr. Hare cautions that Black women and Black men both should not mistakenly think that those of another race can or will love them more or treat them better than those of their own race. She explains that society expects women to 'marry up' or better themselves by their choice of husbands.

'But a good Black man may not be able to be defined as we define a good White man,' explains Dr. Hare. 'If the Black man doesn't have the job, financial security and nice home, then we assume he is not a 'good Black man.' But that is not fair. We have forgotten about the spiritual qualities that the UPS driver and other blue-collar men may bring to the relationship.' Nadine Kojak of Chicago says she did not marry her husband, Zbigniew (who is Polish) because she could not find a Black man. She married him because of 'the friendship, the compatibility, the fact we fell in love.' Nadine met her husband five years ago while waiting for a girlfriend at Michael Jordan's restaurant in Chicago.

Four months later he proposed marriage in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They married and honeymooned at a resort in the Caribbean.