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"The very fact this many teenagers are willing to say they have dated interracially is, I think, a big shift," says Ellis Cose, author of the new COLOR-BLIND: SEEING BEYOND RACE IN A RACE-OBSESSED WORLD.

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According to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of teenagers across the country, 57% who go out on dates say they've been out with someone of another race or ethnic group--whether white, black, Hispanic or Asian.

The poll also finds that some racial barriers remain, particularly between white and black teens.

But experts who have explored the dynamics of the nation's growing multiculturalism believe many teens are on the leading edge of cultural change, looking at race in a way that seemed inconceivable just two decades ago.

"For a lack of a better term, there is a kind of de- racialization of American society hinted at in these statistics," says Elijah Anderson, an ethnographer at the University of Pennsylvania and author of STREETWISE."You do have to be cautious, but I can see implications for interracial bonding in the future, implications for the workplace, for government," Anderson says.

When Gallup last asked teens about interracial dating, in 1980, just 17% said they had dated someone of another race, though Hispanics were not specifically included in that count.

13-20 of 602 teens, reflect the ubiquity of interracial dating today--a trend strongly supported by anecdotal evidence from dozens of interviews across the country with teachers, school counselors, principals, parents and students.

Although experts may view the teens' behavior at the vanguard of social change, the teens say it's no big deal."I think people are getting used to growing up with different races, and you feel a lot more comfortable now," says Vertrice Duke, 17, a student at Meadowcreek High, a racially diverse school in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross.

You have been with different races all your life." Vertrice, who is black, dates an Hispanic.

Angela Mc Millan, 16, and Eddie Untachantr, 16, are another Meadowcreek couple.

Over the last several decades, the American public has grown increasingly accepting of interracial dating and marriage.

This shift in opinion has been driven both by attitude change among individuals generally and by the fact that over the period, successive generations have reached adulthood with more racially liberal views than earlier generations.

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