First there was sweet, long-legged Tammy. Then came OnRae: really goofy, plays a mean saxophone. Then a cello player named Asia, followed by a cheerleader named Brookie. Then the punk-rock India. Then the art-loving Lenita. And now Holly.

"She plays soccer. She's a dancer. She's hot," says Richard "Ricky" Reiter, a popular and well-liked senior -- he wasn't elected band president for nothing -- at Suitland High School in Forestville.

The girls have one thing in common: They're all black. In fact, Ricky has so far dated mostly black girls.

"I prefer black girls," the 17-year-old white boy explains, "and don't ask me why, 'cuz I don't know why." He shrugs a little and lets out a sigh. "I mean, how can you explain who you're attracted to? You just are."

He's sitting upstairs in his Bowie home, atop a twin-sized bed that his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame has clearly outgrown. A clean-cut guy, with short, dark brown hair and brown eyes, he's dressed in his usual black-on-black garb: black polo shirt, black jean shorts (with a chain), black Vans skateboarding shoes. He bolts up, paces his bedroom, grabs a book -- Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra -- and flips through the pages. He's big on Shakespeare, quotes him by memory and everything. Anthony and Cleopatra, he points out, were an interracial couple -- she an Egyptian, he a Roman.

He's dated at least a half-dozen Cleopatras in the past four years. Some lasted a few weeks (Lenita), some months (Tammy), the longest a year and two months (India). "I prefer girls who can accept my sense of humor, 'cuz I make a lot of silly jokes," he says. "I prefer girls that are my height, but that's not, like, final. I prefer long hair, but that's not final, either."

He flips through more pages of Anthony and Cleopatra. "I think it's so stupid how people have prejudices against people," he says. "There's nothing wrong with interracial dating. If you like a girl, and she likes you, then that's it. There should be nothing more."

The white boy digs black girls. And so what?

For many teenagers, a white boy dating a black girl, or a Latina going with a black boy, or an Asian girl hooking up with a Latino is as common and accepted as, say, country star Tim McGraw recording the chart-topping "Over and Over" with rapper Nelly, or Justin Timberlake crooning about that senorita with "bright brown eyes." Their parents and grandparents might have a problem with interracial dating, but for lots of teens, it's simply a nonissue.

Fully 45 percent of teens in the Washington area have dated someone of a different race, according to the Post-Kaiser-Harvard survey. Nine of 10 teens said it didn't matter whether people married someone of their own race or not, and eight in 10 said they would consider marrying someone with a different racial background.

This is a big break from the not-so-distant past, when it was a crime for blacks and whites to intermarry in at least 41 states. Ricky isn't fully aware of this harrowing history. "I can't believe all of that actually happened," is all he can say. Sure, he's encountered a few sideways glances, walking around the mall or going to the movies with a black girl, but those always come from "older people."

One incident, though, sticks in his memory: Two years ago. Dinner at his girlfriend's house. He was seated next to her, with her mom at one end of the table, her dad at the other, everyone dining on carryout from Boston Market. The girl's mom was friendly. Her dad -- in Army fatigues, standing about 6-foot-4 -- well, he wasn't so friendly.

"I'm sure he didn't want to see his daughter with any guy, but a white guy? He talked to his family like I wasn't even around," says Ricky. "It was about the first time I remember feeling like I was outta place, and I kinda realized that, you know, [she's] black, and, you know, I'm white, and there's a difference."

Ricky's parents, Catherine, 43, and Russell, 53, have met only two of their son's ex-girlfriends (India and Lenita). But they say they don't mind that Ricky is dating interracially, nor would they object if he married outside his race.

"It's all so different from the time my grandparents and my parents came up," says Catherine, busily knitting a brown-green-and-red scarf in the living room. She was born in Potomac, attended the University of Virginia and has lived in the Washington area her whole life. In the old days, she says, "the Italians stuck together . . . the Russians stuck together. It was very narrow-minded, what people believed in. The change has been just amazing -- amazing."

We're light-years away from 1968, when "Star Trek" broke new ground by showing the first interracial kiss (Capt. Kirk locks lips with Lt. Uhura!) on network TV. In March, three big-budget Hollywood films about interracial romance were playing at the multiplex on the same weekend: "Beauty Shop," in which a white shampoo girl wins the heart of a black hair stylist; "Hitch," in which a black dating consultant falls for a Latina gossip columnist; and "Guess Who," in which a young black artist brings home her white Wall Street trader fiance to mom and pop.

"Guess Who," with Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher and Zoe Saldana, is a retelling of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," the quaint but still seminal 1967 film that starred Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. This time around, it's not the white family but the black family objecting to the interracial dating.

"Yeah, I saw that movie," says Ricky. He's finishing up a mocha frappuccino during his short break from a part-time sales gig at Up Against The Wall, a clothing store at the Pentagon City mall. "It was pretty funny, huh?"

One of Ricky's co-workers, who is sitting next to him, nods.

"That was the best movie ever," says the black senior at Oxon Hill High School who says he's attracted to black, white, Asian, Latina girls, whatever. With all the beautiful ladies out there, why discriminate? "It's no big deal, going out with someone of another race, and it should have never been a big deal in the first place."

Not all the teens who were surveyed agree with him. Timothy Goodsell, a senior at McLean High School, says he wouldn't date a girl who isn't white like him. "It's better to preserve your culture," explains the 17-year-old, who says he's had three girlfriends, all white. "I think that a Hispanic is better off to be with someone who's Hispanic, too, because they can better relate to each other."

Still, there's no question that inter-racial relationships are on the rise. In 1970, interracial marriages accounted for less than 1 percent, or about 300,000, of married couples in the United States, according to a recent study by the Population Reference Bureau. Thirty years later, it was 5.4 percent, or more than 3 million.

But numbers are just numbers. So check out the foot traffic inside Up Against The Wall, an upscale store that is like a never-ending fashion parade a la "106 & Park," the trend-setting BET television show. It's all about mixing it up. Near the front, next to the $345 Evisu jeans, an Asian woman in a bright purple tube top holds hands with a black man in a red Nationals cap. Toward the back, near the shoes, two gay men -- one white, the other black, both in tank tops -- take turns trying on a $170 pair of Yohji Yamamoto leather sandals.

The store's young staff is strikingly diverse. There's Geonni (pronounced Gee-AH-nee) Washington, the 18-year-old assistant manager with long highlighted locks, working the cash register. Her dad is black, her mom from Guam. In the past, she's dated a whole rainbow of multiracial guys: a Brazilian and Turkish mix, a Costa Rican and Chinese blend, a Vietnamese and white combination. There's Aye (pronounced EN-ye) Nyein, in knee-high stiletto boots. She's 17, Burmese and "has a thing for Latins." She's been dating Felix, who's Nicaraguan, for nine months. "My parents would, of course, prefer that I see someone who's also Asian," says Aye. "They don't really understand it, but it's a cultural thing."

In another part of the store, Lenita McCray is showing Ricky how to fold a pair of jeans. "Do you realize you're folding them upside down?" Lenita asks, giving him an irresistible half-grin. Lenita, who's 17 and a senior at Suitland High, is a petite version of pop star Beyonce Knowles, down to the skin tone, the almond eyes. She and Ricky went out for a few weeks over the summer, though now they're just friends.

Lenita has dated white guys and black guys, and her parents know about it. Tony McCray, Lenita's dad, prefers the word "courting" to "dating," the same way he'd prefer that Lenita not be too consumed with guys. "It doesn't matter if the boy is black or white -- if he's dating my daughter, I'm gonna kill him," he says jokingly. McCray, 57, grew up in Palm Beach County, Fla., at a time when high schools were just about to integrate.

"I come from a different, different time, and Lenita's generation can hardly relate to that," says McCray. "TV has become the great equalizer when it comes to interracial relationships: If it's on TV, it must be okay."

There is no missing Ricky's slight swagger in the hallways of Suitland High, where 96 percent of the 2,600 students are black. He can't seem to walk around a hallway without greeting a good-looking girl. "Hey, Tootie! Hey, Epiphany! What's up?"

He started dating at the end of eighth grade. Everyone went bowling on the last day of school. Ricky and Tammy were on the same team. They won. He asked her out. She said yes.

The fact that most of his classmates are black might have something to do with his dating history, he says, though he's gone on dates with two white girls (but those didn't work out).

Inside the school's performing arts annex, Ricky heads to concert band. Outside the annex, a small group of boys, all black, are hanging out, waiting for marching band class to start. Sitting on a rail, munching on white cheddar Cheez-Its, DeAndre Yates declares: "I don't date black girls."

Why? "Oh, he's trippin,'" says his friend Tony McMillian, shaking his head.

"Because there's too much drama with them," says DeAndre, a 16-year-old junior. "He says this. She says that. White girls are just calm." He's gone out with six white girls, he tells the group.

Raymond Barnes, a black school security guard, jumps into the talk. He's an energetic 60, and he's very much a sage to the group.

"Mr. Barnes. Would you date a white girl?" asks Tony, a 16-year-old junior.

"Why not?" says Barnes, a widower whose wife (she was black) died of breast cancer five years ago. There weren't any white girls at Eastern High School in Washington, which he graduated from in 1962, but he dated a white woman while he was in the Army, he says.

"But would you pick a white girl over a black girl?" DeAndre asks.

"Well, I dunno about that. It depends on the behind," says Mr. Barnes, cracking a little smile. He compares a woman with an insufficient derriere to "a ship with no sail." Everyone, Barnes included, bursts out laughing.

In the auditorium, a tall, sturdy, broad-shouldered white man whom students call Mr. DP (short for Mr. Frank Del Piano) is directing Suitland's largely white concert band.

"Give me nice, clean beats. One, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta," he says. "Articulate. What does articulate mean?"

Ricky, who sits in the back, raises his hand. He plays the euphonium, piano, trombone, saxophone and guitar, and in class he plays first chair tuba. He wants to study music, preferably at New York University, and become a high school band director like Mr. DP.

"It's the clarity of your notes. That's what it means," Ricky says.

"Right, right," says Mr. DP. "Let's go. Articulate. That's the word of the day. Thank you, Richard."

Upon getting the right answer, Ricky says out loud: "Yeah, white power!" His classmates turn and laugh. Everyone knows he's joking, he says.

"You know the saying, 'Once you go black, you never go back?' As a conversation starter sometimes, I put myself down and tell the girls, 'Once you go white, you'll go straight back to black,'" Ricky says, laughing. "Some girls are suckers for that. They think, 'Ha-ha, this guy is funny.'"

Ricky met Holly at school just a few days ago. She's about his height, with big, dark eyes and light brown skin. Tomorrow, he'll take Holly for a walk in the mall before his afternoon shift starts.

- - -

45% of local teens have dated someon of a different race

Q: Would you consider marrying someone of a different race, or is that something you, personally, would never consider doing?

80% Would Consider

17% Would Never Consider

3% No Opinion

Jose Antonio Vargas is a staff writer for The Post's Style section.