the twins

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The “Black and White” twins are all over everything I’m seeing on the internet. The trending of the story brings the opportunity to gain more awareness of what we think race is, how we allow it to influence our identity, and (hopefully) how it all really just makes no sense.

I can’t figure out what prompted the interest in this particular set of twins this week. I’ve been hoarding articles about black and white twins for years. It bothers me that when they say “Black and White twins”, they mean one of each. Below is the actual title and opening sentence of an actual post about Lucy and Maria:

Biracial Twins: Sisters Belonging to Different Races:

I’ve heard that the odds of having a set of biracial twins belonging to different races is one in a million. One interracial couple somehow beat those odds…

Um, yeah… it is actually impossible to have a set of biological biracial twins who belong to two different races. If we’re playing along with the notion that there is a race other than human to belong to in the first place, these biological fraternal twins are of the same race(s). But, even the twins themselves seem to have adopted the skewed perspective:

Lucy says,

Maria loves telling people at college that she has a white twin. And I’m very proud of having a black twin.

I may be analyzing too literally, but the simple truth is that these sisters look different. They are of different phenotypes, not races. Their skin color (which is real) is different. Their race (which is not real) is the same. Me being me, I read their title of “black and white twins” like: They are “biracial” so they are black AND white. Both of them are both of them. And both of them have mostly white genes if we’re gonna keep on fractionalizing people into halves or whatever.

Let’s see what the way we talk about and consider these pairs can help us break our rigid notions of race and identity.

First, the biology. How does this happen? Something that stood out to me when reading about most of these sets of twins is that in the case where one parent is biracial and the other is white, that is not clearly stated. I think that’s because people are still unclear on how to process us realistically, but they can’t just say “black” because the half white part is a major detail in the equation.

In the case of the Aylmers it is stated that:

The girls’ nearly opposite features can be traced back to their racially different parents. Their mother, Donna, is half-Jamaican while father Vince is white.

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Ok, so Donna is half Jamaican and half white although they don’t make define the other half. Leaving her even more un-whole.  Disappointing to me, but no surprise since most people still think of black and white as mutually exclusive.  Stories like these help us to shift those deeply ingrained tenets in ourselves.  If we’re gonna look at this truthfully, Donna is technically half white and half black.  Vince is white. So how racially different are they? Not very, I would argue.

In most of the other cases the mother is white and the father is black.

There’s one instance where both parents of the twins are biracial with white moms and black dads.

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Twins Kian and Remee with their parents Kylee Hodgson and Remi Horder who both have white mothers and black fathers.

So here’s the scientific explanation:

Million to one odds:

The odds against of a mixed race couple having twins of dramatically different colour are a million to one.
Skin colour is believed to be determined by up to seven different genes working together.
If a woman is of mixed race, her eggs will usually contain a mixture of genes coding for both black and white skin.
Similarly, a man of mixed race will have a variety of different genes in his sperm. When these eggs and sperm come together, they will create a baby of mixed race.
But, very occasionally, the egg or sperm might contain genes coding for one skin colour. If both the egg and sperm contain all white genes, the baby will be white. And if both contain just the versions necessary for black skin, the baby will be black.
For a mixed-race couple, the odds of either of these scenarios is around 100 to one. But both scenarios can occur at the same time if the woman conceives non-identical twins, another 100 to one chance.
This involves two eggs being fertilised by two sperm at the same time, which also has odds of around 100 to one.
If a sperm containing all-white genes fuses with a similar egg and a sperm coding for purely black skin fuses with a similar egg, two babies of dramatically different colours will be born.
The odds of this happening are 100 x 100 x 100 – a million to one.

Taking all of those maths into account, this family is super duper special:

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Big sisters Hayleigh, left, and Lauren Durrant, right, hold their new siblings Leah, left, and Miya, right. Scientists say the odds of their parents, Dean Durrant and Alison Spooner, having two sets of fraternal twins with strikingly different skin tones and eye colors is ‘one in millions.’

Now on to the sociology. Honestly, I’ve always been a little worried about the darker twin when I contemplate how they experience the world.  Because the world will experience each of them differently and sometimes that must manifest in drastic ways.  As a child I was frequently in all white environments and I know first hand how it feels to be valued less than your fairer complected peers.  Frankly, as an adult I am frequently in mostly white environments and sometimes the same vibes are flowing.  But as an adult I know better than to take that personally.  As a child not so much.  That might sound sad, and sometimes I was, but because of those circumstances I learned to see beauty and value in places generally thought to have none.  That is a gift.

So anyway, I was worried about the “black” twin because I thought they’d be having similar experiences to mine and thinking, “But I’m really just the same.  We’re TWINS for God’s sake.  Why are we exempt from the same regard as all the other twins in the world?  And why am I getting the short end of the stick.  Unfair.”  I was also concerned that it could cause a rift between the twins and rob them of the twin bond which I always thought would be so fun to have.

Turns out I was wrong.  According to the interviews it seems that the lighter twin struggles more and there are no traces of a lasting breach between them.

The Aylmers

twin <3

(Of her childhood) Red-haired Lucy said her pale complexion had prompted speculation that she’d been adopted: ‘My classmates used to ask if I was adopted because my siblings are all quite dark.

‘It was pretty hard, it went on in secondary school and it wasn’t very nice.’

The impact this has had may be gleaned from this recent post on her Facebook page:

…thank you so much for all your lovely comments about the way I… look. I’ve never had so much confidence. I’ve gone from spending 3 hours covering up every inch of what I naturally look like before I left the house for as little as 2 minutes. To now wearing next to no make up with my natural red hair…

James and Daniel Kelly

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James (left) and Daniel Kelly, twin brothers

When Daniel and James went to nursery aged three, the twins’ skin colour plunged the family into controversy. “They were at this very politically correct nursery, and the staff told us that when Daniel drew a picture of himself, he had to make himself look black – because he was mixed-race,” says Alyson. “And I said, that’s ridiculous. Why does Daniel have to draw himself as black, when a white face looks back at him in the mirror?  Daniel had one white parent and one black, so why couldn’t he call himself white? Why does a child who is half-white and half-black have to be black? Especially when his skin colour is quite clearly white!”

Primary school passed without colour being an issue: but…everything changed when they went to secondary school… the racism they encountered there had a huge effect on them.

It all started well, says Alyson. “The school was almost all-white, so James was unusual. But it wasn’t a problem for James – it was a problem for Daniel.

“The boys were in different classes, so for a while no one realised they were related. Then someone found out, and the story went round that this white boy, Daniel, was actually black, and the evidence was that he had a black twin brother, James, who was right here in the school. And then Daniel started being picked on and it got really ugly and racist, and there were lots of physical attacks. Daniel was only a little kid, and he was being called names and being beaten up by much older children – it was really horrible. We even called the police.”

“I was really bullied,” cuts in Daniel, his face hardening at the memory. “People couldn’t believe James and I were brothers, and they didn’t like the fact that I looked white, but was – as they saw it – black.”

It is interesting that it was the white twin, Daniel, and not the black twin who was on the receiving end of racism…”Those kids couldn’t stand the fact that, as they saw it, this white kid was actually black. It was as though they wanted to punish him for daring to call himself white,” she says.

“I started to notice how angry Daniel was getting at school, how people were provoking him and how he was getting hurt,” says James. “And when he got pulled in fights, I went in too, to help him. I didn’t want to see my brother being treated like that.” James does not look like a kid who would end up in any fight: but, when his brother was up against it, he weighed in – and, says Alyson, the bruises and cuts they both came home with told their own tale.

They’re a straightforward, outspoken family, the Kellys: all they’ve ever wanted for their children is a fair chance in life. And if their youngest twins have made anyone think twice about their preconceptions about race and colour, they don’t mind that in the least. “It’s good to challenge people on race and sexuality and other issues where there’s prejudice,” says Alyson. “If knowing my boys encourages anyone to think a bit more deeply about how we label people, then that’s just great as far as I’m concerned.”

Amen to that Alyson.  And thank you!

In terms of the impact on the family in general, in every interview both the twins and their parents recount that they had many experiences in which in one way or another (sibling to sibling/parent to child) no one could believe they were related and they had to prove it and other similar nonsense.  I’m a big believer in “a family should be something you can see just by looking at it” because I know how it feels when that is not the case.  I don’t know how to describe the feeling.  It’s jarring I guess.  It disturbs the foundation of a person.  Of a family.  And for what?  By what merit?  At the expense of whom?

I say:  For nothing.  Based on no true merit.  At the expense of all of us.

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speaking of halle berry

i tumbled upon this interesting thread today at black hair media.com.  i personally feel that, of course, they “should be able to” call themselves black women.  i am all about self-identifying as one sees fit.  i wonder what kind of run-ins the questioner has had with biracial women with white mothers that would instigate such an inquiry.  in my opinion, many (certainly not all, or even most) biracial women that i know who have white mothers (into which category fall most of the biracial people i know) not only identify themselves as black, but seem more steeped in black culture than… well… than… me.  i have some theories as to why that is… i’m reluctant to share them… i’m going to sleep on it and hopefully grow a pair overnight, then come back and update this post adding my speculations tomorrow or sometime this weekend.

Topic: biracial women with white mothers
Posted: Today at 11:21am
-Do you think that biracial women with white mothers and black fathers should be able to call themselves black women? I get frustrated with this because how can they be a black woman when they didn’t even come from one and really don’t know much about us. I don’t think they should get that title. I hate hearing Halle Berry (who has a white mother) be called “The most beautiful black woman). To me, that just seems unfair. Who else feels this way?
-I don’t think anyone who’s biracial (that is, black and white) regardless of which one of their parents is black or white should be calling themselves black. If the mother’s white and the father’s black, you are mulatto. If the mother’s black and the father’s white you are a mulatto. Case closed.
 -i use to feel this way..but honestly it all about how they are raise..if they want to identify themselves as white or black they have the right to..what would you say if it were you? AlSO, i rather someone tell me their either black or white.. rather than running around screamin “im mixed” all the time.
 -You know what I just realized??…why do people think of mutliracial people like they are slices of pizza???

Genetics dont work like that.
 -I think white people call every bi racial person black just because they are darker.
Ive only see people sometimes calling biracial white in Africa.
Plus, for me its hard to see biracial peeps with white mothers who raised them feeling they are black just because they have white culture. When you have a black mother and live with her, you feel black just because of what your mother taught you.
But some biracial with white moms, who know they are rejected by their white part, take advantage on the black community since they like them. I guess OP thats the Hally berry case.
-um it depends. i think mixed girls with white moms tend to be more whitewashed. i dont view some of them as true black people because they identified with their white mom more so of course they are gonna have that white influence.  vs. a mixed person with a black mom who was the main influence a lot of times u can just tell a difference. plus some of them like hauts said feel better than regular blacks and take advantage of the praise and attention. NOT ALL MIXED PEOPLE, BUT SOME
also if you are half nonblack and half black, you cannot be the prettiest black anything. how that work when half your genes come from a white woman? halle may be the prettiest mixed woman but her beauty cannot represent black women b/c she is not fully black.

a more appropriate (not to mention genius) exhibit

now this is the kind of exhibit i’d pay to see! i would like to take this time to say “told ya so.”  not that anyone’s really argued against this point with me.  i’m just sayin’… it doesn’t exist… and yet it dictates life chances and prevents us from being open to what exists and really matters in ourselves and each other.

Museum of Science explores science, concept of race

By Chris Bergeron/DAILY NEWS STAFF

BOSTON —An African, an Asian and a North American viewing the new exhibit “Race” at the Museum of Science might be surprised to discover they have more in common than individuals of any other species on Earth.

They would learn their variously colored complexions derive from how their skin processes folate and vitamin D. The African would find he’s susceptible to sickle cell anemia, not because of his race but because of the prevalence of malaria in his homeland.

And all three might be troubled to learn world-famous psychologist Arthur Jensen has written that differences in their intelligence can be attributed to their racial origins.

By the exhibit’s end, each might answer the question in its subtitle, “Are We So Different?” by saying, “No, not based on our genes.”

Combining scientific, anthropological and historical evidence, the exhibit argues the fundamental concept of race and racial differences has no biological basis but is a man-made distinction with immeasurable social consequences over the centuries.

Developed by the American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota, “Race” invites visitors to examine race and racism through exhibits, interactive stations and artifacts.

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Museum President and Director Ioannis Miaoulis said it’s the first exhibit to examine race and human variations using the most up-to-date genetic discoveries.

“This exhibit can be inspiring, revealing and even life-changing,” he said opening the show last Thursday.

Chioma Nnaji, research coordinator of the UMass Horizon Center in Boston, praised the exhibit for explaining how a broad misunderstanding of race “complicated” relations between people by emphasizing superficial differences over shared interests.

Citing cutting-edge genetic research, the exhibit states, “Race is a recent human invention.”

Nina Catubig Nolan, chairwoman of the museum’s Race education team, said, “The idea of race doesn’t have a basis in biology. Humans from around the world share 99.5 percent of their genes. That’s more than chimpanzees or fruit flies,” she said.

Flawed science results in social injustice.

The failure to recognize our common genetic heritage is demonstrated by a photo that shows how the U.S. Census labeled people based on mistaken ideas of pigmentation and appearance.

From 1850 to 2000, a mixed-race woman would have been variously described as “mulatto,” “Negro” or, recently, “White and African American.” From 1930 to 1990, a woman from Tijuana who moved to Texas would have been labeled “Mexican,” “white” and “Hispanic white.” Over the course of the 20th century, Inuit women have been called “Indians,” “Eskimos” and in 2000 “Alaska natives.”

Wall text by that photo states: “The idea of race is tied to power and hierarchy among people. The legacy of race continues to shape the lives and relationships of people in the U.S. and around the world.”

Paul Fontaine, vice-president of education at the Museum of Science, said “Race” provides “a perfect opportunity to look at a sociological issue through a scientific lens.”

Museum official sought to open the exhibit just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and over the following months to encourage discussion about a timely issue and provide an opportunity to present related events and activities, he said.

“When we first saw ‘Race,’ we loved the way it was presented. It was powerful and emotional and based on current genetic research. From this exhibit, visitors will learn race is an artificial construct. Yet it has been the basis for categorizing people and all the negative reactions that have followed from that,” said Fontaine.

“Race” includes fascinating, even a few disturbing, artifacts.

A “hair color table” that measured the spectrum of hair color from Aryan blonde to less desirable shades was used by Nazis to provide a scientific basis for the practice of “racial hygiene” that legitimized the deaths of millions of “non-Aryan” Jews, gypsies and Slavs.

Closer to home, visitors can see a placard for a “Colored Waiting Room” and a sign announcing “We want white tenants for our white community.”

And debunking a television crime show staple, the exhibit uses photos and expert testimony to show forensic pathologists can not definitively determine a victim’s race from their bones and teeth with the regularity or ease of investigators on “CSI Miami.”

Unlike many Museum of Science exhibits, “Race” devotes more than half its gallery space to establishing a historical and social context for its premise that humans have misused the idea as a tool to discriminate rather than seek common ground.

The most effective parts of the exhibit help visitors understand the genetic science that provides the exhibit’s foundation. By twisting a dial, visitors can direct human migration from 100,000 B.C. to 40,000 B.C. across a world map.

At the exhibit’s opening, musician and sound artist Halsey Burgund previewed a segment of his audio installation, “Voices Without Faces, Voices Without Race,” which consists of snippets of conversation from more than 250 people discussing race.

Commissioned by the museum, he recorded people along Rte. 128 responding to three questions: When did you first become aware of race? When were you first privileged by or discriminated against because of race? And, What is your experience of race in Boston? The audio installation will open Feb. 3.

Khaalie Parham, a 15-year-old sophomore at Community Charter School in Cambridge, said people react differently to him depending on whether he’s in his predominantly white hometown of Belmont or among his peers.

“Race has a huge significance in my life. If I’m in Belmont, people look at me differently or cross to the other side of the street than I’m walking on,” he said. “In my school, race isn’t much of a factor. But if people look past differences and what other people say and follow their own mind, then race stops dividing people.

THE ESSENTIALS:

WHAT: “Race: Are We So Different?”

WHERE: Museum of Science, Science Park, Boston

WHEN: Through May 15

ADMISSION: $21 for adults, $19 for seniors (60+) and $18 for children (3-11)

INFO: 617-723-2500, TTY 617-589-0417, www.mos.org.

Visit the American Anthropological Association’s Race Project at www.understandingrace.org

SOURCE

we want to look related

..but sometimes we don’t.  Or we do, but people can’t see it because of that skin color, hair color, eye color thing.  I don’t think looking alike means being the same shade.  Shapes are involved too.  That we toss all of our kindergarten training aside to rely solely on hue when it comes to this kind of thing is a symptom of this disease I’ll call colorism.  A descendant of our old friend racism.  Needless to say, I like this piece because it points all of that out.

Who does your baby look like?

BY AISHA SULTAN

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

I remember glancing into a bathroom vanity a few years back and doing a double take.

In the dim light, I could have sworn I saw my mother’s face staring back at me. It was her slightly curved nose, her oval face and heavy eyelids. What could have been an unwelcome reminder of aging instead took me back to my childhood. I remember watching intently, enamored by her face, as my mother applied her makeup for parties.

A homely sort of child, no one ever told me I looked like her when I was young.

Nonetheless, I was still stunned when the doctor handed me my newborn daughter. She looked nothing like me.

Perhaps we expect to replicate ourselves, at least to some degree. Her hair was much lighter than my black locks. Her skin was considerably paler. She looks so much like her paternal grandmother, Georgia Kelley, a Midwestern woman of European descent.

This baby girl looked just like her father, a product of a biracial marriage himself.

One visitor tried to tell me that all newborns resemble their fathers initially. It’s an evolutionary adaptation to reassure dad that he’s actually the daddy.

Dr. Alan Templeton, professor of genetics at Washington University School of Medicine, says he hasn’t ever seen any scientific research supporting that theory.

“I’m actually very skeptical of it,” he said. But, there is plenty of research on organisms, including humans, showing that they rely on resemblances as part of kin recognition. And, we treat those we recognize as kin differently than nonkin, he said.

“This is evolutionarily quite old, and not unique to humans,” he said.

It made me wonder if we subconsciously favor a child who looks more like us?

My sisters joke that I look like my daughter’s Mexican nanny when we are out in public.

Like any biased parent, I think she’s beautiful. But I was tickled when our second child arrived with the exact same almond-shaped eyes as my entire family. He looks like a miniature version of my younger brothers. It’s a public display of genetic prowess: We won round two.

There must be a biological imperative involved. We are hardwired to want to pass along our own very special DNA. The crooked smile and hazel eyes are genetic affirmation.

Almost immediately after a child is born, speculation begins on who the child looks like. It’s one of the most popular topics of discussion as babies’ faces change so rapidly in those early years. And when we tell someone their child looks like them, the typical response is usually a big smile.

But in this age of increasingly biracial and multiracial families, cross-cultural adoption and fertility treatments with donor eggs or sperm, there will be more children who look strikingly different from their parents.

I’ve known a few white women who have married Pakistani men and subtly changed their appearance once their children were born. Typically, blond hair gets dyed a shade or two darker. They get tired of answering the question: “Is she really yours?”
We want to look related. We want outsiders to know we are on the same team, a family.

Parents who adopt children from another ethnicity deal with intrusive (and sometimes obnoxious) questions fairly regularly. Questions such as “How much did they cost? and “Why didn’t you adopt a white baby?” make the old jokes about the milkman seem downright charming.

One mom delights in telling the story of taking her adopted son, who shares her blue eyes and blond hair, to restaurants. She’s been told by bystanders: “Oh, there’s no mistaking he’s your son.”

She smiles and says: “You’re right.”

I’ve heard my share of awkwardly phrased questions when people see pictures of my children. Sometimes, they’ll ask: What is their father? I’m always tempted to answer by species rather than race. But, I know the subtext. Skin color, hair color, eye color — those primitive markers signify if you’re one of us or one of them.

That shorthand just doesn’t work as well in today’s world.

When people tell me my daughter looks just like me, I am secretly delighted even though I don’t buy it. But, there is a reason she frequently makes me want to pull my hair out: her stubborn personality, her passionately held opinions, the smart remarks and proclivity to collect mounds of clutter. Looks notwithstanding, she is a 7-year-old reflection of myself.

no fear, no bias

When I first read this I thought it was a joke.  I suppose it had something to do with naming this a disorder when it seems like we should all be striving to attain such open-mindedness when it comes to race and the perception of otherness.  Then I thought we should all be so lucky as to be born with this “disorder.”  What this article doesn’t mention though is that there’s a lot more to Williams syndrome than lack of racial biases.  It is not a joke.  And hopefully there will be a cure someday.  I’m grateful to those who did this study and hope to hear that further studies with racially-mixed families will be done to test this explanation of fear based racial biases.

Individuals with Rare Disorder Have No Racial Biases

Robin Nixon
LiveScience Staff Writer

Never has a human population been found that has no racial stereotypes. Not in other cultures or far-flung countries. Nor among tiny tots or people with various psychological conditions.

Until now.

Children with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that makes them lack normal social anxiety, have no racial biases. They do, however, traffic in gender stereotypes, said study researcher Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

illustration by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Normally, children show clear preferences for their own ethnic group by the age of three, if not sooner, other research has shown.

And, indeed, the children in this study without Williams syndrome reliably assigned good traits, such as friendliness, to pictures of people the same race as themselves. When asked something negative, such as “which is the naughty boy,” they overwhelmingly pointed to the other race.

Children with Williams syndrome, however, were equally likely to point to the white or black child as naughty or friendly.

While this study was done with white children, other research has shown that blacks and people of other races also think more highly of their own, Meyer-Lindenberg told LiveScience.

Williams syndrome is caused by a gene deletion known to affect the brain as well as other organs. As a result, people with Williams syndrome are “hypersocial,” Meyer-Lindenberg told . They do not experience the jitters and inhibitions the rest of us feel.

“The whole concept [of social anxiety] would be foreign to them,” he said.

They will put themselves at great peril to help someone and despite their skills at empathy, are unable to process social danger signals. As a result, they are at increased risk for rape and physical attack.

Nature or nurture?

While the first human population to demonstrate race-neutrality is missing critical genes, “we are not saying that this is all biologically-based and you can’t do anything about it,” Meyer-Lindenberg said.

“Just because there is a genetic way to knock the system out, does not mean the system itself is 100 percent genetic,” he said.

The study does show, however, that racism requires social fear. “If social fear was culturally reduced, racial stereotypes could also be reduced,” Meyer-Lindenberg said.

Despite their lack of racial bias, children with Williams syndrome hold gender stereotypes just as strongly as normal children, the study found. That is, 99 percent of the 40 children studied pointed to pictures of girls when asked who played with dolls and chose boys when asked, say, who likes toy cars.

The fact that Williams syndrome kids think of men and women differently, but not blacks and whites, shows that sex stereotypes are not caused by social anxiety, Meyer-Lindenberg said.

This may be because we learn about gender within “safe” home environments, while a different race is usually a sign of someone outside our immediate kin. (Studies to test this explanation, such as with racially-mixed families, have not yet been done.)

Racial biases are likely rooted in a general fear of others, while gender stereotypes may arise from sweeping generalizations, Meyer-Lindenberg said. “You watch mother make the meals, so you generalize this to everyone female.”

In their heads

Due to the present study, we now know that “gender and race are processed by different brain mechanisms,” Meyer-Lindenberg said, although those involved in gender are less understood.

Previous work has shown that in the brains of people with Williams syndrome, the amygdala – the emotional seat of the brain – fails to respond to social threats. While the amygdala itself is functionally normal, it is misguided by the pre-frontal cortex – the executive of the brain – to block all social anxiety.

This system is now thought to underlie racism, but it seems uninvolved in the formation of sex stereotypes.

Meyer-Lindenberg and colleagues are now using brain imaging to get a clearer picture of how racism and sexism are differentiated in the brain. The present study was published in the journal Current Biology.

SOURCE

a terrific struggle for supremacy!?

oct 7 11

Savannah Tribune, October 7, 1911. Seems like the phenomenon of albinism was not as widely understood as one might think circa 1911.

oct 7 11 2

oct 7 11 3
I assume that said “recreation pier” was a place of cheap amusement–a midway of some sort. Nobody wasted any time capitalizing on the cash value of these infants. The bit about race supremacy being the crux of their antagonism certainly is nuts. It’s like baby Sallie is getting an exemption from the one-drop rule.

oct 7 11 4

“thick, super-sensual, sagging lips.” Eek!
oct 7 11 5

Gee, that’s arguably kinda racist. Though it’s mighty white on the part of the reporter to allow that baby Marie is “just as clean and equally bright as her sister.” I bet she grew up to be “articulate.”
oct 7 11 6
I wonder what happened to these kids.

reblogged from The Hope Chest

what “race” means

So very interesting….

Q & A with Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of the “personal genetics” company 23andMe.

Q. Have you had any situations where a person finds out they have relatively recent ancestors of a race that they were unaware of? If so, have any reacted badly?

A. We know that quite a few people find surprises about their ancestry through 23andMe’s service. One customer with extensive knowledge of his European paternal ancestry discovered that his maternal line traced to a Native American woman. He tracked down paper records that revealed a “mulatto woman” about seven generations back. Native American ancestry makes some sense given that his ancestry traces to the southern U.S. While he was excited about this new information, his 93-year-old mother was far less positive and remains skeptical! Quite a few African Americans have discovered that their paternal line traces to Europe. Although many African Americans may be aware that they have some European ancestry (the average is about 20 percent), some discover that close to 50 percent of their ancestry traces to Europe, and this can take some getting used to.

Q. As projects like yours and the HapMap uncover numerous instances of genetic differences between human groups or races, what is the responsibility of the genetics community when discussing innate differences between races, particularly when a large part of academia is convinced that there are no such differences?

A. A lot of the difficulty in talking about race has been a lack of agreement on what “race” means. In the past, the idea of pure races also included an ordering of certain races as inherently superior to others. We reject this idea absolutely. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no genetic differences between populations of different ancestral origin. A few of our features use the genome-wide data of reference populations from around the world to trace the origin of pieces of an individual’s genome. Some customers have complex patterns depending on where their ancestors originated. These reference populations aren’t “races”; they’re representative samples of peoples who have lived in a single place for a very long time and have thus accumulated different sets of genetic variants over time.

ancestry