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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
(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 (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.