Every few years now, another story seems to pop up. Black and white twins! How strange, how… impossible. These stories play on deeply embedded assumptions for their frisson. Twins equal alike. Black and white equal opposites. How can two babies be alike, yet opposites?
In July 2008, the big story was the Addo-Gerth twins in Germany, Leo and Ryan. Born to a native German father and a mother originally from Ghana, the boys had markedly different skin tones and thus made for a great photo-op. At the time, seven months pregnant with twins of my own, I just sort of rolled my eyes about it all.
My own daughters, whose in-utero nicknames were Roomba and Scooba, were born late in September that same year. But it didn’t occur to me until a few months ago that they, too, could be considered “black and white twins.” Scooba is as pale as I am, while Roomba is perhaps only a shade lighter than her father.
I’ve gotten comments all their lives about the difference. “One of those babies has been spending a lot of time in the sun, hasn’t she!” was a common one. As if I kept one in the shade at all times and kept a bottle of tanning oil in the diaper bag for the other one. Nevertheless, I got this comment so often that I finally had to come up with a stock answer: “No, she’s not tan, she was born that way.”
I’ve also been asked more times than I can count if the twins are “mine.” I’m never sure if I’m being asked if I’m the nanny, or if they’re adopted. I’ve been asked if they’re twins — how could they be twins? Really? Amazing!
But it wasn’t until recently, when another “black and white twins!” story hit the news media, that it occurred to me that my daughters could have had a spot on that bandwagon, too, if I’d wanted them to. It was actually Triniti and Ghabrial Cunningham, whose story was reported in February this year by ABC News, that clued me in. Triniti and Gabe look more alike than my girls do, both in terms of facial features and in terms of skin color. But there they were, being touted as a genetic marvel on the morning news.
The thing is, if you talk to black and biracial families, you’ll quickly learn that — to be blunt — only white people are fascinated by these “black and white twin” stories. Because most black folk in the US, at least, know a family with widely divergent skin colors. And those families have had to put up with the same sorts of comments I am now fielding on behalf of my daughters: “She’s your sister? Really? But you look so different!”
I’m avoiding bigger generalizations about the experience of mixed families on purpose, because I am not an expert here. Especially considering some of the other strange quirks of my family. We live in Oakland, California, where families of mixed heritage are accepted enough that nobody does a double-take when we walk into a restaurant or store. And as it happens, my twins have three parents, all of whom are big ol’ queers. We’re not going to make a great poster family for biracial harmony. Maybe it’s a good thing we skipped jumping on that media bandwagon after all. I’m already worried about being the Free Square on everybody’s Diversity Bingo Card, as it were.
I’m just the white mom of two black girls. Who happen to be twins. One of whom’s skin happens to be lighter than the other — like sisters in black families all over the country. I have no particular investment in underlining their mixed heritage. I won’t feel rejected if they don’t identify, in some way or another, as white. I’m their Mom. That’s enough for me.