Would you call my daughters "black and white twins?"

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Lori S.
Our two-tone twins, Roomba and Scooba, when they were about four months old.
Our two-tone twins, Roomba and Scooba, when they were about four months old.

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.

    • that's right, monozygotic twins share identical copies of genes, so the only way to get different skin tones is if you really did put one out in the sun and the other behind the couch

  1. They are ADORABLE!
    I would get so frustrated if I were you. YES, I've been putting my baby in a tanning bed! Just to get a base!

  2. Favorite caption in the world is in that Cunningham article: "The 17-month-old children were born 11 months premature, but are now both fit and healthy."

    That's a terrifying delivery, almost two month before conception…

  3. Love the pic, they are adorable! My mom's best friend has a son who is biracial & they love to tell stories of when we were both babies (we are less than 1 month apart in age) people would ask them questions all the time. My mom's friend would have us in a double stroller at the mall while my mom used the bathroom & people actually asked her if we were twins, her response was "Yeah, this one is 2% & this one is chocolate" (referring to her breasts, obviously) She's a pretty unashamed person, and it's pretty funny to hear her talk about now since that was almost 30 years ago.

  4. I am the daughter of a white mother and a black father with a younger brother. We are both a medium brown. When we were young my family was very close with another biracial family where the mother was white and the father was black, they had four children there oldest daughter was slightly darker then my brother and I, the second daughter was very light skined with blue eyes, the third girl was light brown and there youngest a son was darker then me and my brother but lighter then his oldest sister. And the biggest age difference between anyone of us was less then a year. The looks we would get when we were all together in public. People had no idea how to take us, in the end our parents would just say "Yep, there all are ours!" and let people think what ever they wanted.

  5. People think weird things no matter what the situation. My daughter is three months younger than my niece, and I babysit her all the time. People at the park are always asking if they are twins, or sisters. What usually happens is someone will ask how old they are and when I answer, they'd look at me all confused until I add, "they're cousins". It amuses me.

    Also, I still get asked if my husband is my brother. We look nothing alike, except for both being heavy. I'm almost all German with brown hair and eyes, and he's Irish/English/French/Japanese with a lot of the Japanese influence showing in his skin color and facial features, plus his eyes are this really amazing blue/green/hazel color. It's nuts.

    Anyway, my point is some people just aren't happy until they stick their nose in everyone's business, and stupid questions tend to be their ticket in.

    • People have randomly asked me if my husband and I are brother and sister, and it's totally crazy to me. I have blue eyes and my hair's been various shades of red since we've been together — I'm descendent from Irish and Polish families. My husband has very, very dark brown hair (almost black but not quite) and brown eyes, and is 1/4-1/2 (there's a lot going on in his family tree) Hawaiian. SO…. we look different. It always cracks me up when people assume we're related instead of in a relationship together.

    • Is it weird that I always wonder why no one asks if my husband and I are siblings?! We look a lot alike – dark brown hair, blue eyes, taller than average, ect. (Our kids should turn out pretty similar since most of those are either recessive or really dominant traits) People do ask if my brother-in-law and I are siblings (to which I usually just say yes, cause we are), but I guess maybe they've seen my husband and I slobber on each other too much. Everyone always asked that of other boyfriends who looked nothing like me!

  6. while not bi-racial, my children have very different hair colours. It is strange not to be identified as the mother of one, and I do get a few 'wow, they're brothers?!'

    • A friend of mine is naturally blonde, has been since birth (but she sometimes dyes it darker). Her brother has DARK brown hair, and her younger sister has bright red hair. Both of her siblings have blue eyes, but hers are hazel. They are all full-siblings from the same two parents… and facial feature-wise they look very much alike, but most people won't peg them as siblings at all (in fact, many people have asked if her brother was her boyfriend!).

  7. My sister and I are both white with very different coloring, so if I saw your daughters I would think they were similar to my family: Two white girls with different skin tones. Not that I would even have given it much thought anyway, beyond "So Cute!"

  8. I'm the daughter of a Puerto Rican mom and a dad who is Black, Irish, Welsh, and Cherokee. i would get questions all the time because i'm the palest in the family. Now there are more questions because my daughter is half chinese and looks nothing like me at all. LOL. We are a crazy mixed up family and I love it.

  9. My sister and I are mixed (with a rather larger percentage of paleness), and we are several shades apart in skin tone. We joke that she's the Filipino sister and I'm the Irish one.


    It's still pretty obvious that we're related.


    (Also, when I looked up and saw the pic of the girls on my screen, I was momentarily confused. "When did I add Lori's blog to my feed reader??")

  10. I'm a white mom of two black girls and I've noticed that white people have very different questions and concerns about our family than black people do. I feel like I've learned a lot about my own racial culture just by observing the reactions. I've never had a black person touch my daughters' hair, for example. White people I don't know will reach out for it without even asking.

    p.s. your kids are gorgeous!

  11. When searching for a sperm donor, I intentionally chose one with dark skin, among other characteristics. Though my daughter looks a little tanner than me, she definitely doesn't look mixed race like she is. Its funny the way it works out. My daughter is beautiful just the way she is, as are your girls!

  12. I can't speak for anyone (female or white) but I learned when I was very young that if it's not my kid, it's not my business. I babysat a family where the mom was white and the dad was Filipino, their 4 kids all look like him. So when I would be out with just the mom and kids, I would see people ask her where she got her kids from and she would always say "my womb!". Or she'd get told how lucky her kids are for being adopted and she'd tell "no, I am their biological mother". She had to learn to just deal with it, but I thought the questions were rude. And my cousin married a guy with two kids who are two months apart because they have different moms. There are so many different scenarios out there that 1. It's none of my business and 2. I think it's rude to pry. So we were raised to maybe ask the babies age and then say how cute they are and leave it at that. So that's what I do and your girls are so adorable!!

    • πŸ˜€ my 3 year old has long hair, and did all summer, so it got highlights from being in the sun. Then people ask me if I highlight his hair. Even my mom asked one time.
      Ya like I'm going to get a toddler to sit through that. LOL some people. πŸ˜‰

  13. What a wonderful gift from the angels to remind everyone around you that we're all human in the end, and whats on the outside only covers our heart. πŸ™‚
    Really cliche, but hey it's true!
    and OMG are they cute!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Plus, is it just me, or does it seem more normal to see a mixed-racial couple than the same race? Or maybe it's just where I live πŸ˜‰

  14. This totally happens in Caucasian families too. My fiance is a big strapping viking looking dude, and a fraternal triplet (and early IVF baby). He has blonde hair and blue eyes and swarthy skin. His one brother is porcelain white with jet black hair and brown eyes, and the other is a freckled ginger with green eyes. My fiance is over 6' and his brothers are both 5'8". People used to ask their mother if she ran a day care since the three of them look nothing alike.

    For this to make sense genetically you have to look at not only both their parents but also their uncles and aunts. That red hair is sneaky!

    I'm excited to see what our kids our going to turn out like since my father is biracial but I turned out blonde!

    • The red hair is totally sneaky! I have red hair, brown eyes, freckles, pale skin, etc. My sister has blonde hair, green eyes, olive skin, etc. My mom has brown hair no freckles, my dad had (it's white now) black hair no freckles. Not having known a lot of my ancestral family, it's still hard for me to imagine we're all a biological family. πŸ™‚

    • I'm a red head and i am 5ft 8 with brown eyes and no freckles . My mother is 5ft 2 with dark brown hair and brown. My dad is 5ft 10 at the most, and he has black hair with very tan skin and blue eyes, but he is not biracial. Neither one of my parents have red hair in there genes so how do i have natural red hair and yet be so tall.

  15. Can I just add a little something? I've been reading all the comments and there have been stories of other twins or the faternal triplets, where they all look so different you can't tell they are related. I find this so freaking awesome! Your daughters included. My parents have similar coloring, pale, brown hair and green eyes – all of us six kids look like that too (though, red hair pops up once a generation, just not in my immediate family) But my husband has dark dark dark brown hair, almost black, and very blue eyes and has tan white skin. I keep thinking I don't what I want our kids to look like, my green eyes, his blue eyes, my brown hair or hope the red auburn hair pops up with kids etc. And well you guys kinda got it all, one twin or triplet looks like mom or dad or have some special gene that came from a different generation. to me, I find that so awesome and beautiful and there's a part of me that goes "damn they're lucky". πŸ˜€

  16. Maybe it's just the picture but I really don't notice that much of a difference between the two. Working in childcare, I've seen plenty of twins and it's not uncommon at all for fraternal twins to look VERY different from one another regardless of ethnicity. It amuses me how people continue to be amused by something so simple.

  17. I don't think people are generally as fascinated by siblings who look markedly different. But with twins people often assume they are identical and therefore are more surprised that they don't look alike than they would be with two siblings of a different age.

    I don't think it's white people fascination so much as interesting genetic variations. πŸ™‚

  18. Your daughters are beautiful! Their coloring is definitely different, but not outside the normal variation you'd expect to see among sibs in biracial families.
    Some people love to ask questions or make awkward comments about your kids-especially biracial kids.
    My husband is Indian and I'm Irish/Italian with light brown hair and eyes. Whenever I am out alone with our 6 month-old daughter (who has beautiful dark-olivey skin, curly dark hair, and brown eyes), people ask me if I adopted her! One woman even went so far as to tell me that, "It takes a special person to open their home to a child." To which I replied, "Yes, I figured I might as well seeing as she lived in my uterus for 9 months." Poor lady looked so confused…

    • It's funny – I always someone whether a child is theirs (so as not to start complimenting a babysitter on her beautiful daighter, or something), but if they say yes I usually just leave it at that. What does it matter if they're adopted or not? She's their daughter! But I loved your response. πŸ™‚

  19. Your statement about african-american family being a range of skin tones is SO true. Two of my brothers and I have medium to dark brown skin and almost black hair and eyes, but my third brother has very light tan skin, and reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes. In fact, he had dark blond hair and blue eyes when he was born! Yep, that caused some speculation in the family – until you see our dad's baby picture, spittin' image!

  20. What is with these idiotic doctors calling them "million to one odds?" Seems to me they are perfectly average odds for bi- or multi-racial siblings, which is all "black and white twins" really are.

    Your piece reminded me of a great book by Danzy Senna called Caucasia, a novel loosely based on her experience of being the "white" one of a pair of biracial sisters.

  21. I kept getting distracted from reading this post because your girls are so cute. Seriously, those are some adorable babies.

    • You should see them now πŸ™‚ I'd've posted a more recent picture but they don't like to hold still long enough for me to get them both in the frame any more!

  22. My family got a lot of questions too. Both my parents are white but my mom's side are Italian descendants and my dad's are German descendants so my brother and sister ended up with olive skin and dark hair. I on the other hand am super white and have blonde hair. And it still amazes me how many people think we're cousins or not even related even though our facial features look insanely similar.

  23. I think they are adorable. The only fascinating part is the science of it all. It all genes. science it cool. πŸ™‚

  24. Remember, you're not the white mom of black girls…you're the white mom of biracial girls! You are half of who they are racially, and they should be proud of who they are on both ends. It may be a struggle at times (my biracial niece was the "white girl" when she grew up in a predominantly black/Hispanic city, and now she's the "black girl" at her high school in the suburbs), but if you raise them to be proud of who they are, they will be able to educate their peers and spread tolerance wherever they go!

    • I respectfully disagree — I am the white mom of black girls. I chose that statement carefully and with intent. Identity and culture aren't simple math problems, and they aren't "half" anything. "Also" yes, "half" no. My children are black *and* biracial. But never "not black."

      My children can be proud of me, my family, and their contributions to who they are without having to assume even one iota of my racial identity. And that's what I intend to teach them.

    • This is a really interesting thing: how biracial kids experience different aspects of their identity based on where they are physically. Many people write about being estranged from both of their communities ("not white enough" or "not black enough") but for some kids, because of their mixed appearance, the whiplash of different settings is even weirder and more confusing.

      I'm mixed in what is a very confusing way for some people, and often experience discrimination towards different groups of which I am not even part. (I'm actually Japanese and Russian, but have been the target of racial slurs and racist behavior towards Latinas, Native Americans, and Indians.) BUT in other parts of the same city, everyone assumes I'm white and might even tell racist "jokes" to my face, so sure are they that I'm just another caucasian.

      It was a real eye opener for my husband, who grew up in an inner city area with people of all different skin tones, and seemed to think I enjoyed white privilege just like he did, when we moved to the back woods rural south. There are places where I became a very visible minority, and he saw people follow me around stores, assume I didn't speak english, and worse. I was simply the most exotic thing they'd ever seen. But after that my husband stopped thinking I was joking about my experience as a woman of color.

      Anyway, my point is that it's so strange for people like your niece, who have to adjust their entire concept of racial identity based on setting, and often don't have the understanding or support of either/any community to validate their very fluid experience of perceived identity.

  25. People ask me all the time if my babies are twins. They aren't. My daughter is 17 months, and my step-son is 2.5yrs. They look nothing alike and are different in size, but people still assume they're twins. I wonder if I'd think the same thing if I saw them as a stranger.

  26. I'm sorry but I am a little offended by the comment that only white people are interested in race. I don't believe that to be true at all. I am by no means saying that people have a right to rudely inquire about whether you're the mother of your own babies, but I don't think it's a big deal if people are interested in how this occurs. So what? People are curious. That's a pretty big accusation to make.

    • I have to agree. It is offending and saddening. Coming from a white family, we don't ask questions beyond age because we think its rude and we are not fascinated by race because it doesn't matter, cute is cute. It is such a huge and negative generalization. I'm sick of feeling like I should feel bad or ashamed because I'm white.

      • Absolutely! Generalizations and stereotypes are just as bad applied to the majority as the minority. Is it OK to be sexist against men? Prejudiced against straight people? Of course not. Then it's not OK to be racist against white people!

    • Hey guys: we never would have left that part in if either of us felt like it was racist at all. I think that there's obviously a way it can be read that might lead one to feel that way, but as the person who edited the piece, here's my take on it (if it's worth anything to you):

      She says: "The thing is, if you talk to black and biracial families, you'll quickly learn that β€” to be blunt β€” 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."

      I actually talked to my house mate (who is a black male) about this section, and whether or not it held weight, and he spent about an hour talking to me about various times that people have wondered if his siblings and his various cousins and their siblings are all related because there's such a WIDE range of skin tone in their families. Most of the time, the people asking the question are also white. I'm trying to be careful here, and I realized that in families that are white there are also divergent skin tones, but I think the differences between brown and black skin tones are more immediately obvious and, apparently, worth asking about to some white people because the differences aren't what a lot of white people are used to.

      Also, I'd like to point out that she's speaking from the experience of someone who is part of a biracial family, and also based on experiences she's heard from black families. I honestly think it's kind of impossible to fully understand what her experience is like if you're not also from a biracial or black family. I think that could be what she was getting at — not that all white people are rude and horrible and ask questions about her babies because they're ignorant, but that a lot of people who aren't biracial and/or black ask her questions about her children's relationship. It's not something bad about white people as a whole, but in her experience, something that's happened repeatedly is that white people are intrigued by something they perceive as so different or rare.

      Maybe? Or maybe I should stop and let Lori explain.

      Does that make sense at all? I just want to reiterate that neither Ariel or I (or the entire Offbeat Empire) advocate racism of any kind, and we don't feel like this statement is racist. I'll also email Lori, who is also white, and have her come in and explain the statement as well. But I don't think anyone is expecting someone to feel bad for being white — she's just stating what she has observed in her experience as both a mother of biracial girls and friend/partner of a black person from a black family. We'll see what she says.

      AND if I totally muddled this up, I apologize. πŸ™‚

      • Stephanie,

        Thank you. You're entirely correct that it's not that"all white people are rude and horrible and ask questions about her babies because they're ignorant, but that a lot of people who aren't biracial and/or black ask her questions about her children's relationship." And it's not that this is a *bad* thing per se (although tedious in its repetition? you bet). Ignorance, i.e. lack of knowledge, isn't a bad thing per se either. And yeah, I get that people nonetheless feel bad when their ignorance is pointed out. Calling it racist or reverse racist, though, seems more than a little off-track.

    • I didn't say that only white people are interested in race — I said, specifically, that only white people are fascinated by the supposed novelty phenomenon of "black and white twins," i.e. twins of supposedly different races.

      And it isn't an accusation, it is an observation borne out by experience.

      I don't engage in "reverse racism" discussions as a rule. They are predicated on a blindness (deliberate or accidental) to the power differentials in our society and I don't have the time or inclination as one lone individual to do the heavy lifting to even get on the same page as someone who sincerely believes racism and reverse racism to be equivalent. Same goes for "color-blind" comments.

      Finally, just to be clear — nobody should be ashamed because they're white. I'm not. Nobody should be ashamed of their *identity*, but they might want to consider and reconsider their *actions* in certain lights. Not for reasons of self-shaming, but for the purpose of self-education and improvement. And that's in part why I wrote this piece.

  27. My sister and I are both pale, freckled redheads with extremely sensitive skin, while my brother has reddish hair but can tan like nobody's business! We think he somehow got the only Cherokee genes in the family that trickled down from a distant great, great relative. He spends an hour outside during the summer and he looks like an Italian lol. No idea how it turned out that way, but it did. We always got the boyfriend/girlfriend assumption when we were younger, I guess people just thought there was no way we could be related and have such different skin tones.

  28. I've just had quite a rough day, and I just wanted to tell you that the photo of your two GORGEOUS girls has absolutely MADE my day πŸ™‚ Congratulations on having two such beautiful babies!

  29. I would double-take, because your kids are OMG SO DELICIOUS LOOKING! πŸ˜‰ And I double-take at all babies (it's the NICU nurse in me, I just want to cuddle all babies!)

    My ancestors are all British Isle (mostly Scottish), so I have dark hair, dark eyes and very pale skin. My wife is half Chinese (dad is Chinese, Mom is German), but she has dark hair, dark eyes, pale-ish skin (although she doesn't look mixed as an adult, her baby pictures she certainly does though!!!). People ask us CONSTANTLY if we are sisters, and it's HILARIOUS when we're like "uh, no, we're married". We're excited to see what our kids will look like (we'll each have a kid biologically related to us with the same donor).

    Both our moms have blue eyes, so in theory we carry the recessive blue eyed gene, and our donor has blue eyes…… sooooooooo that should be interesting!!! πŸ™‚

    I have started assuming that someone hauling kids around is a parent, mostly because I live in a city where everyone looks SO different and comes from a bagillion different cultures. I find people are much less offended when I say "oh, your daughter is very smart" and they correct me and say "oh, she's not mine". I was EIGHTEEN when I started regularly babysitting a 2 year old and people thought he was mine (he's caucasian-Korean mix, heavy on the Korean genetics, and the sweetest, adorable kid ever, so I took it as a compliment). I used to laugh because I was so young!

    Genetics are such a fickle fickle thing, but so fascinating!

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.