Would you call my daughters “black and white twins?”

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.

Comments on Would you call my daughters “black and white twins?”

  1. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!).

  6. 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!”

  7. 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.

  8. 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??”)

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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!!

    • 😀 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. 😉

  12. 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. 🙂
    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 😉

  13. 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. 🙂

    • 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.

  14. 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”. 😀

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