Debunking the “million to one,” “black and white twins” obsession

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

black and white twins australian interracial couple alicia jasminLet the hysteria begin! The media has yet another set of “miracle” twins to obsess over. An Australian black/white mixed woman with a white husband recently gave birth to twins Alicia and Jasmin, girls that The Daily Telegraph refers to as “one black and one white.” The paper also claims that “experts say the chance of twins being born with such different physical characteristics is about a million to one.” (Thanks to Tariq for this tip!)

This is the not the first time we’ve seen this kind of “million to one” incident though. In February of this year, the media was all aflutter over an English couple – both father and mother were of mixed black and white heritage themselves – who had “black and white twins.”

The fascination with these two cases says a lot about the way we think of race. First, people are still so intent on forcing people into neat little categories. But these children are all mixed – they’re not solely “black” or “white.” Second, it’s amazing how much phenotype – especially skin color – warps people’s perceptions.

On episode 18 of Addicted to Race, we spoke about the English twins with Dr. Joseph L. Graves, the evolutionary biologist who wrote the excellent book The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America. He rightly pointed out people were making it seem as if the sisters looked nothing alike (see a pic here) but in fact, their features were very similar. Yes, one sister looked signficantly more European than the other, but the other had European facial features as well. But most people simply could not look beyond the child’s dark skin.

Moreover, Graves said that “to describe the child as simply black because she had darker skin betrays the underlying racist ideology that one has to be either black or white.” I would definitely encourage you to have a listen to his rant about this. You can listen here, and his segment begins around the 15-minute mark.

There’s nothing particularly miraculous about siblings who vary greatly in phenotype. It’s simply a matter of genetic variation. There are plenty of African-American families in which this kind of variation can be found, for example, because of the genetic variation in those families that resulted from the sexual relationships between white slaveowners and their slaves. So the next time you see a story that claims that this is a “million to one” occurrence, don’t believe the hype.

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