I’m thrilled to share this remarkable newspaper article that I use to illustrate how skin color (which is real) is translated into categorical racial categories (which are not).  The children in the images below are fraternal twins born to two bi-racial parents:

The story explains the biology:

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.

But then the journalist makes a logical leap from biological determinants of skin color to racial categories.  While they are both, technically, bi- or multi-racial, the headline to the story, “Black and White Twins,” presents them as separate races.

We’re so committed to racial differences that the mother actually speaks about their similarities as if it is surprising that twins of different “races” could possibly have anything in common.  She says:

There are some similarities between them,” said their mother. “They both love apples and grapes, and their favourite television programme is Teletubbies.”

Of course, identifying them as bi- or multi-racial also re-inscribes racial categories in that you must believe in two or more racial categories to believe that it is possible to be bi- or multi-racial.

Futher, this is a nice example of a U.S.-specific racial logic. Other countries have different racial logics.  For example, from what I understand of Brazil, skin color and class determines race more than your parentage and so it is not uncommon to have siblings of various racial designations.

A similar news story was published about these twins:

And these twins:

Update: the twins are seven now!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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