Twins who hardly seem genetically related because they appear biracial are occurring more often now than in the past. That is probably because of the increased frequency with which interracial individuals are becoming couples. In 2010, 15% of new marriages in the United States were between individuals from different races or ethnicities, which is double the rate 6.7% found in 1980 (Wang, 2012). This article reviews some new twin cases, the behavioral consequences for the twins and their families, and offers suggestions for using these unusual twin pairs in research.
Note: I prefer the term ‘biracial-looking’ twins to ‘biracial’ because the members of these dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs are conceived by ordinary means by the same parents. It is true that both twins are of mixed ethnicities and can look quite different in this sense, something that is unexpected among full siblings. However, it is important to bear in mind that most DZ twins look and act differently along many physical and behavioral dimensions. These twins are not really a ‘new twin type’ — the question posed in the title to this article — but they are a unique variation of DZ twinning that has been overlooked in research.
A relatively recent ‘biracial’-looking pair was born to 25-year-old Whitney Meyer, who is Caucasian, and her partner, 23-year-old Tomas Dean, who is African–American (Minutaglio, 2017). The couple, who reside in Quincy, Illinois, are the parents of 9-month-old fraternal female twins Kalani and Jarani. Kalani is fair-complexioned with blue eyes like her mother, while Jarani is dark-skinned like her father. Interestingly, Jarani was born with Mongolian spots (simple pigment variations, usually blue to slate gray), a feature that is more common among infants of color. In fact, Mongolian spots are present among 90% of native Americans and children of African descent, over 80% of Asians, and over 70% of Hispanics. These spots typically disappear by the time children reach the age of 2 (What to Expect Foundation, n.d.).
The twins’ mother, Whitney, also has a 7-year-old son, Talan. Two years ago, she lost a child in a tragic drowning accident. The birth of the twins and the support she has received via social media have helped her to cope with this personal tragedy. Whitney also asserted that her twins show the world why racism should not exist. Their older son who is Caucasian does not see the physical differences between his younger sisters. Hopefully, the world will respond to such twins as their family members do, but unfortunately, that is not always the case, especially as the twins grow up and mingle with their peers and the rest of society.
Daniel and James Kelly of Great Britain were born to a Caucasian mother and a Jamaican father. Daniel is blonde and light-skinned, while James is dark-haired and dark-skinned. It is likely that their father carries genes coding for both dark and light skin colors as is characteristic of the mixed populations of the Caribbean. Apparently, the twins’ inheritance of different genetic factors from their father explains their contrasting appearance. Interestingly, the lighter-skinned Daniel was subjected to more race-based discrimination than James because his fellow students saw him as black, despite the fact that he saw himself as white (Moorhead, 2011).
One of my former psychology students, Dawn Perez and her DZ co-twin Robin, are the DZ twins of a Hispanic father and Caucasian mother. I was immediately struck by the twins’ different skin colors and facial features when I met them. Dawn, who resembles her father, admitted that, according to stereotype people often think of her as less capable than her twin sister, who takes after her Caucasian mother.
A most intriguing case was recently brought to my attention by the twins’ parents (Personal communication, February 21, 2017). The two boys are clearly fraternal twins, based on their size and skin tone — the elder twin is very light-skinned, whereas his younger twin brother is much darker. The novel twist to this story is that both rearing parents are Caucasian. The twins’ biological mother who is raising them is Caucasian, but her former partner was African–American. Their mother had been dating her present partner for about three weeks when she discovered that she was seven weeks pregnant. Her current partner is now the twins’ adoptive father. These twins are pictured in Figure 1.
FIGURE 1. Fraternal twin boys born to a Caucasian mother and African–American father. Photo courtesy: The twins’ family.
The twins’ parents have not had an easy time raising their children. According to their mother, ‘No one believes that they are twins. No one on my side of the family has blue eyes. It makes me feel like a terrible person when we get funny looks and I have to tell the same story to try to make it look not so bad. [My partner and I] understand and are the only ones who should really have to know, but people give the dirtiest looks when they see two white people with twins who have different complexions’. It is hard to know the source of onlookers’ reactions, which may include wondering how such a situation arises, or feeling that parent and child ethnicities should match, even in cases of adoption.
No one has conducted a formal study or case analysis of the behavioral consequences for DZ co-twins who seem to come from different ethnic backgrounds. As I indicated above, twins like these appear to be more common (at least anecdotally) because of rising rates of intermarriage between people from different countries and cultures. The unique value of these studies is that the family backgrounds of the twins are matched, more clearly revealing others’ responses to the twins’ different looks and how they may affect the twins’ personalities and self-esteem. Helpful information for families raising such twins would also be likely to emerge from such research.
More about this issue and many others is available in my newest book, Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts About Twins (2017, San Diego, CA: Elsevier).