Not long ago, I read a National Geographic piece about the two 11-year-old sisters shown below:
Born to a Jamaican father and a British mother, the two girls–Marcia Millie Madge Biggs and Millie Marcia Madge Biggs–look like what they do because of complex genetics that underpin a biracial couple having fraternal twins. According to the article, their difference in appearance has hardly created issues for the family. The parents have long since accepted and embraced their differences, and others—according to their mother–are simply intrigued to learn that the girls are twins rather than best friends.
As the article points out, skin color is our proxy when we try to decide the races of others. Extending that, deciding people’s races often means making assumptions about who they are and where they come from. What has left a stark and new impression on me is the sisters’ reminder of this. I wonder about the extent to which their self-perceptions of their racial identity differ from each other. If those self-concepts are essentially the same, how might they start to differ, if the girls part ways once they leave their home once and for all?
I feel like much (if not most) of the ways in which we construct our racial identities are based in how others respond to us, as we grow up. As children and young adults, we slowly gather information about how our friends, teachers, strangers, and even our family treat us versus those of other races, and the cumulative information creates a significant part of the template on which we (unconsciously or consciously) create our own ideas about who we are. I wonder if in most cases, this aggregate is more psychologically significant than the information that a person has gathered about his or her cultural background.
On a related note, race has proven to have no scientific or genetic basis. I remember reading something yesterday about Meghan Markle’s racial background; someone posted an online comment which read that she is really just an African-American girl who looks white. Because she is half-black and half-white, what makes her African-American? One could pose a similar question about the half-white and half-black Barack Obama. To complicate the value of his characterization as an African-American, he only grew up with people on the white side of his family. Regarding the black side, he only met his father, and that too for four hours. Perhaps we shouldn’t even label people as ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘Asian’, or the like. But on the other hand, what might we be risking, if we give up these long-standing, constructed labels?