‘Mulatto’: Racial Slur or Socially Acceptable?

I was perusing the want-ads section for freelance projects when I stumbled upon an add calling for ”mulattas” to model in a local hair show. The title ”Azafatas Multatas para eventos 16, 17, 18 de Septiembre” caught my attention immediately and I clicked on the posting curious to know who was behind the advertisement. From what I could tell it was an afro-latino hair show calling for Cubanas, Columbianas and… mulattas.

Ouch!

There is that word again. I was taught that it was a “derogatory term that came into use during slavery when referring to the bi-racial offspring of African slaves and most often, their white European slave masters.” I was raised believing that mulatto was just as bad as the n word and to see it boldly written in a title for an ad was jarring, to say the least.

Anyone using that term in America would be liable to get smacked upside the head or at least a good tongue lashing, however here in Spain, and Latin America at large, mulatto is a socially acceptable term. I have had the word tossed at me a few times when discussing the possibility of future offspring with my Spanish novio. Conversations that went from cute and cuddly to terse when someone said mulatto babies.

‘What? Excuse me? Did you say, mulatto?‘ I said in my best educate them because they’re ignorate voice.

I explained that where I come from it’s not ok to use mulatto because of its historical usage in slavery times. I always received in return a fast rebuttal of ‘So sorry,  I had no idea but the term isn’t racist and in fact, it just refers to mixed-race people.’ Then, thats when I have to go even further and explain that most linguists or lexographers agree that the word “mulatto” comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word for mule, which is written the same way but pronounced moolay. Now knowing what a mule is, a cross between and horse and a donkey, the comparison is quite ugly. Most academics that have studied the origin of the word are quite certain that word has its roots in Spain’s  prominent role in the slave trade and their need to brand people based on the amount of white European blood running through their veins. These are same people that began the custom of patting the tightly curled afros of black children because it supposedly brought good luck.

So, what to do? Do I just let the word slide and get used to people using it in their lexicon. It was in job positing, for goodness sakes! Should I just grin and bear it when someone brings it up in context of my future kids? I can only imagine an extended in-law from my Spanish novio’s side of the family making some wise-crack about the cute little brown mulattos. Am I giving the word more power by hating it?

What do you think? Tell us your opinion on the use of “mulatto” in a comment below.

Last 5 posts by Espana Fly

  • Creole Kid

    They should be called creole, because that’s what they are. Creole Defined: is a mixed race person of either, European, African, Spainsh, Indian of French ancestery. Any mix of these races. In earlier years Blacks where called “N” words we now know that is wrong. Same goes to Mulatto’s. If you can’t call me white or black then call me Creole. Because my mom or my dad is neither horse or donkey nor do they look like one.

  • Tmoe

    Should have know it only came up, because he didn’t have a sister. Mulatto, mulatto, mulatto, ugh!

  • Roy Applewhite

    This word doesn’t sound “bad” like the “n” word. I am a Black American and it upsets me when other ethnicities use the “n” word around me as though I’m suppose to be accepting of this and it’s usually the younger generation using the “n” word so loosely in public. What aren’t we teaching the younger generation?? Their not being taught history at least “African American” history and RESPECTING others across the board. How did it get this bad?? Why aren’t parents being held accountable for their out of control and disrespectful children?? Americans we need to fix this. I’m done!!

  • AG

    I came here looking for verification. I recently got upset due to someone referring to me as a mulatto. This wasn’t the first time though. Just the most recent,lol. I have always hated that word. Placed it right up there with mixed/half breed and the “N” word. Yet, I will say…this article and the comments posted below has got me thinking. It said the word was derived from the Spanish for mule. I always said, “I’m not a mule!” Just like I’m not a BREED. I think I hate that one the most. Then reading that a mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey. That saying whites are the horses and blacks are the donkeys. WOW! So I probably became a little more perturbed by that word after reading that. Then I scroll on down to the comments. I always love to read the comments to any article/conversation. I agree that by having to select one or the other, we have not been accounted for. It’s like we don’t even exist. Smh. Sure, they have it today where you can select EVERY race you are but it’s still not the same…kind of. I agree we are our own people and we shouldn’t have to pick one or the other. A lot of people overseas are ok with it. It’s not a racist term to them. I wonder…is the history of their country/Island similar? Or is it just strictly meaning “of mixed race”? It just makes you think. It’s always good to learn about other cultures and in our case, other nationalities around the world and how they view mixed race people. Ya’ll have opened my eyes a little.

  • ZSAZSAKNOWSBEST

    Projecting. YOU are projecting your own dislike of the fact that you are a combination of two different races, and somehow interpret that as being lesser.
    The term may be antiquated (the majority of words are), but it’s not racist in most of the world. USA being one of the racist countries in the world may have skewed it’s meaning by folk lore of some kind for the word to become racist in America…but, although it relates to race, it is NOT racist. It can only be accused of being descriptive. It’s not ‘gutteral’ (guttural), only in America is it ‘insensitive’, not ‘disgusting’ and cannot be equated with being called a ‘Mutt’ or a ‘Half-breed’. You are not telling the truth when you say “especially in Canada or the states, you ARE going to offend a mixed race person.” I was born in Canada, live in Canada, have lived in Canada all of my life, used the term ‘mulatto’ all of my life to describe a descendant of one black parent, and one white parent (a term I was taught by my parents in childhood), and not once have I even solicited a raised eyebrow. I think those offended by the word are younger and have been brainwashed into thinking that the term is derogatory (that there is something WRONG, DIRTY, or CONSPIRATORIAL) about the word, when in reality it is the only word I know to accurately describe the offspring of a black parent and a white parent. Some things in life are just as simple as that.

  • superman999

    Your language is atrocious and you shoul wash your mouth out with soap, especially using the lord’s name as you did. You lost any credibility you could have had, when you speak like that. It’s far more offensive than the n-word!!!

  • pugwis

    PC again. Mulatto describes someone with white and black parents. Now what are the PCs going to do? Call them something else that means exactly the same? We went from nygger, to nygroe, to colored, to people of color, to black, and they all mean exactly the same! Now we are looking at changing “mulatto” to . . . what? Mixed? Bi-racial? Blite? Why is one word less acceptable than another with EXACTLY the same definition? I’m caucasion. I’ve been called offal, pinky, white boy, and on and on. So what? That’s what I am. Jeez. Grow up.

  • pugwis

    Wrong. That is the ONLY way I’ve ever heard black/white called in California, Oregon, and Washington. I don’t know about other places except for Louisiana; they call them mulattos as well.

  • Marv Sannes

    Sounds to me like you’re looking for a pissing match over – not sure what – bad words? I had this discussion with a friend who’s white and has 3 kids with a black – the kids are strikingly beautiful. She said “mixed-race” is proper. However, race is a myth and we’ve known since the gnome map 15 yrs. ago – we are all, not only brother and sister, twins. No genetic variation – skin color no more significant that hair or eye color or body type. But, we cling to “race” – why? Why cling to words? Same thing.

  • Crystal

    I appreciated reading this article and the conversations in the comments. I am white and first heard the term “mulatto” from my dad when I told him that I was going to marry my (black) boyfriend. The way he used the word held so much disgust, so it has always held a negative connotation to me. I’ve actually never heard it again in my life, in any context. I have many close friends and family of different races, including mixed races, and the term has never come up. I’ve lived in Georgia and Maryland, and it never came up anywhere. I grew up and currently live in California and have two children with my now-husband of 10 years. We call them black and white, mixed, or biracial, but never use the term mulatto. I just came across the terms quadroon and octoroon, which are categorized in the same group as mulatto, and all were associated with slavery. In my experience, I haven’t come across anything positive about the word…until I read the comments in this article. I am still not comfortable with using the word for my children – I felt it was their first exposure to racism, and they weren’t even born/conceived yet!! I really think its appropriateness is determined by the context in which it is used. In my experience, my father used it as a derogatory term. That moment still haunts me to this day. But if others use it as genuinely descriptive and an embracing of their identify, more power to them. If my kids decided they wanted to embrace the term (after being informed about its history and the varying definitions), then I would be fine with that. (I couldn’t say that before reading these comments) It is their identity, and I will do whatever I can to help them feel whole, beautiful, accepted, special, and perfect as they are.

  • buckeyemom

    it is derogatory (i am a biracial black woman), and you really need an editor.

  • JDAarnold

    I find calling Mr. Obama “Black’ to be HIGHLY racist, as his mother was White. And by the way, MANY linguists say the origin of Mulatto is from Arabic “muwallad”—a person of mixed race.

  • “MaxxFordham”

    How do you figure? You’re not a mind reader.

  • “MaxxFordham”

    Hehe, good point, huh? Thanks for standing up against that as well.

  • “MaxxFordham”

    Yeah, beause any mortal person who says “no one thinks…” or “nobody likes…” or “no one cares…,” without ASKING all 7 billion of us, is an idiot who thinks he or she is a mind reader even though we know they’re not one.

  • “MaxxFordham”

    You don’t know that nobody has. You’re not able to observe all 7 billion of us.

  • “MaxxFordham”

    That’s one of many versions of biraciality (not capitalized, by the way), but it’s not the one that describes B/W people specifically.
    Heh, speaking of “B/W,” for people who don’t like the term “mulatto,” why not just say “black and white,” the same as old non-color TVs and copy machines?

  • “MaxxFordham”

    For people who don’t like the term “mulatto,” why not just say “black and white,” the same as old non-color TVs and copy machines, etc.?

  • vanda hembree

    My children do have the freedom to choose for themselves, but it’s also my responsibility to help them navigate the current disparate power structure in a post-colonial world . Knowledge (and words) are powerful. My oldest identifies as “black” and “African American” while my youngest is a self-proclaimed “girl-boy” (race doesn’t enter into the equation for my youngest). Both girls are supported in their identities and they are free to explore more as they grow older. If ether one woke up tomorrow and said she wanted to be identified as “white” or “negro,” we would discuss the implications and potential challenges and then we would find ways to support their voices. V

  • TMack

    I am still researching this, but the etymology That traces mulatto back to the Arabic “muwallad” makes more sense to me.
    Either way, I like to use the word mulatto because it gives people like me (black/white) an identity. I especially like that it was widely used during slavery because it dates us all the way back to then in this country. We’ve been around for centuries. We have a place in the history of this country. It gives me a sense of belonging and identity that I didn’t always get when I looked around at the people around me.

  • jeffreyhughesnc

    I’m a white English/French speaker so I can’t say with any authority but “mula” is the Spanish word for mule and not “mulatto”. Weather adding tto to the word is a typical Spanish way of dressing a word, I don’t know but I’ve heard that linguists are not 100% sure if the intent was to be derogatory. That said, I find the word to be beautiful and pardon the pun – colorful. Mixed-race sounds too clinical and does not fit such beautiful people. Mulatto rolls out of the mouth in a nice gentle wave.

  • Charlene Rose

    Excellent answer, B.E.I.G.E. I often wondered why Obama is called black. Being raised by a white mother, he is culturally white and light skinned. Would the term Afro-Eurasian be politically correct?

  • Charlene Rose

    Oh yeah, damn good point. Deflect from the issue of racism being offensive and focus on ”swear” words. Fuck is an acronym ”for unlawful carnal knowledge” used by the legal system in the 1920’s/1930’s.

  • superman999

    You don’t impress me with your small understanding of a miniscule bit of History. The fact remains, your just foul mouthed, and don’t have anything to contribute.

  • the Witch Doctor

    I filled out an application for food/cash/medical assistance today (I may or may not qualify for any or all of it). One of the blanks I had to fill in actually said, in a single word, “Race”. I entered ” HUMAN”.
    The next box said ” Are you Latino or Hispanic? Enter Y or N” . I entered 10% Spanish (because I honestly don’t know how they rate me or why it even matters). The application also had one extra tiny box to check if you are homeless, right at the beginning. I checked it, and then continued to answer 10 questions about my “household”.

  • Peoriaboy

    I would say 99 percent of the people don’t know where the word come from as far as a mule or donkey mixed or otherwise ,it never defined that O you must not like him or her because he or she is a half breed and some folks are just plain jealous for the skin color can be quite nice like a white person likes to lay out in the sun and get a good tan the Mulatto got the tan built in , for me personally I just think folks are jealous of each other no matter what color they are and others just don’t give a flat dam what color they are or you are.

  • fredkirchner

    The word mulatto is widely used in Brazil and, as far as I know, Brazil is not accused of being racist.

  • Jazzmybell

    For that to be your argument it makes me sad. I am mixed race! Blk dad wht mom, however, I am also American Indian, German, and the list goes on. Mulatto, is derived from MULE and whether it’s coming from an old enslaved Africans master or a Spaniard we know it’s intent was never positive. Identity yourself as human. So picking at scraps and straws trying to fit in somewhere. BE YOU!

  • Bonnee

    I’ve been black my entire life and never considered “mulatto” to be anything but the first generation off-spring of a black and Caucasian parent.

    Based on some of the research I found the word originally stemmed from the Arabic language and denoted children born of European and Moor lineage. If so, it would certainly pre-date slavery in America and may be why, in some Latin countries, it is so commonly used.

    That stated, when I consider (historically) some of the past advantages many of them had due to, what was once regarded as, their “elevated status” I just don’t get what all of the fuss is about…

  • Jason Baker

    Why indeed? Isn’t defining oneself by race the root of racism?

  • bill

    really immature, to let words offend you. I am mixed irish decent and european, my ancestors built there wealth with slaves, while my irish ancestors (while looking for jobs) would see factories posted “irish and negros need not apply” so do not act like blacks are the only victim of the white mans crime. All have suffered, lets leave race out of it

  • Mrs. M

    So I am a white person here in my late 40’s and I got a call from a place I had my hair done beauty school. And I was told I had offended some students for using this word. Now no one has ever said it was a offensive to use this word and why. I do live in the midwest. And I am in total shock here. I wish the people who I offended at this business would have told me it’s a bad word. My own child dates a mixed race person. I have called that person that word and that person never told me it was disrespectful. So here is my question when a white person uses the n word it’s very disrespectful. But if a person of that race calls another person of that same race the n word that’s ok? Why is that ok and I hear it all the time. I wish that the person who I offended that day was professional enough to tell me that the word was offensive. I guess in this world now everyone should not call anyone anything. I am still in shock I am lost and I am sorry. I am generation X and millennium generation are the ones who are going to be taking care of us soon. And I don’t feel well about that. Why do I feel this way, well I have raised two kids that are millenniums. They have lived with me way into their twenties, I was raising them in my twenties. And they can’t be truthful or vocal about a dang word. I am ending this post with Now I Know. And Lord help us all Gen X because no one will speak there mind like we do.
    Thank You For Reading,
    Mrs.M

  • Mike

    Obama is a mulatto. His mother was a white slut that slept with every black man she could find and his father was a narcissistic jack ass nigger from Kenya.

  • peoplearenodamngood

    nope – black and white are not different races. there is scientifically only one race – humans. modern DNA can tell you where you hail from geographically, but that’s it.

  • DarkruneZ

    He is mixed,

  • DarkruneZ

    I’m Mixed and don’t have a problem with it.

  • Dritter1

    I’m African American with ancestors who were Native American and I feel that by using the word it shows not good intent. Looking at the origins of the word I think no one should use it at all and it should be erased from our vocabulary. It’s down-right offensive!

  • drpepper70

    Stop being such a self righteous snowflake. I grew up in Brazil and it was typically used when describing the iconic beauty of mixed race women of there. Most people here dont even know what it refers to. If you want to write about the term ‘half breed’, Ill champion your cause. You’re just looking for bllsht to be offended by here.