‘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.

  • Rodriguez

    Blacks in Spanish speaking countries are still treated as slaves. They are intentionally shut out of the best jobs, schools, housing, health care you name it. White Spanish people are at the top black Hispanics are at the bottom.

  • Reese Bennett

    I do. Half white Half black in missouri. World view changed.

  • Waya

    I know this thread is older, but I’ve seen recent comments as well… it’s VERY interesting. I myself am Tsalagi, or what the whites call Cherokee.
    Personally, I find the term “half-breed” to be more of a slur than anything else. We don’t have a word in my language for a cherokee/black person, though, “mulatto” really wouldn’t apply, would it? I don’t think it would apply to an asian/black combination either. Remember, there are four major distinctive color races, not just two.
    There are MANY black/red biracial people out there. The term “Mulatto” is pretty specific.. 1st generation Black/WHITE mix.
    ANY other combination of races is not a Mulatto, but biracial or multiracial.
    “Half-Breed” IS a slander term, “Mulatto” was never meant to be one.

    I find this age of being politically correct to be tiring. I am not a racist by any definition of the word, I believe there is room and love for ALL humans on this earth.
    Call me anything you like but “late for supper” as I hate missing a good meal. :laughs:

    Mulattos should embrace the term, it’s special. Think of it more of a distinction similar to the difference between German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever… or Finnish and German. That’s all it is, and all the term was meant to be. I am Tsalagi, I am not Navaho, nor am I Souix. I am not “Native American” for I don’t consider myself “American” in the terms that non-natives are. That’s another discussion altogether. I don’t particularly care for the term “Afro-American” either… Why don’t we call everyone “Something-American”?

    Labels do not define us, they only give a small guide. As with any book, you only know what’s inside if you OPEN it, right?
    I will often ask someone what their nationality is, especially, if they distinctly look as if they may have mulatto there somewhere. Why? Because I am interested in the CULTURES. Black culture fascinates me, for the ties to my own culture. I’m not talking the inner city ghetto culture, but the old cultures.

    Anyway, I feel that instead of getting offended by a label someone decides to put on us, we should give the person a new definition of who WE are, not the label.

    Waya

  • Stephen Fortin

    Mexicans were not slaves Roddy

  • Steve

    you mean mulatto

  • B.E.I.G.E.

    Respect to all opinions! Lets consider for a moment though, another way to view the term. First, most words originate some way, yet we still use them every day without dissecting them for negative traits. How about positive. We as “mulattoes” should embrace the term to take away the sting of the past. Also because it specifically gives us a voice, culture, and identity. Multiracial could mean any multiple, mixed could mean any mix or mixes, and biracial only states two races—which two?

    Mulatto is the only term that identifies black and white. And those of us with black and white blood clearly have a culture (way of life) unlike either of our parents experience. Until 1930 mulatto people where accounted for on census, but confederate politicians pushed to remove it. Not because it was derogatory, but because it showed record of how many black and white people have procreated. That would not look good for the government to actually show the two coming together (especially confederacy). So we are forced to (as they want us to) to pick one or the other. We are unaccounted for.

    They say we have identity problems? Only because we are fooled into believing we are one or the other–instead of our own. The masses still have a problem with race so they don’t want to have to approach a mulatto or try and figure out what we are, so it’s easier to say your black or you talk white!! Wtf? We don’t have identity problems (unless we prove them right) They have a problem “identifying” us!
    Racism still exist in this country, but most keep it clandestine and more covert, so the opposing race don’t openly realize it and think its declining. While we as mulattoes still are able to see it and witness it, when a person or maybe even relative makes a racist comment that they would never dream of making around a black person or white person. So at times half of our families often do act like noble stallions (educated and open minded) while the other act like jack asses (close minded and ignorant). So we are much like the mule in that we are “beast of burden” left to carry the message or heavy load of an evolved type of racism that is harder to identify these days. However we are born as the dream that was seen by Martin Luther King Jr. …We still have work to do!

  • B.E.I.G.E.

    The Midwest is America that’s why. I’m half Bahamian, and mulatto is widely accepted in the Caribbean, Brazil, and most other countries. The US is great, but we still haven’t grown beyond race. Yeah we have a black President, but he actually mulatto which probably helped him either to rise, or enabled out government to convey to other countries an image that we are no longer have as much racism. Mulattoes exist, and what we say and do I America does not dictate truth or discredit the fact that the term is fine around the rest of the world. Why is everybody caught up on terminology and not the real issue…we are a specific group, with unique experiences, with a history and a culture. But yet we are not accounted for because most are forced to pick one or the other while those of us that don’t pick on or the other cant agree on what we should call ourselves then. It’s crazy!!!

    “Born Equal In God’s Eyes”

  • me

    I have children who black and white, I find the word offensive. It’s a derogatory label and also is included with the term quadroon. A forgotten word used to describe a person who was 3/4 white, 1/4 black. Personally I prefer the term multi – ethnic.

  • Gregory J. Toma

    Everyone keeps claiming that the term is a remnant of the slave trade. Yet it’s origin dates back to Spain and South America in the 1500’s.

    Now what makes more sense?

    A.) Spain and the rest of the world have been using the term for hundreds of years without any derogatory connotation, because they created it, and never intended for it to be a slur.

    B.) Or the term was somehow “created” during the slave trade, even though that happened hundreds of years later than the word’s known origin, and the rest of the world outside of the US is just too naive to recognize a racial slur when they hear one.

    Call me crazy, but I think “A” makes a lot more sense, and eliminates adding another unnecessary example of racism.

  • Gregory J. Toma

    The reason racism is less noticeable in latin america than in the US is obvious. The US is a melting pot of race, religion, etc., which is exactly what makes it so great. Other countries are more than 90% the native nationality. So obviously, fighting over race wouldn’t make much sense. The other 10% though, definitely suffer racism. The bottom line is, no matter where you go in the world, people are going to have conflicts with one another. And when they do get in a fight or disagreement, the first and easiest thing to target is what they can see (skin color, different features). But if they share the same race, then they will find differences in religion, politics, wealth, beauty, talents, or any number of countless things, and fight over them instead. Racism is often given too much credit, as if it is much worse than sexism or any other form of discrimination. But the truth is, just like any other difference, it is still just a difference of opinion. The only way a word develops any kind of negative power, is when it is given power by the people who dislike it.

  • V

    That’s not true. I have mixed friends who call themselves mulattos.

  • Whodufuqisyou?

    If you feel the person saying it is trying to insult you, it is derogatory.
    Anyone who uses the term, even those who use it to describe themselves, are usually ignorant, rather than malevolent. Give them the benefit of the doubt. The word has probably just slipped because they don’t have another word for what a mulatto is, which is biracial or, in some instances, multiracial. It is always most considerate to just say mixed. Because that is the most accurate and does not make reference to slavery, nor variance of racial composure.

  • Whodufuqisyou?

    Proud to be equated with a beast of burden? Proud to be equated with a bred creature kept in captivity? Because that’s the origin of the term you find so charming. The mule is a combination of a donkey and a horse, or a black person and a white person, respectively. One of your parents is getting the short end of the stick, being compared to a donkey and all.