‘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

  • 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.

  • Dirk Diggler

    Im neither black or white. Im either what you call Hispanic or Mexican. I like both terms very much, and as B.E.I.G.E said before racism still exist today. Im 25 and hear the stories of my grandfather whose fathers father was born in Texas about the prejudice life growing up. His times weren’t near as easy as what we have today. I’ve liked the word mulatto when I first heard of it. Yep I actually just heard it last year when I read a book called the Foxes of Harrow. It was written by a an African American and was the first to be succesful from his pen. Anyways I would fell it socially acceptable to say the word mulatto. But to assume someone is you don’t know would be entirely ignorant. I get alot of what are you? you dont look Mexican- well dummy what is a Mexican supposed to look like in your book? Me and my mother is what you’d call moreno y Morena, and that means we’re darker skinned than other hispanics naturally. My sibilings are all very white complected as the rest of my family on fathers and mothers side theyre called wiedios or bolleos. They have more blue, green and amber eyes, which comes from castillian or Spanish descendant. To shut out the word mulatto or other words would be an abomination in my book because its a fact of life and history. If I were black and white Id be proud of it and claim it. I had a ticket 3 years ago and the cop wrote I was white on ethnicity well dang if I have a last name Rodriguez what do you think that comes from. People who dont know other ethnicities exist or aware in distinguishing apart the facts are plain ignorant. So if I explained myself I would say Im an American Citizen, 5th generation Tejano as my great great grandparents were born here in the 1840s?

  • flute

    Amen CJ.
    We have let a single word, ‘Nigger,’ hold the world captive. While it isn’t particularly nice, it is only stigma and intonation that makes it so. Nigger is English derived from Spanish Negro or black. If there’s nothing wrong with being black (and there isn’t) there’s really nothing wrong with this word. It’s the venom behind it which everyone finds so objectionable but you DO NOT banish hate by banning a word. Far better to bring it into open dialogue. To expose it to the sun as it were, as long as it stays underground it’ll have the power we give it.

  • Cameron Worgan

    Good point

  • Carla

    Unfortunately, I went to high school with very few African Americans, but the girls that were there were my friends. One girl in particular, Carolyn, was VERY patient with my dumb white self who knew absolutely NOTHING about African Americans. She taught me so much! We laughed and we had fights, but she never gave up trying to help me understand or trying to understand my ignorance. Then, one day this absolutely beautiful young girl came in as a new student. Her name was Sue and I thought she was so beautiful with her creamy brown skin that appeared to be flawless. I got to know her and I remember asking her to spend the night. She acted shocked, but said yes. We had a great time! I asked her about her beautiful skin and she said it was because she was “mulatto”, not African American or White, but rather both. I have always associated that word with beauty. She also explained to me that she felt ostrasiced at school. The African American girls would not accept her and most of the caucasian girls would not accept her because she was 2 different races and not one. I thought that was more stupid than some of the questions I had asked my friend Carolyn about African Americans.
    Imagine my surprise the other day when I used the word at work and had 3 people tell me “WHAT did you just say?” I never knew it was considered a deragatory term until almost 40 years later. Now that I know it is offensive to some I will never use it again. This is just my experience with the word.

  • Alana Cicchi

    I describe my son to people as Mulatto, because he is half black half white,and once a friend of mine told me that word is bad! But out of the other 100 or so people,not one found it bad.I live in the Midwest of USA. I do not find it derogatory whatsoever. Those who are using the word,who are mixed, or have mixed children,are already pretty obviously not racist,or there’d be no mixed child in the first place,right?

  • me

    This word was created during slavery just as the N word was. It is a label created to separate a group of people. It was, in my opinion, created from ignorance. Mot educated people do not use this word anymore. Just because a person has had relations with people of color…does not automatically make them not racist. It is, as anything, a personal choice. If anyone who is in my company uses t..they will be “schooled” My daughter…who is 23 gets very upset when anyone refers to her with this label. I have 3 mulit ethnic children. This is a more appropriate term. I am not just from one European background. Neither is anyone who is African American. My daughter and I had our DNA tested and she descends from more than 1 African nation..but she also has non African ancestry from her father. He is black. Now he knows he is also Asian and European too.

  • dx323

    Personally, I LOVE the term “mulatto”, regardless of the apparently offensive origins of the word. I’m mixed, black and white, but just saying “I’m of mixed ethnicity’ feels so non-specific. I could be part-East Asian, or Part-South Asian, or part-Middle Eastern, or part-Aboriginal, or part-Hispanic. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being any of those, but I feel like being a White and Black mix is so much more common than any of those and has been around for so much longer that it has more of an actual culture associated with being that specific mix. That doesn’t make it any better than any other mix but I feel like it just has more of a history behind it and it deserves its own name. Being “light skinned” suggests that I’m just black with lighter skin than most. Mulatto makes it clear that im black AND white and nothing else without having to say a full sentence. It’s just as easy as saying “i’m white”, “i’m black” “i’m east asian”, etc and it conveys everything accurately. “I’m mulatto”

  • mbits

    Jesus fucking christ, it is not derived from the word mule. That is a highly questionable and unproven claim that some people have made.

    Also, not sure what the big deal is. I’ve always heard the term used to refer to people (often by themselves) who are from parents of more than one race (well, color-wise, of course… I guess — then again, nobody says “I’m irish and english — i’m biracial!”.

    If mulatto means the same thing as bi-racial or multi-racial or multi-ethnic, then if mulatto is offensive, I’m not sure how those other terms are not also offensive.

    Also… who cares? It’s the fucking 21st century. Nobody cares if one of your parents is black and one is white. Or if one is asian and the other is from the moon. It doesn’t fucking matter to anyone.

  • mbits

    Highly questionable etymology.

  • mbits

    Are you fucking retarded? Stop spewing that ridiculous and false “etymology” of the word.

  • Hans Ranum

    If you claim it doesn’t mean mule, then please do explain what you think the origins of the word is.

    “If mulatto means the same thing as bi-racial or multi-racial or multi-ethnic, then if mulatto is offensive, I’m not sure how those other terms are not also offensive.”

    Well, it doesn’t, so that’s why one can be considered derogatory and not the others.

  • Susan

    Get an editor!

  • Jason Avalos

    Some dictionaries and scholarly works trace the word’s origins to the Arabic term muwallad, which means “a person of mixed ancestry”.

  • jakie804

    I’m mulatto and I say I’m mulatto. And I was born, raised, and live in the USA. It’s not nearly as bad as the n word. No matter the origins, I always thought it was cool for us to have are own name instead of just dumping us in the giant “mixed” category.

  • bcdub21

    Let’s look historically how the word mulatto has been used to further the agenda of white supremacy. http://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/mulatto/
    It is offensive. period. And from one white person to another white person…..It is NOT our place EVER to tell a person of mixed race/ person of color what racial terms are not offensive. Stay in your lane.

  • JB

    Its Tuesday; March, 9, 2016. I`m researching the difinition “mulatto” because, I`m constructioning our family tree, think I started in the year of 2007. Less than abt a month ago, my eyes became aware that mulattos are included in the family history, mulattos are a pretty color. I like seeing mixed and pretty people, I (in every possitive way), embrace every color God created. I see that history has a strong, stronghold on people. Someone commented that he/she don’t like being called a mulatto because of the historical definition, but, its not God`s intention to degrade. Truth is, its not the baby’s fault that he/she was born mulatto. History in this case is nothing but history, holding on to history that degrades is an excuse for eternal existence of ignorance.

  • RJ Dear

    I’m White and my wife is Black…she is offended when I refer to our two girls as Mulatto. I like the fact that the word is specific to my girls race rather than other. I find it offensive that to the schools my girls attend refer to them as black. So, darned if you do, and darned if you don’t. I love them the same.

  • vanda hembree

    Irish & English are nationalities – not races. Black and white are races. That’s why someone of Irish and English descent would never say they are biracial, but someone with parents from different races would describe themselves as biracial. It’s also safe to say that someone who has Jewish and Catholic parents would not describe themselves as “biracial.”

    The “unproven claim” that “some people” have made are actually scholars who have researched the etymology of the word and drawn informed opinions on the matter.

    As the mother of two “mulatto” girls, I take great offense to the word. You might as well call my children house niggers because they are light skinned with “good” hair and would do just fine in the master’s bed.

    History and historical language are important. Words shape our world and self-image. The dominant culture doesn’t get to define my children and attitudes of “no one cares” are ignorant and uninformed as they denies heritage and culture and the people who gave their lives to change history.

  • Ed González

    The word is not derived from the Spanish term for mule but from the Arabic word for a person of mixed race: Muwallad.

  • aba opaco

    those are the stigmas you bring from the US, but all depends the way and the context you say it. If I just happen to see a beautiful black woman in Hispanic America don’t judge me for saying with love esa linda mulatita puede tener mi corazón cuando quiera.

  • Amateur Sleuth

    I just laugh at political correctness anyways. The people that walk around jumping in any soapbox pontificating that they’re the judge for all “civilized” and educated people are hilarious!

  • middlechamber

    6 year later, that is a problem, especially now with Liberals as they like to change the meanings of words around or make up new terms to be more hip, PC, protective of hurting their widdle fweewings instead of being mature and just accepting the words as they are, Use them or not. Yes there are offensive words, and I have been called everything by whites and by blacks & hispanics, oh hurt me!, I’m a little snowflake oh! no, ‘I want a safe place’ I want my mommy!. I’m still walking I don’t have any injuries, so I guess those words are really did hurt! maybe if I was a 4 year old. Is Oreo a better term? Let’s see, in the gay community we’ve gone from queer, to homo, to faggot, to gay now they want they are using the term faggot again. Seriously this is so stupid. WTF is derogatory?
    The word BIRACIAL wasn’t introduced into the English language until 1920-25.

  • Asia Solae

    Thank you very much for this. You made some great points.

    I love your metaphor with the mule. I will also add that there is much debate about whether or not it’s true that “mulatto” came from “mule.”

    “Spanish-speakers do not consider “mulatto” offensive. An alternate etymology traces mulatto to the Arabic muwallad, which means “a person of mixed race ancestry”.” http://epicroadtrips.us/2003/summer/nola/nola_offsite/FQ_en.wikipedia.org/en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulatto.html

    Thanks for speaking up and for educating others.

    “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?”

    ^^I could not agree more with this! It’s important to me for us to create a unified community, and not even having a name to call ourselves is a huge hurdle to that.

    If interested, check out my work to help foster this community here: http://www.redandblueispurple.site/blog/

  • Asia Solae

    I am also from the Midwest and identify as Mulatto. But I have not met others here who do.

    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!!”

    ^^So effin true!!!

  • Asia Solae

    Exactly. There are scholars on both sides of this issue of where “mulatto” came from.
    Additionally, it’s the only word in the entire English language which describes us.
    @disqus_4vkDnvOAb8:disqus Race does actually matter. I’m curious your background and geographic location…. Race still dictates our social experience!
    @vandahembree:disqus : I understand that you are offended by the term, but I would lovingly encourage you to let your children decide for themselves. We are tired of monoracials choosing our identity for us and that even includes our parents. I am shocked when I hear the number of mixed folk who identify a certain way cuz their monoracial parents told them to.

    I love the term mulatto and I would feel very robbed if my parents tainted the only word which can apply to my “race.”
    Even tho I know you associate it with “nigger,” they may not. Please allow them the freedom to choose for themselves. I plead in love. I’m happy that you are sticking up for your children. Much love.

  • Asia Solae

    Uh…………………??????????????????

  • Asia Solae

    Why are you telling someone what they are???

  • Asia Solae

    What if you’re a mixed person using it?
    I find it silly to stop using a word because it was once used in a derogatory way. Did people stop using “black?” No. But it was used in a derogatory way in slave times as well.

    We come from an extremely racist society, how are we going to purge every word that was ever used in that way? It’s our history.

    There is no other word in existence to replace “mulatto” and until there is, we need to preserve it in order to foster a unified community.
    The problem is not with the word. The problem is how people see racial mixing, and us as a result. Those sentiments are reflected in the word “mulatto.” By owning “mulatto,” we refuse to submit to the one drop rule and the racist history which created such absurd laws.

  • Asia Solae

    Absolutely!In all likelihood the negative connotation found in the U.S. towards the word Mulatto has to do with myths that have been created and passed down through the generation in order to discourage Mulattoes from identifying as Mulatto.”
    Absolutely!

  • Asia Solae

    Wait…..after all that, you guys are talking about mules????? What in the……??????

  • Asia Solae

    Mulatto is not from slavery. 🙂

  • Asia Solae

    Thank you!