‘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.


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

  • Sheryl Ada

    Hmmmmmm, it has always been a word I knew as simply describing ethnicity…no different from Hispanic, black, white, Native American, etc. Now however after reading this I feel incredibly awkward for having used the word at all. Intent means a lot in language to me more so even than the words said. No ill intention or awareness in the past. That said, I will prob never say it again. If it has a potentially hurtful background…it shouldnt be used.

  • John Rigas

    I grew up in montreal half the time and the other half in the bronx and NEVER did any mulatto friend ever complain or say its the same as the n word i dont know where u grew up but in the bronx or in montreal canada we describe people who are of mixed between black and white ,I imagine u probably were born in the 80s or later cus only people born in the 80s or later have this politicaly correct shit .GIVE IT A BREAK U LIBETURD

  • Club Sessions

    I think the word has a duel purpose because it was brought into Spanish diction on one hand to be used as an adjective to describe mixed race and on the other hand to to put down a group of people in the social class status. Therefore I believe you must distinguish whether or not it is a racist term based on who is using it and the manner in which they use it.

  • Liz Sorochan

    How should I refer to someone who is half Caucasian and half African then?

  • Marina Rios

    Ask Spanish mixed race people what they think about it and go with that, since they’re the ones who have to live with it.

  • Nina