At a very early age I was told that the word mulatto was a pejorative specifically directed towards people whom were born of a white parent & a black parent. For most of my childhood, I grew up believing it to be so because hey…I was a young person & young people often believe what older people tell them. What did I honestly know about the world when it came to being a biracial kid? Not much to be honest because it wasn’t like we had a bunch of biracial role models running around speaking about all things related to being biracial. I just accepted what was told to me & kept it moving for the most part. As I got older and started to comprehend the world on my own terms according to my life experiences, I began to reflect back on the word mulatto & tried to understand exactly why I believed it to be offensive. To be honest, I was told it was offensive because black people who had biracial kids found it to be offensive, not necessarily the actual biracial person.
According to Wikipedia, “The etymology of the term is usually believed to derive from the Spanish and Portuguese word mulato, which comes from mula (old Galician-Portuguese, from the Latin word mūlus), meaning mule, the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey.” Not really a fan of the horse & donkey definition. 😕 Also according to Wikipedia, “Some dictionaries and scholarly works trace the word’s origin to the Arabic term muwallad, which means ‘a person of mixed ancestry’. Muwallad literally means ‘born, begotten, produced, generated; brought up’, with the implication of being born and raised among Arabs, but not of Arab blood. Muwallad is derived from the root word WaLaD and colloquial Arabic pronunciation can vary greatly. Walad means, ‘descendant, offspring, scion, child, son, boy, young animal, young one'”. Meh…sounds a little better than the Spanish/Portuguese version I suppose.
The word mulatto’s original introduction into the American lexicon started during the Antebellum era to describe a person born of Native American & African ancestry or Native American & European ancestry. Fast forward to 1930, the term mulatto became an official category in the US census to primarily describe people born of European & African ancestry. In modern times you will not see a category for mulatto on an US census form, more than likely you’ll simply see “other”.
Depends upon whom you ask. Like I mentioned earlier, black people often view the word as offensive simply because of its Spanish/Portuguese etymology comparing the birth of a mixed person to that of a mule. Yeah, I can understand how that could be viewed as offensive especially if you are the black parent to a mixed baby. But in the world of mulattos, a lot of us don’t really take issue with use of the word simply because we are not hung up on the Spanish/Portuguese etymology. Most of us probably just view it simply as a term to specifically identify people born of a black parent and a white parent…whether we realize it or not, referencing back to the Arabic word muwallad which roughly translates to mean a person of mixed ancestry. In most other countries, the word mulatto is not an offensive term, it’s just here in the US because it is considered a relic of slavery, but so is nigga (nigger)…yet black people loosely use that word all of the time like it’s nobody’s business. But I digress.
Personally, I’ve never had an issue with the word. I know my mother does because she is the one who first told me it was offensive, but the issue I have which I’m sure a lot of mulatto people can relate to is…nobody ever really asked us our opinion about whether WE find it to be offensive. I mean seriously, not once in my life has anybody ever asked me (a man in his mid 30s that’s half white half black) if I find the word mulatto offensive. Not once. Now, I really don’t run around saying the word mulatto all that often because for the longest it was never really apart of my everyday vocabulary due to my upbringing of believing it to be offensive. The majority of my life I simply identified as black (that’s a future article in the making btw) even though it is clear as day I’m biracial. It really wasn’t until about 15 years or so ago that I started feeling more comfortable with simply identifying as mixed or biracial (future article as well). I still wasn’t quite sure about identifying as mulatto, but fast forward to the present, I’m married with kids, a mortgage, bills, etc…I think I’ve graduated to a point in my life where I really don’t give a fuck about what non-mixed people think in regards to how us mulattos choose to identify ourselves. Whether we choose to say black, biracial, mixed, or mulatto; it’s our choice and our choice alone.