Home Chameleon August 10 A Discussion of the term "Mulatto"

A Discussion of the term "Mulatto"

E-mail Print PDF

The term “Mulatto” has been used for hundreds of years to define a specific combination of racial combination. The term dates from 1593 and has two general meanings according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary: 1 : the first-generation offspring of a black person and a white person
2 : a person of mixed white and black ancestry.

Mulatto was originally used to describe a person of mixed race with white and black parentage.  The term first appeared on the U.S. Census in 1850 as an alternative to the “white”, “slave” and “other” categories.  “Other” was a catch-all for “Free Coloreds”, mixed race, Chinese, Turkish or other Middle Eastern people.  Census records noted Mulatto status with the letters “MU” next to a person’s name.

The second definition of the word opens the door for more terminology to delineate ancestry.  For instance, Quadroon describes a person with one quarter African heritage and three quarters Caucasian, and Octoroon describes a person with one eighth African ancestry and seven-eighths Caucasian.  All of these terms refer to blood and do not refer to race, because race is determined by the four genes received from either parent, regardless of the mix of the parents.

Jefferson Fish, PhD., discusses the conflicting notions of “blood” and “race” in historical U.S. Census.  He attempts to shed light on how the concept of blood over-rode the notion of race in the United States, and how that notion is still coloring Americans’ take on the race issue (pun intended). 

Suppose that there are eight genes for race, so that a mulatto has four black genes and four white genes, a quadroon has two black genes and six white genes, and an octoroon has one black gene and seven white genes. Now suppose that a mulatto man and a mulatto woman have a lot of children. Each child would get half its genes from the father and half from the mother. One child might get all four white genes from each parent and be 100% white, another might get all four black genes from each parent and be 100% black, and other children might wind up with all the other possible combinations of white and black genes. However, American culture views mulattos as black (e.g., President Obama); and believes that two blacks cannot have a 100% white baby. This is why the folk concept of blood does not act like genes…Blood is actually another word for ancestry. Mulatto is an American cultural term for someone with one parent who is culturally classified as black; quadroon is an American cultural term for someone with one grandparent who is culturally classified as black; and octoroon is an American cultural term for someone with one great-grandparent who is culturally classified as black (or two great-great-grandparents, etc.).” (The Census and Race—Part III— Reconstruction to the Great Depression (1870-1940), Evolutionary Psychology, July 20, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/looking-in-the-cultural-mirror/201007/the-census-and-race-part-iii-reconstruction-the-great-dep )
Therefore, the notion that Mulatto describes blood relations and not genes is important in the discussion of terminology.  Mulatto was originally used to describe people who had black and white parentage, but then became a term that generalized everyone who had black and white ancestry, regardless of their genetic make-up.   This was seen broadly in the South in the 19th century, when Census workers used their own discretion at determining a person’s race, based on appearance.

Census workers during this time noted that Mulattos were seen most often in urban settings.  This occurred for several reasons. “…Mulattoes were not evenly distributed through the South; they were concentrated in the cities, and especially among freemen. According to the 1860 census, 39 percent of freedmen in Southern cities were mulattoes. Among urban slaves, the proportion of mulattoes was 20 percent. One out of every four black people in a Southern city was a mulatto. The travelers who noted a high proportion of mulattoes in the South evidently had much more contact with city populations, and freedmen... But 95 percent of the slaves did not live in the cities.” (http://www.etymonline.com/cw/mulatto.htm)

Racial terminology on the Census has changed over decades and centuries, making the tracing of family lineage a convoluted process due to the discretion of Census workers.  Census workers were expected to use their best judgment when interviewing families and sometimes checked different categories for family members based on the appearance of skin or hair.  A lighter-skinned child would be considered mulatto within a family of dark-skinned slaves, and a child with black wiry hair might be considered black within a family of lighter-skinned siblings and parents who were classified as Mulatto.  The subjective use of the term has made the tracing of ancestry difficult for people whose roots go back hundreds of years in the Southern states.   In these cases, it becomes necessary for researchers to consider the circumstances of the person in question: was the person a slave or slave owner?  Could there have been a child of a union outside of marriage?  Was the location rural or urban?  By answering some of these questions, the ancestry of a Mulatto person can more easily be traced.

By the late 19th century the term Mulatto came to be considered offensive and derogatory because of the association of slavery, colonial and racial oppression.  People of black and white parentage stopped using the term because of its offensive connotations.   More politically correct terms gained popularity, and people chose to self-identify as multi-ethnic, bi-racial, multi-cultural or mixed race.  This was done for many possible reasons, some of which are:
1. It became too complicated to explain the diverse nature of one’s bloodline as mixing became more and more common;
2. People didn’t want to self-identify as Black because of the negative connotations associated with African-American descent;
3. There were so many different mixes of Americans by the late 19th and early 20th centuries that it was unwieldy to name each and every variation of possible mixed bloodlines.  It was easier for government workers and society at large to lump all people of mixed heritage into one vast pool.

In modern times, the word Mulatto is seeing resurgence in common vocabulary because people searching for a word that accurately describes them shun the ambiguous terms multi-ethnic, bi-racial, multi-cultural or mixed race.   More and more bi-racial people of African and Caucasian parentage that are searching for an accurate way to define themselves are calling themselves Mulatto as a matter of pride and precision, because the term defines their specific parentage and differentiates them from the multitude of other multi-ethnic people of the world.  The word is no longer considered derogatory when used in context, though it is respectful to ask how another person self-identifies before making any assumptions.

Comments (17)Add Comment
Author of Blite: A Biracial Quest
written by Sara Harris, October 21, 2010
Life is easy, but it has always been man who has wrestled life into difficulty! Just like the White slave owner who shunned his responsibility of fessing up to his having fathered a child with his Black slave. Unjustifiably, he conjured up a name that would better fit a dadblastic mule! Thus Mulatto became a part of American history, and then put in a dictionary which everyone, in including Blacks, embraces right up until this very day. And as a horrible result that biracial child missed out on his rightful heritage, both monetary and physical, father/child interaction. That child should have been referred to as Blite-Bl for Black and ite for White. No, that would have shamed the White father who was also obviously a married man and called himself a 'Christian'. If you want a fairer assessment of that biracial group, read my book. My 400-page novel, Blite: A Biracial Quest can be found at any online bookstore or www.dippub.com/saraharris. Happy reading!

Sara Harris
written by ghostman67, July 06, 2012
Your essay might mean something if those u criticize had a notion of what a gene was. Grow up!
written by belstaff jackets, September 05, 2012
So cute! I already like you on FB and also get your posts on Google Reader. smilies/smiley.gif,http://www.belstaffjackets-sale.com
Sac Louis Vuitton
written by Sac Louis Vuitton, September 28, 2012
A handbag, not only reflect your high sense of fashion, but also represents your status, confidence and prestige Lancel Store No matter what kind of handbag do you like, so should there be any bags you will love deeply! provide you with great 7-star bag collections which made of highest quality designer handbags materials blending with detailed replica handbags imitation, will always meet all your demands and suffice satisfaction Sac Longchamp
belstaff jackets,belstaff jackets motorcycle,belstaff jackets for sale
written by kelina, November 19, 2012
Everyone Belstaff Women gets stressed but it's the level of anxiety and toxic-ness that really make one go totally ballistic. Lawyers, reporters, media practitioners, directors, producers, accountants, and professionals with high levels of stress resulting from control issues and work pressures seriously have to chill out, man! Stress kills so please chill. There are many Belstaff Gloves&Caps ways to control stress while at work. belstaff jackets motorcycle Having an exercise machine at the office is one, stretching is another option, and lastly, you can try to meditate. Do you know that breathing in and out with your eyes closed for five minutes is already a form of meditation? Yes, that's so Belstaff Men true!
written by countertops, June 25, 2013
Overall, just use common sense. Keep in mind that Sealers give you extra time to get a spill cleaned up and less time for the spill to possibly stain the granite.
Beats Tour Earphones
written by Beats Tour Earphones, October 14, 2013
Such kindness as young grass receives from the warm sun can’t be repaid. Beats Tour Earphones
IWC Spitfire replica
written by IWC Spitfire replica, October 22, 2013
That splendor connected with reproduction Rolex Yatchmaster is due to its elegancy in addition to stylish within technologies can make that custom made excellent.? For all style intelligent men and women that are generally in search of style products which might be excellent, these kinds of replicas Yatchmaster through Rolex designer watches tend to be just what some people tend to be arrive at very first
IWC Spitfire replica
IWC Ingenieur replica
written by IWC Ingenieur replica, October 23, 2013
For the reason that in the splendor which is along with the idea. Rolex is often a title which is identified by using lovely duplicated designer watches. Plenty of style intelligent women of all ages really like these kinds of Rolex designer watches because the approach that wrist improvements to look at as soon as another person appears to be from all of them
IWC Ingenieur replica
In this article we have now a couple wristwatches, both equally rather identical
written by Omega Seamaster Replica, October 28, 2013
although is some sort of fake check out along with the different is usually an first. On the subject of this fake check out, we have now identical current model in addition to luxury that has a several modest dissimilarities.
Rolex Explorer ii replica
written by Rolex Explorer ii replica, November 07, 2013
Reproduction Rolex Yatchmaster You can find splendor from the high-class of needing? reproduction Rolex designer watches. Whenever we notice those that have these kinds of replicas Rolex designer watches, nothing is that's the singular reason behind acquiring this specific reproduction Rolex Yatchmaster with the exception it's renowned glimpse, wealth in addition to nonetheless extra that certain will get from low-priced value. The retail price is actually some thing which?
Rolex Explorer ii replica
written by LED 12W Down lights, November 12, 2013
In Srah Kdol, a Cambodian village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the temple, several families had left ahead of the verdict and others had dug or were in the process of digging bunkers.
written by Louis Vuitton Outlet, October 21, 2014
cheap Michael Kors watches
cheap Michael Kors bags
cheap Michael Kors handbags sale
Michael Kors purses
Michael Kors Handbags Black Friday Sale
michael kors crossbody bag
Michael Kors crossbody
michael kors hamilton tote
michael kors bags on sale
Michael Kors handbags outlet online store
Michael Kors outlet
michael kors outlet online sale
michael kors outlet online
written by write my paper, November 18, 2014
The exploration paper thought ought to be given genuine attention more than the real research and writing itself. This is on account of all different gimmicks of the examination paper will need to harp on the primary thought. You might likewise have the thought at the over of your exploration paper, however neglect to have what it takes to finish the paper.
Replica Cartier Watch CT
written by Replica Cartier Watch CT, December 26, 2014
Nowadays,they are popular among fashion enthusiasts because it helps them in reflecting their fashion sense on a very low price. newest replica ulysse nardin watch are certainly not phony so don't misunderstand them.The fad of athletic fashion hot mbt shoes uk is to get in worldwide.
written by cheap replica Longines Classic watches, December 27, 2014
The greater top best replica Omega Constellation watches can vary among 15 as well as $ 20, 000 replica Omega Deville watches
written by Swiss Replica Watches, March 05, 2015
Oris hasn't produced faraway from hardware wristwatches and the've boosted this paintings. Change a superb Oris be mindful of and you'll learn which the back will often have an overabundance of components of design when compared replica IWC watches UK to top. Their watches fake Bell & Ross watches employ a windowed backside housing, allowing intricacies from the enjoy to be visible.

Write comment

Last Updated ( Thursday, 02 September 2010 16:39 )  

Current Poll

Is it important to you that people acknowledge all sides of your heritage?